The Good Life France

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A French Life: Holiday in Paris leads to a French romance…

We talk to Lynn Leger from Minnesota. Lynn moved to France in 2011 after marrying Frenchman James and she now lives and works in Paris. We asked her to tell us her story:

The story of how I got here… I grew up and spent most of my life in Minnesota. I was raised on a farm, the oldest of 3 children with 2 younger brothers. From an early age I learned the value of working hard and going after what you wanted out of life. This was paired with the knowledge that the people you have in your life and the relationships you have with them are equally important. About 10 years ago, I had finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota and was beginning to start a graduate program in Psychology. I also made the really big adult move of buying my first home. I am a firm believer that people are put into our lives for a reason, season or a lifetime. So, at the same time I was purchasing my first home, one of those people invited me on a trip to France. She was going to visit her brothers who lived in France and thought I would like to join her, as I have always loved to travel. A little hesitant, as I had just signed my life away to a mortgage, I thought, “there is no way I can turn this opportunity down.” On that trip I spent time with her brothers, had my first exposure to France and had a wonderful time. Thanks to the world of technology I reconnected with one of her brothers, James, via Facebook several years ago.

TGLF: What made you start the blog?

The blog started as a way to share my budding romance with my “Prince Charming” as so many people made comments to me about how unique my story was in meeting my husband, James. They would say things like, “It’s a fairy tale,” and “it’s totally unbelievable that you have fallen in love with a man an ocean away.” When I looked at the events in my life I agreed with the unlikelihood that I would meet a man on a trip to a foreign country, keep in contact with him for a short while, then later reconnect and finally become his wife as well as a stepmom.

So initially the blog was a way for me to document my journey of meeting James and the events that followed. I wanted to be able to look back on it one day and remember the little details. Since moving to France the blog has served as a very important way for me to stay connected with my friends and family in the states and give them a glimpse into my life here in France.

Also I have always been able to document my thoughts and feelings in print in a way that helps me communicate to others and as a means of self-care to sort my world out.

TGLF: Is life very different in Paris from Minnesota? 

Yes! To say the least, my life in France is pretty different from my life in MN. Prior to moving to France I had spent decent amounts of time visiting. Even though I was coming to France as a little more than a tourist, I was still seeing everything through a tourist eye. One morning during one of my trips I told James that I would go to the bakery to grab some bread and croissants. I was getting my shoes on to leave the apartment and he made some comment like “You are not going to the bakery wearing that, are you?” I was wearing some yoga pants and was going to throw on a hat. I didn’t see this as a problem as it is common to run to the store in the states in your athletic clothes. What I learned that day is that it is just as important to dress nice for the baker as it is anyone else and it would be insulting to go into the bakery dressed as I was. Another example – my husband used to tease me when I would tell him to wave at the Eiffel Tour for me, as he said, “Lynn, it’s really no big deal, we see it all the time. Just wait until you are living here and you don’t think twice about seeing it in the skyline.” At the time I thought he was CRAZY! How could someone not be constantly mesmerized by it?

I would say that I definitely experienced culture shock. Almost everything around me was different and the language barrier was the hardest. Some of the most drastic changes for me I think were the first few months here. I was so completely exhausted from trying to understand anything that was said to me and navigate so many daily things that were different for me. Simple things like not driving, learning mass transit systems, and walking everywhere. Going to the store to find only a few of the items I was looking for and trying to convert the metric system when figuring out how much of something to buy. Watching the weather forecast and having to convert the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit just to know how dress for the following days.

One incident that is memorable to me happened very early on when I was traveling home from work one day. We live in a suburb of Paris so that requires me to take a train. We were stopped at one of the stations and some announcements were being made. Since I understood next to nothing I drowned them out and continued to read my kindle. After a short time, 5-10 minutes, I realized that we were still at this station. I began to look around a little bit and realized that the train was almost empty. Some woman who was getting off the train with her children attempted to tell me something (again I understood nothing). I then decided to get off the train and figure out what was going on. To the best of my ability I understood that there was some work being done on the tracks and therefore at this station we were required to get off and they were going to transport us by bus. There was more than 1 bus waiting to take people. I made my best guess and got on a bus. With my limited language ability I had no idea if I was actually going the right direction towards home. As the bus proceeded I kept looking around trying to figure out if I could recognize anything. I texted my husband and told him what I thought was happening and that if I ended up in some strange city to be prepared to try and find me! I am happy to report that I successfully found my way home that day, nothing short of a miracle! It has been these small victories that have kept me going and encouraged me on some days when it has felt so overwhelming.

TGLF: Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Paris? If you could, would you change any decisions/preparations you made?

Prior to the move I tried to anticipate as much as possible and what to expect of my new life in France. I started to try and learn French while I was still in the states. I remember sitting at some social and dinner gatherings here and thinking “I am not nearly as funny or witty when I can’t communicate, just sitting here and looking good is so not my thing!” By nature I am a very social person and need to be connected to others, so not being able to understand others and communicate to the fullest is definitely a source of frustration for me. I still struggle with the language and I have been in France a year now.

In regards to the rest of life in France I don’t think I could have done anything additional to what I had already done. I had been looking for jobs and other resources for expats before making the move. A lot of what I have experienced is only real once you arrive and start assimilating into a new place.

TGLF: Are you part of an expat community in Paris? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

Unfortunately I am not part of an expat group yet. I have some great colleagues that are expats and we interact. I am aware of an expat in Paris group through Facebook that organizes activities. It has been a goal of mine to try and step outside my comfort zone and find friends. This is just something that has always come naturally to me so it feels strange to go about meeting people in a different way.

TGLF: Everyone says that Parisians are the rudest people in France – possibly the world! Have you found this to be true?

This is one of the most common things people ask me about France. In my experience I don’t find Parisians rude. I see them to be similar to New Yorkers or others that live in large urban cities. I think they are busy going about their day and focused on getting from point A to point B, which can be rough depending on how the metro or trains are running on any given day. I also think that they are always sharing space with other people and therefore it requires you to set some boundaries to attempt to have some sort of personal space bubble. I used to tease my husband that he had a “metro face” but after travelling on the metro everyday I now find myself having the same face. That is pretty strange for a Midwestern American who is used to smiling at others just to be friendly.

TGLF: What are your top three tips for anyone coming to Paris to live?

Do your best to acquire the language as much as possible before arriving. It makes a huge difference.

Try and have hobbies and interests that you can do that don’t require interacting with others. I say this because it takes a bit of time to meet people (unless you are coming to France to study and therefore have more built-in social opportunities) and I have found that having some things I enjoy doing help on those days when I feel alone or exhausted from navigating a new place.

Have an open mind. Things are not the same here and it isn’t good or bad, it just is. Be ready to do things differently from saying hello (kisses), to shopping and travelling.

My life in France is an adventure that requires courage, patience, amazingly supportive friends/family and a very special man to make it worth the ride.

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