When I lived in Paris for a year, I was so enmeshed in my new city, grasping every opportunity with both hands. Cut to a year later, back home in London, and I’m still unsure that it really happened. It feels like the most gorgeous, hazy dream. I still find myself thinking about my experiences, the friends I made, what I learnt. Above all, I think that what strikes me the most is how different I am as a result. The city changed me, and without a doubt for the better.
Of course, any experience of solo travel, of relocating, has its impacts. Something about the glamour of Paris, the excitement of my first time abroad alone, meant that the year was truly transformative. I grew and changed in ways I couldn’t have previously fathomed.
As a self-professed control-freak and lover of all things organised, the chaos of a new, big city, means I am no longer that. Eventually, after a certain number of metro delays and protests causing road blockages, you learn to accept that all plans often go awry. Nothing can follow even the most meticulously planned schedule, and that is okay. More than okay.
It means that you learn not only to accept spontaneity and madness, but to embrace it. Before Paris, even my social diary was planned to the minute. Now, though, I find myself going along through life, bumping into friends along the way, and having time for an impromptu coffee, for a date to continue later than expected, for plans to turn into more plans, to turn into more plans. I never have to dash off somewhere, I can enjoy the moment and allow it to morph into something bigger. I have more time for my friends, and more time for myself.
The Parisian way of life has given way to a desire to enjoy these moments, not run from one to another. The concept of the flaneur, one who walks whilst immersed in their surroundings, has gone from stranger to friend. Whilst living in the French capital, I would often use my lunchbreak to explore a new quartier, or arrondissement, and discover hidden gems. Exploring the city in this way means my knowledge of back streets and alleys is far beyond that of a typical tourist. Sometimes seedy, sometimes glorious, you can’t help but learn and admire the web of beautiful streets that forms the Parisian landscape.
These lunchbreaks became a haven, a way to think about my new life in the breaks from job in a Marketing company. Which, incidentally, taught me a lot about what the Parisians gain from work. As cliché as it seems, the phrase ‘work to live, not live to work,’ rings true for the values I learn from my office. I worked hard, but I lived harder. Work structured my days, but never cut into my nights, giving me a newfound appreciation for balance. The balance which, unsurprisingly, gave way to more time for life, for unplanned moments, for new adventures.
Bringing this desire to explore back to my life in London has given me a new hunger to change, move and grow. I am more open to new journeys, new experiences, new people. And for that, Paris, I’ll forever be grateful.
By Erin Waks, modern linguist.