I’ve recently stumbled upon my first copy of a French dictionary. It’s first page held a tattered post-it with scribbled words: assiette, verre, fourchette. Words, which back in 2013 I’ve never heard of before, but needed desperately to get around in daily life. I sat down and flipped through, plunging into a walk down memory lane. In the past 5 years I’ve not only changed style and learnt to navigate around Paris like a local – my entire inner world was transformed. Here are five lessons in life I learnt from the French.
1. Enjoy the moment no matter what
Let’s skip the rounds of bureaucratic hell one has to go through – it’s boring.
But once the visa, housing, and language barrier problems have been sorted out, you really start to enjoy life in Paris.
There is nothing quite like it: le kiffe (the pleasure) of having a glass of chilled rosé on an open terrace, visiting a stylish new exhibition or taking a long walk through the city. Even after 5 years, I am still in awe. Like a child, I get giddy with happiness, discovering new corners or looking at a familiar Parisian street from a different angle. Some may say I am lazy, but I have given up on being a girl-boss with long work hours. Paris is too beautiful to keep me confined in an office.
2. Patience, my friend
At times I am surprised at the fact that France is Europe’s second largest economy. The French have a certain cult of savouring life slowly, which means things can get really inefficient. The official working week is 35 hours. On Sundays most places are closed. On a Sunday in August, all places are closed. And while we, Russians, like to be able to jump into action 24/7, the French like to prendre leur temps (take the time). At the beginning I too was annoyed that my bank account wasn’t updated simultaneously, that my university diploma took a year to be issued, and that getting a doctor’s appointment required a month (or two) of anticipation.
But after a while I gave up and adopted a more philosophical approach.
I prefer to postpone my problems to the following morning.
3. Savour the simple things
You don’t need much to be happy in Paris. Common transport is efficient (hello bike sharing services!).
Picnics by the Seine can make you forget Michelin started restaurants.
And even if this is the French capital, you can still feel a certain spirit of a small village. Cherry on the cake: you’re surrounded by beauty that can be accessed freely. The Tuileries garden, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Place Dauphine for a nice jeu de pétanque (a boules sport), and the Montmartre rooftops at dawn. Need I say more?
4. Learn to be tolerant
The USA is the first country we tend to think of when it comes to cultural diversity, but Paris is just as rich in this aspect.
As most Russians, I grew up in a closed-off environment, where no foreigners set foot.
At first I was surprised by the melting pot of a society that I discovered, but I have since then developed a great sense of tolerance to living in a multi-cultural city. It comes with ups and downs, but it also adds an interesting twist to the quotidien.
5. Give self-sufficiency a go
I genuinely admire French women: for their sense of style, their self-respect, and self-sufficiency. The ones I met do not wait for their peers’ opinions, do not shout about their achievements on every corner, and do not demonstrate neither their weaknesses, nor their superiority. They’re just comfortable in their own skin. Recognise yourself? Personally I don’t.
I was raised as a princess, very much adored and very often spoiled.
This attitude did not help solve my relationship problems, but even if have lost my first big love, I have found a piece of myself.
And there’s a trillion other small things. I greet the staff in every shop. I smile at strangers. I eat at the same time each day. I shop on sales. I drink a lot of water. I type my emails in French. I look the person in the eyes when we raise our glasses. I jog once a week – that’s actually a must, since I now eat a lot of cheese for dessert. And I’m also always late.
The past five years have seen me in very different places. I studied urbanism, worked in the pharmaceutical sector and at a market. I fell in and out of love. I moved in and out of a flat share. I co-founded Apéro à Paris.
I have also gone through a lot of self-analysis and polar states of mind: from euphoric happiness to desperate depression. It’s only been five years, but at times it feels like fifteen.
I don’t know where I will be in 2023, but there’s one thing I know for sure: France will forever be my second home.