First off, this isn’t my story; I’m happy to be here.
Yes, there have been frustrations and difficulties, days when I wish I was back home, plenty of occasions when I wish the world around me worked in English. Not understanding clerks and waiters and signs and paperwork gets tiring. Unknowingly misunderstanding them is even worse. I miss real Mexican food. Deep dish pizza. Baseball. Mt. Rainier. My cat. And more than any of that—I miss friends and family, people who know more of my story than just what we’ve been able to talk about in the past few months.
But that’s all a caveat to what struck me once again today: some people like me here in Paris are truly, deeply unhappy about it. It doesn’t matter that the Eiffel Tower is right there, you get used to it. Or how beautiful the streets are—you don’t notice the lovely architecture anyway, because, you know, the dog poop minefield. Or how good the baguettes and croissants and pastries and crêpes are, you just want an actual basket of chips and salsa to come with those ten euro tacos. And for some it goes way deeper than any of that–it’s a deep malaise of the soul.
Paris is one of the most-visited cities in the world, and for good reason. More beauty, culture, history, food and than any one place has a right to. It wasn’t just the top of our shortlist of where to live, it pretty much was the list. (The only place that came even remotely close was Vienna. I thoroughly enjoyed the week Merideth and spent there long ago, the coffeehouse scene is definitely appealing, and I actually studied German, but even so, we never gave it any serious thought.)
None of that guarantees happiness. Obviously. Still, it seems that plenty of people imagine expat life to be an endless dream of exotic pleasure. Of course, if you look into it for more than half a minute, you can find no end of expat bloggers (like me) going on and on about the horrors of the bureaucracy (like I’ve done) or all of the other ridiculous things that make zero sense (as if everything in the good ol’ U.S. of A. makes perfect sense).
Yes: you can be unhappy anywhere, and Paris is no exception. But the opposite is true as well: you can be happy anywhere.
What’s the absolute, hands down, best thing about living in Paris? It’s the same as the best thing about living anywhere: the people you come to know and love. We’re already on our countdown to return home in August and I already know what I’ll miss most, and it’s not the bakery that makes the best baguettes I’ve ever had in my life—even though I will truly miss that place! It’s not seeing the Eiffel Tower most every day. It’s certainly not French class.
It’s the people: friends at church, at the girls’ school, and yes, even French class (the best part about that for sure!); new writing friends and bandmates; people from all corners of the world in my small group. When we leave, pieces of my heart will be with these people, many of whom live permanently here in Paris, but plenty who will be returning (or already have) to Australia, Brazil, Canada, all over Europe, and plenty of different states in the U.S.
It’s a sad thing to live in Paris and not be happy about it, but for some it’s a daily reality. Should that be any surprise? All kinds of people all over the world are unhappy. Some probably even think that living in the City of Lights could be the ticket to real happiness.
It all has way more to do with the person doing the living than the place they’re living in.