Lucky to be in Paris

What is it about Paris?
“Well its Paris,” responds Harry van Manen, an expat in one of the grandest cities in the world. It’s a good retort, accurate too.
“I still haven’t gotten used to it. Even at any low moment you can take yourself to the Tuileries Garden and look around at just how stunning it all is. You realise that you are so lucky to be living in this city.”
The lecturer, who is originally from Cheam in Surrey, is clearly enjoying life in France’s majestic capital. Along with teaching English at the Université de Paris-Est Créteil, Harry can be found wandering around Paris, a flâneur in the truest sense.
“It’s a beautiful city which is packed with culture, history and art,” he elaborates.
“There are so many museums and galleries to get stuck into, and they are usually free if you are under 26. Also it is totally acceptable – and encouraged – to go and sit in a cafe on your own – with or without a book – and watch the world go by.
They do things differently here. This is a city so confident in itself that individualism is celebrated, championed even. While reading one of Jean-Paul Sarte’s books in a cafe, pipe in hand, might be observed with incredulity or derision in London, in Paris “no-one will bat an eyelid”, Harry says.
Paris is the epitome of cafe culture after all, where everyone enjoys cappuccinos and wine whatever the time of day and al fresco lunches that linger on into the late afternoon. Life as an expat can be exquisite here.
“I would recommend Paris to anyone who is fascinated by French and European culture, past and present,” Harry states. “It is a great city and I am really enjoying living here, you see and learn so much every day and it is a city that is constantly changing and evolving.”
Harry is clearly enamoured by the world he now inhabits – he’s always loved France. Having studied French and Politics, securing the lecturing post in Paris was perfect in that it gives him the opportunity to live somewhere different while doing something he enjoys. While it may not be his true calling, life is good for now.
He elaborates: “Living in Europe offers people the chance to experience a different way of life, get involved in the very international expat community and get away from people who just talk about Strictly Come Dancing and Radio 4. Going abroad is an escape from ‘real life’ and it’s great.”
Paris, in particular, is a big, bustling, cosmopolitan city with so much going on, Harry adds. He is constantly amazed by the unfolding character of his adopted home, where “everything changes all the time”. While this may evoke a similar image to that of London, there is a stark contrast in environment – people are less stressed or hurried. It’s a city where people don’t shy away from each other…conversation is good.
This runs counter to the hackneyed image of the French being aloof, haughty and rude, which really isn’t the case, Harry is keen to point out. First impressions can be deceiving. In comparison to the so-called reserved nature of the British, the French are far more “upfront about how they feel about everything”.
It’s about giving your new hosts time to get used to you, he says: “The French therefore make a terrible first impression but once they are on your side they stay there, and you always know exactly what they are thinking.”
As exciting as Paris sounds, it is not without its challenges for expats, warns Harry. International movers need to be aware that holding a conversation in French is important; that bureaucracy is deeply embedded in everyday life; while sourcing an ideal place to live can be tough.
Although a lot of Parisians are fluent in English, they prefer not to indulge foreigners in their own language. It’s more considerate for expats to make the effort to engage with people in their native tongue.
From personal experience, Harry has found that there is no escape from red tape in Paris and having a stock of passport photographs and photocopies of your passport will come in handy. Never throw anything away.
“The biggest problem with Paris is finding somewhere to live,” he warns. “Often you need a dossier, which includes a huge amount of paperwork. You often need a French guarantor, which can be difficult if this is your first time moving to France.”
For those that can afford it, Harry suggests renting an apartment through an agency. Most can be found online and they will take on most of the bureaucratic burden. For those looking to buy, again, it is best to get assistance – an estate agent and a bilingual lawyer is pretty much essential.
Beyond that, it’s all about the good life, every day full of endless possibilities, interesting conversations and new discoveries. As Thomas Jefferson said: “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”
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