Ask an American takes a close-up look at Americans living in France: what they love, love to hate, and why they call France home.
From trying to fit in as a teenager from Brooklyn to owning a business in Paris, Sasha Romary called the ville lumière home for fifteen years. She tells Frenchly about the hoops and hurdles of life in France, and discovering that life outside Paris can be pretty sweet, too.
Brooklyn to Fontainebleau, via Paris
I am originally from Brooklyn. When I was fifteen, my father had a three-year contract with an organization based in Paris. As a fifteen year-old, I was uprooted from my life and everything I knew. I really thought that moving to Paris was the worst thing in the world – even if it was just supposed to be for a year. That said, once I arrived and started classes at the International School of Paris, things changed.
I was at school with people from all over the world who spoke five languages fluently and moved every two to three years. It also helped that I was free to roam the city on my own and with friends, and quickly realized that most cafés would serve me a beer or a glass of wine without asking for an ID! Instead of returning to the US at the end of his contract, we all fell in love with the city and decided to make it our permanent home.
After fifteen years of living in Paris, I have recently moved to Fontainebleau (note : an hour southeast of Paris, home to the Fontainebleau Château and INSEAD business school).
La belle vie outside of Paris city limits
I was not all that excited about leaving Paris, a city that I truly see as my home, for Fontainebleau. Small town life is definitely not something I sought out. Fontainebleau, however, is absolutely charming. The city is beautiful, it is small but doesn’t feel claustrophobic and with the international aspect of the business school here and the tourists that visit the magnificent chateau, it feels like a bit of a miniature Paris.
When the weather is nice, which it has been lately, most people stroll around the chateau gardens, but I personally love the tree-lined paths in the park by the Grand Canal. There is something so beautiful and quiet about it there.
Talking the talk to walk the (French) walk
To me, the biggest hurdle in adapting to life here is not speaking the language. In Paris, it is easy to get by without speaking French. You can easily order food at a restaurant and pick up pastries and explore the city, however, to really adapt to life here, to integrate into another culture, the language is imperative.
Even if you do speak French, however, I would say the hardest to deal with is the administration. Everything is complicated, takes way longer than it should, and nothing is clear. Anything involved in setting up a new home is really difficult, especially utilities (phone, internet, electricity, etc.).
Beyond that, for those hoping to live and work in France, the entire visa and immigration process is a headache, and that is something that I really specialized in at Savoir Faire Paris (note: the concierge service founded by Romary).
I once had a client who contacted me the day before she gave birth to her baby boy, asking me to help her get set up in the social security system so that she could get her medical bills reimbursed. She had been trying to figure it out for the entire nine months of her pregnancy!
Honestly, moving to France requires a bit of a right of passage. You arrive, you fall in love with everything and then the administrative requirements kick in and beat you down. It takes a full year to get settled in France and my advice would be to stick it out for at least two to three years. It will be worth it in the end!
Sasha Romary is the founder of Savoir Faire Paris, a bespoke concierge service assisting visitors, expats, and residents in their Parisian life. For more information: http://savoirfaireparis.com/