When I first moved to France 10 years ago, my personal style was Carmen Miranda meets Chiquita Banana. Immigrating to France means contractually committing to becoming French. This isn’t American where you can show up in a diaper and someone will say “I <3 U". My sartorial choices were tutti frutti at best...
How to not be a bonehead in Paris. Visual Do’s and don’ts for your next trip to the City of Light.
The khaki shorts, the socks hiked to the gods, puzzled eye contact, general clustering and moving in masses. Thanks for visiting Paris, tourists. We see you! Yes, we’d all love the superpower of fitting flawlessly into any destination, but no one can truly blend in on a hop on/hop off bus. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to prevent you from getting jumped for your Rick Steves money belt. -jkw
Last week my name was called from a glass covered cubicle. I signed a sheet of paper. And I became French. There was no pomp or circumstance. I’ve heard expat urban legends of getting summoned to sing La Marseillaise on the spot. I prepped it just in case, but will need to dramatically perform my new battlefield vocabulary in the privacy of my own home.
It has been 10 years in the making mastering the French language on my own (thank you rosé!), starting a business in France and pushing myself to continually have an open heart and mind in this often dysfunctional, but still cherished adopted home of mine. I fully recognize the privileges that helped me along the way (being married to a French citizen, general white privilege, being American), but immigration is a long, tedious process for anyone.
I’ve compiled a list of some hard-earned tips to help expedite the long process of acquiring French nationality. I don’t get into precise logistics as it varies from Prefecture to Prefecture. But these are all things I wish I had a heads up on when I could only dream of living in France indefinitely.
1.) Integrate. In America, you can come and be who you are. But in France, you must become French. Shortly after marrying my French spouse, when I began the official immigration process, I had to sign a contract committing to integrate in every way possible. And the easiest way to do that is to learn the language. It expedites the process of creating a fulfilling life. And really commit to learning the culture (the cult films, the faux-pas, the ’80s French songs that get the crowd up and moving at house parties). I admit I’m much more prone to reading The New York Times than Le Monde, but it’s so easy to be information-isolated these days that it takes conscious effort to engage with the country where you’d like to invest your energy and life.
2.) Don’t throw anything away…ever! France still runs mostly on paper. My whole nationality process was set back for months by missing 1 electric bill from 2011 (Comment dit-on “Murphy’s law” en français?). It’s always the ONE paper that’s missing that you will need to complete your dossier. It’s survival of the fittest so buy a 2-ring binder and keep everything as organized as humanly possible.
3.) Phone a friend. Let’s face it, there’s a lot that even French people don’t understand about their own system. And a bureaucratic secret is that most anything can be negotiated. Find a generous friend or a French lover to help navigate the process.4.) You’re not entitled to anything. One of the first lessons I learned in France was that I am no one. Sure, this sounds harsh to coddled Midwestern millennial ears, but nothing about me was inherently special when I moved here. I had no work experience, my diplomas were invalid and I answered yes and no questions with “OK!”. I had to build that up through time, creating a life and fully engaging. I’ve been working on my dossier for French nationality for over 2 years and started thinking that it was a competition of how badly I wanted it. Think of it as Survivor, but the challenges included eating headcheese and having the right amount of 10 centimes coins to print 100 A4 black and white photocopies at Monoprix.
5.) Have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Usually there’s a hot blooded guy screaming bloody murder at the Prefecture before being escorted out the place. It has a way of bringing out the worst of people, but a lot can be said for being punctual and polite. A good old-fashioned “Bonjour madame / Bonjour monsieur” can go a long way. Take some M&Ms and a good book to ward off any boredom or blood-sugar induced spectacles. At the end of the day, France attracts so many dreamers because of its Old World slow life charm. It runs on its own timeline so find a form of catharsis (start a blog, find expat friends & a bottle of wine) and submit to the process.
Vive la France! I’m celebrating my newfound double nationality by taking up smoking and becoming completely unapproachable (joke!).
P.S. Teaching my first summer intensive ‘experimental drawing’ at the Paris College of Art from June 11-22 2018. Spots are still available if you’re itching to discover Paris in a whole new way. More info here.
Butter, it has made snails edible and we shall forever be grateful.
You’re only as chic as your garbage bag and other entertaining tips à la française.
Whipped cream alone is a perfectly suitable dessert. The considerately budget-friendly rosé prices. Terrace time. French guys aren’t afraid to wear scarves or say things are beautiful.
A baguette can mean many things. White wine removes red. French purgatory is when you can’t find the porte button. French stylis is just a uniform.
There are two types of Americans in Paris. Those who go home the month of August and those who stay. Although I secretly envy those who can binge on a month-long ice cream headache of Americana, my summers are a more local affair, doing a mini Tour de France of friends’ vacation homes throughout this fine country.
I’m pondering what France’s summer traditions are, but I’m blanking. Oh, yeah the month of August not at home, fleeing to everywhere but here? Merguez on the grill? Spritz on a terrace? Summer reading and late dinners? A bottle of chilled rosé on ice?
Ok, these new traditions work just fine for my developing adult tastes. But I still can’t help but miss those sticky childhood summers at home in Chicago: the twinkling bell of the paletas guy selling my favorite ice pop arroz con leche, shucking the golden husks off sweet corn hot off the Weber grill, the self-inflicted pain of watching daytime tv all day long and the call of arms when the ice cream truck roll through the neighborhood.Although I come from the Klondikian school of frozen treats, the Magnum bar is my good-to Euro replacement. I quickly learned last summer that “A Magnum-a-day keeps the bikini bod at bay”. But every now and then, it’s the only thing that will do the trick. Happy Summer!
Here it is! It’s my lovechild and she is due the 29th of April, 2015.
When I moved back to Paris 4 years ago, the city was on the verge of American over-saturation. Le Camion Qui Fume scandalized as it smoked up the museum-quality streets of Paris. I was shocked to discover Marshmallow Fluff and Easy Cheese filling an aisle of a nearby bookshop. At my most vulnerable, I ate “authentic” cupcakes as dense as butter cookies. Nevertheless I was seeing my culture impersonated and regurgitated into a 10 euro jar of Jif. The demand was flattering, but not exactly what I had left back in the States.
Seeing the lack of authentic American cookbooks, I have been trying to get one off the ground for several years now. American baking is not all about reconstituting processed ingredients like in the books I had seen in the French cookbook market. In my new book Pâtisseries et gâteaux d’Amérique, I focused on recipes that have the same respect for quality ingredients that even the French could revere. And thanks to Marabout for helping me make it happen. Pâtisseries et gâteaux d’Amérique has over 64 pages of colorful, step-by-step recipes. And the American desserts that I know and love.
Pre-order a copy today on Amazon.
Note: The book is written in French, but generously illustrated in watercolor. It’s still a belle objet that can be shared with anyone.