How difficult can it be? Making the most of a year in Paris should be the easiest thing you have ever done – you’ll simply swan around soaking up the beauty and art. And then after a few months you find yourself alone in a café, wishing you could meet up with one of your friends, tired of the endless grand monuments, longing for a place to lie on the grass, wishing someone, somewhere would recognise you.
You recall what you did this morning – put the washing on, cleaned the stove, did some writing, did the shopping. It’s pretty much like life back home, but it’s cold and grey and you’re treated like a tourist in every shop you go into. You feel shut out. You can’t tell anyone because you would sound like the most ungrateful person on the planet and so you email and Facebook how fabulous it all is.
But it can be fabulous – it just requires a bit of work. After spending a year living in Paris, here’s what I learned about getting the most out Paris.
1. It’s obvious but before you go, learn or brush up your French.
Waiters in tourist cafes speak some English, but you are not a tourist, you are living in Paris, voila, you need to speak French. There are many courses available in Australia, from informal rendezvous through Meet-Up, to classes at Alliance Francaise. Start as early as possible, so that you have a few workable French sentences by the time you arrive. Even the attempt to speak French will be warmly welcomed.
2. Also before you go, dip into French culture.
Read French writers, watch French films – the French are very knowledgeable about their films - study French art, architecture, cuisine, listen to French music. You haven’t got time for all of that? Focus on the area that you already love – for me it was literature (Balzac, Zola, De Beauvoir, Colette, Modiano, just for starters) so that by the time I arrived I could see Paris with the rich texture that literature gives the world.