Returning home to New York hit me with the biggest culture shock I’ve ever felt. Now, I’m no stranger to culture shock. My first notable quake occurred when I moved to Paris at the age of 18, with just a handful of French words at my disposal (croissant, café, cigarette…)
The move hit pretty high on the Richter scale. Eventually I assimilated as best I could, and my American friends who came to visit told me I seemed “French.” (For the record, the French always said I seemed “Swedish.”)
Years later, with an expired visa and packed boxes, I sat in my beautiful 6eme étage Montparnasse apartment that looked out over some of the best rooftops Paris has to offer. I told myself that I would surely find a way to return to Paris within three to six months. It never occurred to me to prepare for re-assimilation into New York culture. I never once imagined that eight years later, I’d still be in New York, shocked and shaken, fighting passionately to maintain une vie parisienne in New York City.
As a native New Yorker, I possess certain habits that I can’t quite shake, even when living abroad. I tend to speed walk everywhere, and I consider jaywalking to be the right-of-way, no matter what. At every checkout counter I strike up a conversation. I also can’t help but leave a twenty percent tip for bad service. And in the subway I scream, “Hold the doors!” as I fly down the stairs. But of course I scream at others when they do the same.
Yet, despite my innate New Yorkness, I found it challenging to re-integrate with family and old friends when I first moved back. I was still me. But now I had an inner Parisienne who made me cringe at the idea of ordering a coffee to go.
She still considers the occasional cigarette to be healthy and is offended by aggressive no-smoking policies (even though they’ve only helped her kick the habit). She believes in bike paths, small cars, and a public transportation system that does not run 24/7 so that it can be cleaned and maintained.
At times, my inner Parisienne has been so dominant she made me do silly things, like not thinking twice about moving into a five-story walk-up with no elevator. She even tricked me into thinking I could survive another New York heat wave without an air conditioner. She has since learned to love her new air conditioner.
Even at work, while I was negotiating with a former employer, my inner Parisienne took charge by claiming that her “quality of life” was in jeopardy and insisting that she take a full hour-long lunch break each workday. She also explained that two weeks really wasn’t enough vacation time to go anywhere worthwhile. Surely, I must be entitled to more in life than just work, n’est-ce pas?
It was shortly after my boss refused to meet my requests that it occurred to me that I was no longer culturally shocked. Now I was actually culturally transformed. I can’t help being a New Yorker. Just as much as I can’t seem to let go of my inner Parisienne. I’ve been living in New York seven years and six months longer than I ever anticipated, and it might be a while longer before I have the chance to live in Paris again. Until then, no matter where in the world I may be, I will happily embrace ma vie parisienne.
- Are Parisians rude? Maybe. Impolite? Never!!! Find out the distinction and learn more about la politesse.
- Where to go for stunning food and cocktails, and a breathtaking rooftop terrace that is popular with Parisians and tourists alike? Meet Julien Sebbag at Créatures to find out more.
- What might be the biggest cultural difference of all?
Written by Elise Marafioti for HIP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Plum Guide and our Marketplace for fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long or short term, or buy in France? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person? Check out our marketplace shop and experiences.