World View – July

An American in Paris: Insights on Living Abroad

From Author Priscilla Lalisse – Jespersen

For the past few years, immigration has been a hot-button political issue in the United States that has provided fodder for political pundits and polarized many civic leaders.  While there is much documentation about the experience of immigrants in the United States, we thought it would be interesting to learn about the experiences of an American living in a foreign country.

Can you imagine leaving your home, your job and everything and everyone you’ve ever known?  Author Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen was an accomplished editor in New York City when she fell in love with a Frenchman and made the daring decision to move with him to Paris.  Since moving overseas, she has gradually become immersed into the French culture.  She is an active member of Paris’ Anglophone social scene and maintains – a blog dedicated to and about expatriates living in Paris.

Learn more about her experiences in Paris as she shares with us, in her own voice, some of the challenges and rewards of being an immigrant from the United States.

You’re not in America, anymore. One of the most noticeable differences in Paris versus the United States is customer service – or, the lack thereof.  I will say this until my dying day I suppose: There is no customer service [in Paris].   At least it’s not comparable to what we’re used to in the States. If you can get past that and the different way of thinking that exists in France, then you’re fine. If not, you’ll never make it. I learned a lot about the French when I taught English classes here upon arriving. It was essential I think to my insertion.

We speak French, here. I did not speak French when I first arrived in Paris, I spoke Spanish. I studied with a private teacher then went to Alliance Française to perfect it. Before I learned the language I felt like a hostage. I could go shopping alone but it was awkward. You’re not comfortable. You’re not totally independent. It can be frustrating! Contrary to what people outside of France may think, the French are not good at other languages, like say, Danes or Germans.

Social affairs. With the French it takes time to build relationships. I’m from the South where you can start a conversation with someone in the elevator and be best friends just afterwards. It’s not the same here. Even when you talk to people or see people every day, your relationship will not be “automatic”. It’s just not done that way here. That was a bit of a shocker for me, even coming here directly from New York City. As far as romance goes, sure there is a lot of it here. The social scene is nice…when it comes to men/women relationships I don’t think it’s as slow.

As an American I haven’t had any problems in particular regarding being a non-citizen in France. I have not as yet taken the French nationality although I have several American friends who have, mainly because they have Franco/American children.

Paris, je t’aime: In many ways, Paris is like any other big city: it has expensive apartments, crowds, noise, and pollution.  Beyond that…

I love my neighborhood near Parc Monceau. I love the food, the culture, the ability of the French to take pleasure in even the smallest things like a walk in the park or a nice meal with friends and family. The healthcare system is awesome and the amount of holidays/vacation we have is just unimaginable to Americans in general.

There’s No Place Like Home.  Yes, even in the “City of Lights,” it’s possible to get homesick.  I miss my family (of course), fast food drive-in windows, things being open 24/7, Southern foods (like grits and my mom’s cornbread!) I miss driving. I also miss seeing and being around LOTS OF educated people of color!

If I don’t visit the United States often it’s a problem for me. I love being back in America and seeing the family, doing familiar things, and just being “home.” Do I see myself moving back? Sure. I think I will. When? Well that’s almost impossible to say at this moment, but I don’t think it will be very soon.

[learn_more caption=”About The Author” state=”open”] Paris-based author Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen moved to New York City in the late 90’s and worked as an editor for computer magazines JOOP and C++ before relocating to Paris in 1999. Priscilla has contributed to such online publications as Paris Woman Journal, Bonjour Paris, B.E.T. and Café de la Soul, where her very personal articles often chronicle the French experience through American eyes. In 2007 she launched her own magazine, Prissy Mag, which gives readers a unique view into everyday life in Paris, as told by Anglophones who live it. She is also the author of Next of Kin (2011) and the novel Stockdale (2005), which takes you into the life of small-town heroine Cassie Taylor.

Prissy Mag

Author site


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