• search for





[posted 11.22.2000]


DECIDING TO MOVE TO FRANCE was not a monumental moment in my life.

It was neither the fulfillment of a dream harbored since childhood nor the teleological end of an academic life dedicated to French studies. And it certainly wasn’t the conclusion to some long, soul-searching journey that could only find solace in the stone, dogshit-covered streets of Paris.

Everybody seems to think that moving abroad means that you are running to or away from something. For me that was not the case, unless avoiding making a decision qualifies as running away.

I decided to move to Paris in the same way I decided to answer a want-ad for movers the summer between my sophomore and junior years.

You know the story: Suddenly it’s May, and you need a job to make money over the summer. So you walk into the student employment office, and of course all the good jobs and internships are taken, because while you were actually studying (idiot!) everyone else was sending cover letters and resumes to law firms, non-profits and the like so as to have meaningful summer experiences that would look really good on their resumes.You, on the other hand, didn’t even have a resume. And you had no idea how to write a cover letter. Thus you spend the summer as a mover, enduring Mom and Dad’s disappointed sighs in each weekly phone call as you describe the intricacies of moving file cabinets from the remote storage warehouse to the financial aid office.

Was all that in the second person? I meant I..

The end of my senior year was much the same. Sure, I tried to be organized and motivated. Sure, I feigned enthusiasm and interest at countless interviews and typing tests for temp agencies. I read What Color Is Your Parachute?, the infamous jobseekers’ manual.

My older, “wiser” graduate school boyfriend constantly asked what I was going to do next, told me repeatedly that I had to “get out there.” [But, since all this was coming from someone whose initial post-grad experiences had included dealing drugs and a subsequent stint in prison, I didn’t feel overly compelled to heed his advice, thank you very much.]

In reality, though, I was having none of it. Even though I had created a whole theatre of enthusiasm surrounding the job search process, I was merely going through the motions, not really caring what the audience thought.

I was too interested in enjoying the last fleeting moments of university life (and, later, in rebounding from the ex-con’s subsequent swift dumping of me — apparently I didn’t get “out there” quite often enough) to be bothered with the details of an intense job hunt.

In short, I never really took the time to find the color of my parachute (although I do believe it to be a hue somewhere between okra and lime green).


So when a spring break trip to France allowed me a glimpse of the Parisian lifestyle, I decided that life among the snobbiest and most arrogant people on earth might not be such a terrible post-college experience. Following four years of Eurotrash at Brown U, the transition wouldn’t even be that difficult.

Besides, whether I knew what I was doing or not, there was no denying that moving to another continent had a very decisive edge to it. What better way to make a clean and clear break from university?

There were a few problems, of course. For example: I didn’t speak French and I had no European citizenship, which meant that without extensive paperwork I had no right to work, study or live there. And, in keeping with my boy-who-moves-furniture-for-the-summer style, I was deciding these things too late to apply for anything that would allow me to get over there. The glory days when starry-eyed Americans could just head off to Paris to live out their bohemian fantasy are gone, folks.

So how do you move in with the Parisians if you have no skills and don’t speak their language?

Teach your own!

The key to living abroad lies not in attempting to write one’s first novel or singing for francs along the banks of the Seine, but instead in one’s ability to teach foreign folks the difference between the past simple and the present perfect (_I was_ vs.I have been, in case you were wondering).

In an era when words like globalization and multinational are tossed around like balls in a game of pétanque, English has become the international language of business. Much to the dismay of the French (who never cease touting le francais as the world’s offical language of diplomacy), everyone is scrambling to learn their _see_s and _saw_s, in order to get a piece of the nouvelle économie.

And so, with the possibility of work and the invitation to sleep on a friend’s floor, I embarked for Paris.

That first morning in France I awoke just as my friend was leaving to enroll at a university. Unable to hide my panic, I’m sure I looked as helpless and confused as a dog watching its owner leave for a long vacation. “You’re leaving me here all alone? What am I supposed to do all day? You can’t do this to me!”

But of course she did leave. And, in a moment of supremely self-conscious drama, I peered out the window onto gray Avenue de la République and asked myself (too late, as usual), What the hell have you just done?

Eighteen months have now passed, but I still wake up, look out the window (a different one, at least) and wonder the same thing. Safely on the diploma-end of four expensive years of college, I spend my days listening to French executives explain how much they “want going in United States.”

Although I am pleased to correct their grammar, I wouldn’t say that I share their enthusiasm for a life “in United States.” Granted, work as an English slut (or pute d’anglais, as the French have labeled us for our willingness to work anytime and anywhere, doing the only thing we know how to do) is hardly the most glamorous career. Teaching verb-preposition pairs (“that depends on, not that depends of!”) was not on my original To Do list for my twenties.

Nevertheless, until I have a better idea as to the color of my parachute (bleu foncé, perhaps?), I think I’ll just continue my freefall here in Paris.

- - - - -


drew nielsen was still unsure what to say about himself in a bio as of this posting. we’ll let you know.