Expats We Love: Nhan
Surprisingly (or maybe not), the Paris blog is a popularly growing trend. In fact, when I launched A La Prochaine, I had no idea my love for French culture had such a widespread share. Naturally, I sprung to connect with these bloggers because well… they understand the thrill that comes with the aroma of a freshly baked baguette. Nhan, an Aussie-born Paris transplant, held my attention from the start with her infectiously sunny personality and unique Parisian perspective- using her blogging platform to often highlight environmental strides and other often overlooked initiatives happening in the City of Light. Her blog, My Love for Paris, will both genuinely lift your spirits and make you excited to explore a more authentic version of Paris that the current blog-o-sphere tends to overlook.
This time around in Expats We Love, I’m thrilled to chat with Nhan about her Parisian background and her thoughts on Paris and French life:
When was the moment you knew you wanted (or needed) to live in Paris?
I was living in London at the time in 2008 and it was during a short trip over to Paris. I was visiting a friend who was based in Paris at the time for her birthday and while I had been to Paris briefly before, there was something different in the air during this trip. I noticed something different about the city, I fell for Paris, hard and that’s when I had my “I HAVE to live here one day” moment.
What is the most difficult part of adjusting to life within a new culture? Do you still find yourself acclimating?
I think the most difficult part of adjusting to life in Paris is being understood and being able to adequately express yourself. When I moved to London from Australia, I didn’t have that problem. It was a bigger city but it was still an Anglo-Saxon culture and everything still operated in English. I was able to make myself be heard and understood. In Paris, the culture is European and distinctly Latin. The language is French and at the beginning I had difficulty understanding and responding as quickly as I wanted to. I would find myself walking away from situations feeling frustrated because I wasn’t able to express myself the way I was used to. I was convinced everyone thought I was stupid..!
Now in my fifth year of being here things are a lot different. I feel much more secure about my capabilities and I feel more confident about myself in general. I take my time to express myself, I hold my ground and I don’t let anyone talk over me, dismiss me or inadvertently make me feel inferior. I don’t give myself a hard time for not understanding 100% and I’m constantly repeating to myself “water off a duck’s back”, “water off a duck’s back” 😉 It’s not the end of the world if I don’t manage a situation the way I would have wanted to!
- If you experienced culture shock, what helped you through that?
Time. Time and experience. I think the most shocking of experiences is within the French administration. It is often inefficient and dependent on the mood of the person behind the counter. You could be sent away for missing a document that wasn’t even listed in the first place. At first I couldn’t understand why people could be so abrupt at times because the culture is a lot different in Australia. However the more I experienced, the more I understood that it wasn’t necessarily a personal attack. It was like that for pretty much everyone, including French natives..! This reassured me a little. I suppose at least they were being consistent. In hindsight, this culture shock has taught me so much. It has given me the ability to handle situations much better than I ever did before. I no longer waste my energy and emotions getting upset at something I cannot change. I go with the flow and I’m not as fazed when something doesn’t go my way. I don’t get as offended as I used to and I feel much more comfortable with the way I hold myself in these situations.
Having lived in Paris for five years, have you adopted any uniquely French habits? If so, would you share them?
Haha – there are so many! I’m finding that I’m becoming more and more French each day. One habit I’ve definitely picked up and appreciated is the simple social etiquette act of acknowledging people. When I walk into a shop I say “bonjour”. When I enter a doctor’s waiting room I say “bonjour”. When I go up to a sales assistant to ask where the light bulbs are kept, I say “bonjour” first before launching into the question. When I enter a lift, I say “bonjour”. It’s become second nature to me to acknowledge the existence of those around you as soon as you enter new surroundings and vice versa. It’s become so ingrained into my day to day behaviour that now when I am out of France, I often find myself a little offended, when I feel invisible to others even though five years ago it wouldn’t have made any difference.
Is there a particular French tradition that you cherish?
There are so many charming French traditions – one that comes to mind is the Galette des Rois (King’s cake). This is a cake we make from scratch every first weekend of January. The freshly baked smell that wafts out of the oven is something really special in Winter! It’s a frangipane filled puff pastry cake that we serve with a little cider or champagne. There’s always a mini trinket hidden inside the cake when it goes in the oven. If we are having the cake with a child/children, the youngest child has to crawl underneath the table to decide randomly which slice goes to which person. The person who ends up with the trinket in their slice is crowned “King” or “Queen” for the day..!
You often write your praise for Paris’ growing strides in becoming a greener city. How would you like to see the city evolve its efforts further?
Paris is an admirable city in terms of the swiftness with which is starts implementing environmentally conscious initiatives. Of course there is still a lot more work to be done but I am constantly impressed with new laws being passed and how quickly they come into effect. I remember reading about the mayor of a little town who petitioned against food wastage. Before we knew it, a law had been passed in France which legally required supermarkets to distribute food they would have normally thrown out, to a local charity. This year we’ve seen biodegradable plastic bags replace non-biodegradable ones in all supermarket produce aisles.
In terms of further evolution, I think Paris could really benefit from improving its recycling programmes. Of course it is much better to refuse and reduce before recycling but in a big capital city like Paris where convenience talks, a good starting point would to better streamline and implement its recycling programmes to cut down on unnecessary landfill waste.
You often share your yoga experiences from various Parisian locations, which was the most fun or interesting? Could you describe that experience?
Yes! I love being able to participate in the many (free!) yoga events around Paris. It’s one of the reasons I have tried to maintain a freelance schedule and not commit myself to a 9-5 daily grind of a job. I think my top two yoga experiences would have to be on top of the Musée du Quai Branly on the rooftop with a view of the Eiffel Tower and secondly, the one that was held at the Orly Airport. Doing a downward dog and seeing an upside down Eiffel Tower was definitely a surreal moment, I remember grinning to myself thinking, can someone just pinch me now…? Here I am doing yoga outside in the open air with a view of the Eiffel Tower – how is this even possible..?!
Then at the airport was another memorable experience. I felt like I was acting in some pre-rehearsed flashmob commercial or something when in fact it was just an organised yoga session, near the departure gates, among the flurry of travellers wheeling their rolly bags around. Final call boarding announcements could be heard in the distant background. I remember feeling so zen in a situation that could have been so stressful, say if that final boarding call were for me!
If you had a crystal ball, what would Paris be like in ten years? Do you think anything would be different?
Oh gosh, this is a difficult question! Currently the major factors of influence seem to be linked to the political changes that are happening in France (and also around the world). The major presidential elections this year will determine the political climate of France in the upcoming years. The shift is moving away from the traditional left and ring wing parties and is now leaning towards the closed (Le Pen) and open (Macron) candidates. We will see I suppose.
Politics aside, I think Paris will always retain its “je ne sais quoi” quality. There’s something unspoken about the “air” of Paris. It’s indescribable. It’s in the architecture, the aesthetics, the people, the food, the way of life, the culture, the attitude, the psyche, the way people go about things. It’s something that I believe will never change. Paris is one of those cities in the world that doesn’t easily get engulfed in the tornado of modernisation. And I personally believe Paris will always remain, quintessentially, Paris.
What can readers expect from My Love for Parisin the coming year? Are you planning any fun adventures?
My Love for Paris is heading towards a new chapter. After moving here, settling in as an expat, finding my own rhythm and work-life balance and getting married, I am happy to write that we are currently in the stage of expecting un petit bébé..! I assume that very shortly I will become overwhelmed with the responsibility of being accountable for a little human being but I also imagine that this will also bring another rich layer to the deep and already complex set of experiences I’ve had since moving to Paris.
I’m currently working on a memoir which will explore what it has been like for me to move to Paris, originally intending to be single and independent in a foreign country for a year but then finding myself staying on after meeting my now husband. The universe works in funny ways is all I can say.
I can’t wait to see what the universe has lined up for My Love for Paris in the coming year as well 😉