American Heritage Dictionary says that an "intricacy" is something
having many complexly arranged elements, elaborate and even solvable or
comprehensible but with painstaking effort. That describes working and
living in Paris to a tee.
Americans of all ages come here every year in hopes of a job, career, new
friends, in short, a new life.
Paris is very
"séduisant" (seductive) so if they came here on vacation
once, or even twice, or many times for that matter, it's easy to get hooked.
Beauty, culture, cuisine, language, style, art, literature, history, romance,
it's all here
for the asking, as long as you're willing to pay the price.
is pretty typical, having woven my way through the intracacies Paris
over the last five years. I've been through it, over it, around it, under
it, on top of it, behind it and in the middle of it.
have managed to live to tell the tale.
The story goes
I came here
the first time and got hooked. Once every few years quickly turned into
coming year after year, always staying in the same hotel in the same neighborhood,
dreaming about calling that neighborhood home.
with some planning, my family and I sold our house, our cars, packed up
our furniture, shipped our belongings to Paris and moved into a furnished
apartment less than half the size of our California home with no closet
space and just enough money to last
or two with some luck.
year I took French lessons,
went to museums, visited monuments, joined organizations, made new friends,
hung out in brasseries drinking espresso and writing in my journal. My
money was dwindling.
year I looked for work:
read how-to books, sent out resumés, went on interviews, networked.
In vain, I discovered that I was too old, too experienced and too damned
"American." Let me be more specific: 1) my cover letters were typewritten
on a computer instead of handwritten in fountain pen in French with all
the correctly placed margins, 2) my resume (CV – curriculum vitae)
listed too many different jobs with too much broadly covered experience,
3) my level of French wasn't quite up to par (not fluent), 4) in
interviews my attitude was too intimidating by being optimistic, out-spoken
5) and most
importantly, I didn't have a work visa (une carte de séjour salairié).
Let's face it, a French company sure as hell wasn't going to spend 10,000
FF and six months of dealing with the administration to get a work visa
for a know-it-all American to work among his (I say "his" because there
are many more male managers than female in France) French born-and-raised
employees. Plus, France is still coping with 12+% unemployment, so we immigrants
are way down the list when a Frenchman can fill the same job.
Getting a work
visa is a "Catch 22." If you're not married to a French person or
don't have any European Union relations, then you can't get a job without
working papers and you can't get working papers without a job. It's virtually
as simple as that. (I could write an entire volume on this one subject
alone.) People do have them so they are not totally impossible to get,
but how you get them or how to work without them is the challenge.
employed here were sent by their U.S. companies who applied for and secured
their visas before they came. That's the best and easiest way.
here as students on a student visa which allows working up to 20 hours
a week. With luck, the others find jobs where the employer is willing to
get the visa for them.
There is also
a large number of Americans who manage to work here in Paris for employers
located in the States or elsewhere. Writers are among the group – journalists,
guidebook authors, novelists, etc. Also, photographers, film and video
producers, researchers of all types, etc. – anyone whose work brings them
here for a company not based here.
need a "carte de séjour visiteur" just to stay here legally
more than 3 months, and you can't get that unless you apply for it long
before you come, fill out all the forms in eight (by hand, no copies
allowed) and get the seal of approval from the French government by
proving you can support yourself here without working!
year in ParisI gave up and stopped looking and started doing.
I took a volunteer post at an organization as the public relations director
which exposed me to the community and helped me network. I created a list
of good-value restaurants (originally just for friends) and then
partnered with a Web site developer to electronically publish it. I coordinated
a French/English conversation group to improve my French. I headed a committee
to develop a Web site for an anglophone organization. There just wasn't
anything I didn't have time to do and I didn't earn any money, either,
but I learned a lot, met a lot of people and that eventually opened all
If you are
thinking of working and living here and if you were to ask my advice (and
even if you didn't, I'd give it anyway), I'd be inclined to break it
down into what, who and why you need to know:
What to know --
the language, how to meet people, the culture, the culture, the culture
Who to know --
experts in their fields, people who have been through it, people who make
things happen, supportive friends (French and of all nationalities)
How to know --
study, read, network, volunteer, ask questions, ask questions, ask questions
The bottom line
is: I came, I saw, I conquered. I'm still alive and well and living in
Paris after weaving my way through the intricacies of it all -- through
it, over it, around it, under it, on top of it, behind it and in the middle
of it. You can,
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