The magic of six months

Paris is the fourth city I’ve lived in overseas; the third where I’ve stayed at least half a year. And I’ve started to notice a pattern in my expat behavior:

I don’t truly like a city until I hit the six-month mark.

In Dalian, it wasn’t so much as liking the city as it was finally feeling comfortable; finally feeling like the city was home. But in Singapore, this feeling was especially strong. I didn’t like Singapore at first — in fact, I’d planned to leave after four months. Yet I stayed (for a job) and somewhere around six months — and other expats there have agreed, six is the magic number — suddenly life in Singapore seemed wonderful.

With Paris, I reached a turning point this past weekend on Bastille Day. For months I’ve been saying this city isn’t for me, then suddenly I started seeing the city in a new light. The architecture: beautiful. The metro: convenient. The baguettes: DELICIOUS.

I thought it might have been the weather: after months of clouds and rain, it’s finally starting to feel like summer. Or perhaps it’s because I had ‘graduation goggles’ on — there was recently talk about my job moving to another city, in which case I’d be leaving Paris pretty soon. I began soaking in what I thought was my last glimpses of so many parts of Paris, and formed a Paris bucket list of places I wanted to see, things I wanted to do, and restaurants I wanted to visit before my earlier-than-expected departure. (Don’t worry, it turns out I’m staying.)

And finally, there was my social life. I’ve made friends at a much slower rate in Paris than in any other country, and this month my social circle has finally become large enough that I feel like I’m part of something here. I’m not constantly emailing the same people to grab lunch; instead I’ve got coffee dates and house parties and a variety of events with a variety of people to attend. If I left now, there are people here who would miss me.

Finally, I feel at home in Paris.

When I started thinking about it though, it wasn’t just the weather or graduation googles or my social circle. Earlier this month, I hit my six-month mark.

There’s a shift that happens when I reach six months in a city. Maybe this is why I prefer being an expat to a permanent traveler. I can’t visit a place for a week and be done with it; I require more time to take in a city — and I really enjoy that process, slowly absorbing a city’s language, culture, quirks.

At six months, I finally know the public transport system — whether it be buses or metros — inside and out. I can tell when a taxi driver’s trying to take the ‘scenic route’. I know how to walk home from the other side of the city if necessary, along with the hidden shortcuts to take along the way.

At six months, I know the best shops in my neighborhood to get a pain au chocolat or bowl of la mian. I speak conversational French, I finally understand Singlish. I have “locals” where the staff smile when I walk in, and know my order before I open my mouth.

At six months, I feel settled into my social circle. I slow down on “the friend search” and am no longer constantly scouting twitter and expat blogs and emailing people to meet up for coffee, to see if we can become pals. I have standing lunch dates and am invited to birthday celebrations and picnics. I babysit friends’ children and walk their dogs. When I have a bad day, I have friends I feel close enough to to call or even visit in person.

At six months, I am perfectly content staying in on a weekend; I don’t feel guilty saying no to drinks. I no longer have that need to constantly be exploring or going out, like a tourist on limited time.

At six months, I start to ease up. I pick up on the smaller details in a city, or the quirks of some local behavior. I see and appreciate things I’ve never noticed before. I’m no longer trying to survive this new home; the city has settled into my subconscious and I’ve finally, simply, just become a part of it.

Is six months a long time? How much time do you need to feel at home in a new city?


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  1. I don’t think I ever feel home at anywhere other than NYC. I simply love NYC too much. Not only the city but my core group of friends. We have been friends so long that we can simply be ourselves.

    When I am taking pictures that I would tell one of my close friends to point her face differently so that her double chin does not show. Many is the time when she would simply call out to me in the process of taking the picture “Kelly, is my double chin showing?” Or I would mention I gained a couple of pounds recently and she would agree with me and say that we both need to go workout together. I cannot imagine talking about double-chins or agreeing that someone needs to lose weight with a new friend.

  2. I fully agree. I think 6 months is a good mark to become comfortable in a city – the first two months seem to be when you’re awash in that shiny-new-toy love affair, then 3-4 is when the quirks and culture shock start bringing you down, but around 6-7 months is when you start to settle and normalise…and enjoy it to the fullest :)

  3. stephanie says:

    I think 6 months is pretty solid. Granted, my latest big move was from Etown to Lancaster, but it took me a while to really feel totally comfortable. There’s that great feeling when you no longer need to use a GPS/directions to get somewhere. BUT I think your 6-months-cities are much cooler than Etown and Lancaster. haha.

  4. I think that 3 months is where I start to feel comfortable enough to get homesick, and 6 is where I gain the confidence necessary to really call the city mine. I just realized that Naomi has already said this. Haha.

    I do enjoy being an expat as well, simply because there are many cultural aspects, such as those that exist in the workplace that aren’t really possible to pick up during a shorter stay. I also really enjoy building relationships with the people from that city, something that tends to take some time :)

  5. I think the dreary weather in Paris was my problem too when I studied there. Didn’t start to feel comfy until the 3 month marker but then I had to leave. I’d say 3 for me to feel comfy where I am, and 6 to feel like I belong. :)

  6. I think when you first arrive, everything is new – there’s a lovely honeymoon period. Somewhere around 3 or 4 months, that goes away and you start to notice the not-so-good, the dreary. And then, somewhere around 6 months, you suddenly get a realistic view of where you’re living. You can kind of relax into it. It feels more like “home.” So, yes, I agree with you.
    I’m happy to know that you’ve been making new and (hopefully) good friends while in Paris. It can make all the difference.
    Of course you’d be missed if you left! Not least of all by me :)

  7. You add a new dimension to a city I like to visit, thank you. I am happy that you have found happiness there. I share your view on living rather than visiting, but have not yet had the opportunity. When it happens, I hope the chance to live is in Siena.

  8. I completely agree with you about the six month mark! I didn’t feel particularly confortable in Paris until then, either. Since I’ve turned the corner, life has felt much more settled!

  9. Agreed! I think it takes quite a long time to make somewhere home but six months is an important milestone. I like to measure it by how much I look forward to seeing my own neighborhood, going to my local cafe, my local market, seeing my neighbors’ kids play in the street while I’m away. At least, that’s how I measured it in Hanoi. It comes from a feeling that the city is partly yours and that you belong there.

    Thanks, Edna, you’ve given me a great idea for an upcoming post. My whole concept of home has shifted since I’ve moved temporarily back to the US. I find myself redefining home every time I move.

  10. Three months is usually plenty for me to feel comfortable–I usually leave around 6-8 months before I get sick of it!

  11. So glad I read this- I opted to do a year of studies at a French university, rather than a traditional semester-long study abroad program. I definitely get nervous (I leave in one month!), but this post reminds me why I chose to do that. I hope to feel just as comfortable in Montpellier as you feel in Paris someday.

  12. Bravo!
    6 months is usually my deadline for a guy but a place, to see if it is working or not is a better idea. You’ve absorbed alot in a mere 6 months, certainly in the boulangerie arena and Paris geographie…I get lost so easily.
    Nice to see again where we had dejeuner sur l’herbe last wednesday!

  13. I agree with all your markers of comfort in a new city — especially making constant friendships, and knowing the public transport system. But I have to admit that it usually takes me TWO YEARS to hit my stride in a new country… !

  14. when i lived in Dublin I was there for 6 months I hated it the first day but as soon as I woke up that second day I felt right at home for the rest of my time there. I loved that city everyday and I dream every night of the day I can return.

  15. In different places I have lived, I think it takes about a month or two to make it like home. Most of it I don’t think is just time but the place. Different places can take longer to feel truly at home.

  16. I think you’re right: six months is when it just starts to get good. A year and you’re golden. If you have itchy feet like me (and you, it sounds like) that one-year mark might be the beginning of the end. Except with San Francisco. :) And so far, I’m in love with Paris, but I’m only at 4 months!

  17. I’d have to agree with jennyphoria above: I tend to get hit very early on with a “honeymoon period” for most places, then fade into a comfortable stage, and then eventually (possibly around six months) develop a sense of ownership (and pride in that ownership). There is something nice about becoming an “expert” on a foreign city, someone visitors from home ask for tours and advice. It’s a good feeling.

    Anyway, glad to hear you’re feeling happier in Paris and that you will be there a little while longer!

  18. That’s amazing!! I think my pattern has been: fall head over heels with a city/place. Live in it. Brag about it, love it, glorify it… and then the novelty wears off. I still love Granada, that’s for sure (I love the little chocolate and ice cream shops, I love the Alhambra, and I LOVE walking into a cafe or restaurant and being smiled at because the waiter or restaurant owner knows exactly what I want without having to say anything). The novelty wears off with the realization that a place is, indeed, temporary because I don’t see myself in it for the long run. I’m still waiting to find a place I can fit into!

  19. So well worded and true. I felt that way in Barcelona and Madrid and left Sevilla just at the six-month point, still feeling uncomfortable there, before it could have grown on me. I think what you say about forming your “group” really does make us feel more at home in a new place. It changes the way you walk (less hurried, less searching) and think (calmer, feeling like you belong in your new home) etc.

    It’s also the point when you see the city for what it is – and how all the other thousands of people who surround you daily are going about their lives and hoping to be happy too. It’s a very “real” moment, thank you for helping me remember how it felt!!

  20. Hey Edna,

    I think you’re right by saying that there is a turning point to liking and disliking living abroad. I would even go further and say that after initial unsure and liking periods come disliking the place. It may change from place to place and it’s certainly influenced by our jobs and people surrounding us. However, most importantly people like us, who choose to live abroad, develop some kind of hunger for new experiences. Hence, there’s a need to move on at some point and that’s when we start to dislike being stuck.

    Hope you enjoyed Baku, I can’t wait to go there one day. Good luck in Bristol.

    Safe travels,

  21. I totally understand this feeling. I was so excited to move to Mexico City but when I got here it was a complete and utter letdown. I hated it and was trying to think of a thousand and one ways to leave. However, after the six month mark hit I realised I was starting to like it here. It wasn’t until I hit my ‘one year’ mark that I truly realised how much I love it here and will definitely miss it when I leave. I wonder how I’ll react in the next city I live in.


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