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?