I’m midway through my second year in Paris and I’ve begun to experience something I rarely did during my time in the States: losing people to moves. When I was younger this was because I was always the one on the move, either due to my family’s movements or my own moves for work or school. As I got older, I lived among more stable populations and hence rarely attended “going away” parties because no one was going anywhere.
Before I moved to Paris I spent 7 years in Kansas City, which straddles the large Midwestern American states of Kansas and Missouri. It is a wonderful place to live and raise a family, and consequently, most everyone stays. In my time there I don’t think I knew one person who moved away. And yet I’ve already lost a friend to Nice just this month, and between now and September I expect to lose 4 more. Some have work assignments ending or visas that expire and they have not begun the work to try to stay. Others are just choosing to move on. No matter the reason, it hurts to lose friends to moves.
There are dozens of reasons, always particular to the individual. I don’t expect everyone – in fact I don’t expect many – to move to Paris with the deep-in-the-bones conviction that they will live there forever. Since so many come for work it is rare to find that happy coincidence of dream city and fulfilling work (which is why I advocate moving to your dream city and creating your own work) and hence if a more alluring city or job presents itself, Paris can be left behind.
I’m willing to admit that while everyone’s decision to leave Paris can be attributed to individual circumstances, there are recurring themes which I can share with you. I’ll also try to suggest remedies when it makes sense.
Distance from the city
My friend Anaïs, who left for the south of France last week, has sworn off ever again living in the suburbs. “I could never do anything at night in Paris,” she opined at lunch. Since she lived 20 minutes outside Paris she was limited by whenever the final train for her stop left in the evenings, typically some time before midnight. People can get twice the space for the same price, but it’s not Paris. I don’t see how one can fall in love with this city when you don’t live inside it, and when you don’t love something, it’s easy to leave it.
Cost of living
I always gamely smile when I hear this, in part because it’s really only the rents that are expensive in Paris, and even then it lags far behind Tokyo, Hong Kong, NYC, and San Francisco. Super high-speed internet? 15€/month. Fresh baguette? 1€. Freshly-pulled espresso at the bar? 1,50€. 1 L of organic milk? 2,50€. Three course meal at an authentic French restaurant? 24€. Unlimited travel on the metro, buses, and trains, and 45 minutes per day on the city bikes? 70€/month. Those are just a few of the things in Paris that are cheaper than what I paid in the States, and specifically in regards to the transport issue, entire costs I used to have are simply gone now, like car insurance, oil changes, gasoline, and the occasional car wash. Yes, Paris has its expensive sides, but if you are willing to try new/challenging/different living situations you can not only survive, but thrive here.
I’ve addressed this in a previous piece. If you work in one of these nonstop jobs and you aren’t planning and saving for a great escape or a new life, either leave Paris or quit your job, but don’t keep doing what you’re doing. You’re making yourself miserable and while only the Japanese currently have a word for “death by overwork” (karoshi) it doesn’t mean you are immune to the condition.
Time for a change
This has to be the most valid reason to leave, if you’re really feeling it. I’ve heard it said that if you’re always dreaming of your next vacation, perhaps you need to change where you live, since you keep wishing to leave it. I firmly believe that once you are in a place you truly want to be, you’ll find yourself exploring it endlessly, and won’t have to look exteriorly for fulfillment and joy. This doesn’t mean you’ll cut travel out entirely, but I’ve observed within myself a huge slowdown in travel, and I think this is because I’m settled and happy here.
Everyone is leaving!
Well, I suppose this presumes a greater existential question of “What is a Parisian?” I know at least 6 people who have lived in Paris their entire lives and half of them don’t really know or love this city at all. There are “permanents” in Paris (I aspire to be one) but a lot of us came here because we were inspired by what we thought Paris might be like as a residence, not just enamored of what we had experienced in Paris as breathless tourists.
The remedy for this objection is something I am prescribing for myself as well: not so much to close yourself off to new friendships, but covet, guard and develop those more closely that are with those who you suspect are here for the long term. You can’t escape the pain of losing special people as they move, but you’ll have the consolation of adding friends from all around the world who you might visit on your travels, and you’ll know that when you see them again you’ll be able to pick up on something you’ll always have in common: Paris.