What does it take for someone to leave everything behind? To move to a new destination with a thousand unknowns, dive headfirst into starting over with a new culture, language, people, cuisine, novelty abound. It might look glamorous at times, but longterm life abroad isn’t without hardship or awkward adjustments; it’s also full of beautiful and surprising twists and turns.
This #WanderWomen series highlights diverse women every Wednesday around the globe who took a leap of faith to leave comfort and familiarity behind and embrace expat life. In some cases, it was to find love, work, to follow someone themselves or someone else entirely. I’ll share candid stories to inspire the inner adventurer in you, to remember that no matter where you start over, there’s a new home waiting for you if you’re up for it.
Meet Tamara Wilson, An American Who Now Lives in Paris, France
Nine years ago, I met Tamara in the City of Light. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long! At that time, we were both fresh out of college trying to live out so many American’s dream of making it in Paris. Those were amazing days of meeting new people, exploring the city, and carving out a space for ourselves in one of the most beautiful places in the world. After two and half years, many of our friends (including myself) said goodbye to the city,
As you can guess, Tamara stayed! Today, she’s almost a decade into thriving in her Parisian life where she works as a freelancer and is married to her French beau. She opens up about her journey to France, the allure of Paris, her ties to the US, and the thing that still gives her butterflies about living in a city as romanticized as Paris.
Let’s start with an obvious question: Why Paris?
My love affair with Paris began in college after I had the opportunity to backpack around Europe during the Christmas holiday in 2007. It was my first “long-distance” trip away from home, and I was very excited to experience a new culture. Paris was the first stop on my journey, and I immediately fell in love. Everything from the architecture to the culture, food, and language made me want to live here. I was completely sold. Once I finished college in 2011, I decided to apply for a one-year visa and make Paris home for awhile. The journey getting here wasn’t easy though – I didn’t speak a lick of French, there was a ton of paperwork and endless appointments at the French embassy, but in the end, my determination to live out my dreams conquered all. Once I arrived, I gave myself a year to immerse myself in the culture and live like a true Parisian. Of course, that wasn’t long enough, and one thing led to another, so year after year I decided to stay longer.
It’s been a little over nine years now, and I’m grateful to be still living in the city of my dreams.
What are the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ parts of being in a city like Paris?
I’ll start with the worst part. For me, it is being far from my American friends and family. The distance has never been easy, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s become more difficult at times. Year after year, you miss out on special holidays and birthdays with loved ones, and at times it can start to wear on you. Luckily, though, I can travel back to the states at least once a year or my family comes and visits. That makes it easier. Of course, weekly FaceTime and Zoom calls help also.
Now the best part. Not to sound too cliché, but the part about living in Paris is definitely the food, wine, and gastronomy culture. I never considered myself a foodie before moving here, but my love for those things has evolved in ways I never imagined over the years. Paris makes it so easy for you to fall in love with food. Honestly, it’s a place where foodies and wine connoisseurs never get bored.
Why do you think Americans romanticize about living in France, and specifically Paris?
Life in Paris is so much different from the typical American lifestyle, and I think that there are two reasons why Americans romanticize about living here. First, the gastronomy heritage and second the architecture is like no other. When you think of Paris, some of the first things that come to mind are baguettes, wine, the Eiffel Tower, and beautiful old architecture. It is like a real-life fairytale that you only see in the movies.
What aspects of Parisian life still make you feel the butterflies like you just moved here?
Every year, in the spring and summertime, Paris makes me feel as if I just moved here. Outdoor terraces are already a big deal in Paris, but when the weather gets nice and starts to warm up, nothing can beat being outside on a terrace or having a picnic next to the Seine. One of the first things I did when I moved here was a picnic with a bottle of wine, baguette, and cheese on the bank of the Seine overlooking Notre Dame. Picnic life in Paris during the warmer months never gets old. Anytime I do this now, it takes me back to my early experiences here, and it’s a feeling that is truly unforgettable.
What’s your favorite neighborhood/arrondissement to go out in Paris and why?
This is tough to narrow down to one neighborhood, so I would say the 2nd and 3rd arrondissements. Both of these neighborhoods have really evolved since I moved to Paris 9 years ago and have become like a one-stop-shop for a whole days worth of fun in Paris. You can literally start off with brunch in the 2nd, go vintage shopping in the 3rd, head back to the 2nd for an apéro and dinner in the evening, and then dance the night away in the 3rd. There are so many cool and upcoming places to check out in these neighborhoods that you literally never get bored.
We both know that Parisians have a reputation for being a bit…well, arrogant. Do you think they are?
I have thought about this idea many times over the years, and I don’t necessarily think that Parisians are arrogant, but I think they are just very proud of their heritage and culture. I would say they are generally a bit more distant or reserve at first than most Americans. They also tend to be more critical or direct in the way they express their opinions.
Do you miss the US and think of going back ever?
I don’t miss the US in general, but I miss being close to family and friends. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more apparent to me that staying close to loved ones is important. I have thought about moving back on several occasions, but at the same time, I think about how I’ve built an enjoyable life here, and it’s not so easy to just walk away from that. There are quite a few important things that I would have to consider even before going back, such as which city I would even move to, healthcare options, job opportunities, etc. Of course, a move back home is doable, but weighing the pros and cons can be challenging at times. With the world being so uncertain now, this is not to say I’ll never move back, I just want to make sure that I am well prepared.
When you visit the US, what sticks out to you as ultra-American if, anything?
I would have to say overly chatty servers in restaurants and constant water refills with copious amounts of ice. These are not necessarily bad things and I was used to this growing up but whenever I visit the states now I can’t help but laugh a little bit.
You are married to a Frenchman, what surprised you most about love in intercultural dating and marriage?
Yes, I’ve been married to a Frenchman for 6 years now. There are a lot of cultural differences, but I think the one thing that has surprised me the most that we share a lot of the same practices and values. One example, we both value spending time and bonding as a family over food. As a couple, we make sure to sit down at the table every day and share a meal and have meaningful conversations. The same goes for the holidays. If I’m with my in-laws, we do the same, or if we are in the states with my family, we also do the same thing.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting off in a relationship with a French person?
My advice would be to keep an open mind and be willing to understand that your cultures are going to be different or similar in some ways.
It’s also important to not put down those differences but embrace them in a way that works for both of you.