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Reflecting on different expat mentalities in France

December 4th, 2013 1 comment

Last week there was an interesting op-ed in the New York Times. It can be found here, and I’ve pasted the article below. It’s a reflection by expat author Pamela Druckerman on her experience living in France and how she has done well but also struggled to fully adapt to her adopted country and especially Paris.

She has some interesting insights and in particular outlines what she believes are the three main angles American expats in Paris usually take: “fantastists”, “denialists” and “authentic” experience searchers. (Bold face sentence below in article is my emphasis).

Personally I relate a bit more to the “authentic” searcher group.

What is your angle? Do you agree, and as an expat from a country besides the US – are there alternate approaches?

Contributing Op-Ed Writer
An American Neurotic in Paris
By PAMELA DRUCKERMAN
Published: November 27, 2013

PARIS — A few years back I took the ultimate expatriate plunge: I started doing psychotherapy in French. I figured that, as part of the deal, I’d get free one-on-one French lessons. And I hoped that if I revealed my innermost thoughts in French, I might finally feel like an ordinary Parisian — or at least like an ordinary Parisian neurotic.

I soon realized this was a doomed enterprise. Each week I’d manage to vaguely sketch out my feelings and describe the major characters in my life. But it was hard to free associate when I was worried about conjugating verbs correctly. Sometimes I’d just trail off, saying, “Never mind, everything’s fine.”

I’m aware that there are worse things to be than an American in Paris. You could be, for example, a Congolese in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But as I spend my 10th Thanksgiving here, permit me a moment of reflection. Because Thanksgiving prompts the question that expatriates everywhere face: Shouldn’t I be going home?

The Americans in Paris tend to fall into three categories. There are the fantasists — people nourished by Hemingway and Sartre, who are enthralled with the idea of living here. The moneyed version of this person lives as close as possible to the Eiffel Tower. The Bohemian version teaches English or tends bar, to finance his true vocation: being in France.

Then there are the denialists — often here for a spouse’s job — who cope with living in Paris by pretending they’re not in Paris. They tap into a parallel universe of Anglophone schools, babysitters and house painters, and get their French news from CNN.

Finally there are people like me, who study France and then describe it to the folks back home. We’re determined to have an “authentic” French experience. And yet, by mining every encounter for its anthropological significance, we keep our distance, too.

No matter how familiar Paris becomes, something always reminds me that I don’t belong. The other evening, as I chastised the lady who had cut in line at the supermarket, I realized she was grinning at me — amused by my accent. During conversations in French, I often have the sensation that someone is hitting my head. When surrounded by Parisians, I feel 40 percent fatter, and half as funny. Even my shrink eventually took pity and offered to do the sessions in English. (It turns out she’s fluent.)

The question of whether to stay is especially resonant for Americans in Paris, because many feel that they live here by accident. Not many foreigners move to Paris for their dream job. Many do it on a romantic whim. Expatriates often say that they came for six months, but ended up staying for 15 years. And no one is quite sure where the time went. It’s as if Paris is a vortex that lulls you with its hot croissants and grand boulevards. One morning, you wake up middle-aged — still speaking mediocre French.

I wasn’t sure how long I’d live here, but I did expect my stay to follow a certain expatriate narrative: You arrive; you struggle to understand the place; you finally crack the codes and are transformed; you triumphantly return home, with a halo of foreign wisdom and your stylish bilingual children in tow.

But 10 years on, I’ve gone way off that script. Those stylish children threaten to mutiny if I even mention the possibility of moving. I’ve got a French mortgage, and I’m on the French equivalent of the P.T.A. It’s like being a stranger in a very familiar land. I haven’t cracked the codes, but I no longer feel entirely out of sync: When the whole country goes into mourning after a beloved singer or actor dies, these days I actually know who the guy was.

Sometimes I yearn to be in a place where I don’t just know more or less what people are saying, but know exactly what they mean. But I’m no longer fully in sync with America either. Do people there really eat Cronuts, go on juice fasts and work at treadmill desks?

The thought of becoming an ordinary American again scares me. We expatriates don’t like to admit it, but being foreign makes us feel special. Just cooking pancakes on Sunday morning is an intercultural event. I imagine being back in the United States and falling in with a drone army of people who think and talk just like me — the same politics, the same references to summer camp and ’70s television.

But the fact is, those drones are my people. I end up gravitating toward them in Paris, too. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in 10 years is that I’m American to the core. It’s not just my urge to eat turkey in late November. It’s my certainty that I have an authentic self, which must be expressed. It’s being so averse to idleness that I multitask even when I’m having my head shrunk. And it’s my strange confidence that, whether I stay or go, everything will be fine.

Pamela Druckerman is the author of “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.

US Tax deadline April 15, and June 17 for US expats abroad

Just a friendly reminder that the April 15th tax deadline is fast approaching with our friends at the IRS. Americans living abroad have until June 17th to file their returns, but still any taxes owed to the US government that are outstanding must be paid by April 15th.

For those in France, the US Embassy Paris has a page dedicated to taxation resources, including many links to IRS and forms (like the 2555-EZ form for Foreign Earned Income Tax Exclusion). As the article stipulates, if you’re American and work and reside outside the US, you may be able to exclude up to $95,100 USD annually in foreign income. Check out the links above for further information.

AARO has some views on taxation of Americans abroad, worth the read.

As expat numbers grow, what does it take to succeed abroad?

December 12th, 2011 2 comments

The BBC has two recent pieces on expatriate professionals, one here from Dec 5, the other here from Dec 11.

The latter article has a list of “Top three relocation tips“:

-Research language and red tape – especially visas
-Closely involve the family
-Keep a firm grip on the process – or have someone else do it

Some excerpts are below (my emphasis in bold).

What are your experiences as expats or potential expats? What are the most challenging issues for you? What are the greatest opportunities that expat life can offer?

5 December 2011 Last updated at 00:02 GMT
Exodus: Movement of rich people – a life at home abroad
By Rebecca Marston
Business reporter, BBC News

An Italian professor of maths moves from Rome to New York State, a lawyer moves from Sydney to Hong Kong after a spell in the Cayman Islands in between, a Portuguese executive moves from Mexico City to Bogota, a violinist leaves Serbia for the UK.

The movement of professional people on this scale was unimaginable 10 years ago.

The cross-border migration of highly-educated people from upper-middle income countries rose by 44% between 2000 and 2006, according to a recently published study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In low income countries the cross-border movements also jumped significantly, by 28%.

Intra-company transfers in developed countries rose 39% between 2005 and 2008, and this does not include intra-company transfers within the European Economic Area, says OECD policy analyst Jonathan Chaloff, even though the scale of those “can be considerable”.

“What is clear is a trend towards an increase, albeit interrupted by the economic crisis,” says Mr Chaloff.

Multi-national companies and government organisations confirm that view….

….Some get a strong taste for the life, but for others it is fraught with pitfalls both practical and emotional; there is homesickness, or relationship breakup….

….One of the key mistakes companies make, he says, is to assume that someone who has successfully completed a project in one country will be able to do the same elsewhere: “Most people say you have to be resilient – I think its more than resilience.

“We would argue very strongly that having intelligence on this person, knowing how they tick would help immensely. Some of it is about what you know but that’s only part of it, its about your approach to it as well.

“You may think ‘this guy has done a good job delivering in this country – lets get him to do the same in India – he’ll be good at that’ – well, will he?”

But as globalisation and economic growth – where ever it may be found – continues, the experience of moving countries and continents is becoming better understood….

Many move for a better life and more money, although firms – and relocatees – report relocation packages are less generous than they typically were five years ago. This partly reflects that these days it’s not just the most senior executives that are moving. Amongst the number of middle-ranking professionals seeking a new life abroad is rising, but they are cheaper and may not be expected to stay as long.

Brookfield’s Scott Sullivan says there is a move to more flexibility: “Companies are attempting to leverage flexibility by offering what is really needed for an individual assignee… as opposed to a blanket policy with full entitlement to all provisions.”

Relocation itself is big business. Brookfield says relocation expenses for its business total $3.6bn a year….

And parts of the second article below…

11 December 2011 Last updated at 17:37 GMT
The new job that means relocating your life
By Rebecca Marston
Business reporter, BBC News

The world awaits professional skills but it takes a huge range of abilities to make the move to another country

“I often wonder why people don’t take the opportunity to move abroad more often – if you don’t like it you can always go back,” says Colin Smith, general counsel in Hong Kong for hedge fund managers Orchard Capital Partners Limited.

He’s one of a growing number of professionals to whom the location of a job is as important as the length of commute for most of us.

His qualifications as a corporate lawyer make him very portable.

“Banking and corporate legal professionals move quite a lot, what we do can essentially be done in any global financial centre. I have requested every move I’ve made myself.”

One of these moves was to Sydney, which he decided to leave for what might seem a contrary reason: “It was primarily my work-life balance.”

For a corporate lawyer, a 12-hour day is a short one. Perhaps the workload was too light.

Colin explains: “In Sydney, life was good. Every weekend was like a holiday. But, after five years it switched from every weekend being a holiday to almost every weekend in the office. Plus in comparative terms, it is very expensive. I decided to relocate again to find a better balance.”

That sort of moving around takes some organisation – something that many people would find far too daunting.

Check list
On top of the challenge of preparing for a new job, with a new office, in an alien location, there are visas to arrange, flights, accommodation, and shipping your goods – after you have decided what to take.

Colin says the most important thing to tackle is the visa: “That is the first issue, but if you’re moving with a company the firm works that out for you so you don’t have to worry about that.”

For these intra-company moves, there is often plenty of help, with the firm paying towards housing, flights, one month’s accommodation and the shipping of goods.

Even with that help from the firm, there are still other vital practicalities to be tackled.

“You have to find out who provides telephones, the internet, the best way to get to work.”

Most multi-nationals provide a check-list for staff moving, as well as the practical help. And there are relocation firms themselves to whom you can turn for advice….

Thanksgiving in France: where to celebrate (15 cities)

November 22nd, 2011 1 comment

NB: full disclosure – I have no vested interest in any of the listed restaurants or bars, except I do write on occasion for My American Market and Bonjour Paris. Just spreading the word!

Just because you’re in France doesn’t mean you have to do without Thanksgiving. In fact, I know several of my French friends (in their 20’s) who will celebrate it because they love the holiday.

There are places all over the country to feast with family and/or friends, usually hosted by restaurants or organizations with expatriate roots.

The great website Bonjour Paris has a listing of some places to go. I’ve included Karen’s recommendations below and organized the listings according to city. Thanks to the American Clubs of France, too.

Of course if you have recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments section. Many of these require reservations, so call to see or RSVP email in advance. Others like The Great Canadian and WOS Bar do not require reservations, but it’s better to show up earlier.

For those in the Paris area interested in making recipes, you can check out:

The Real McCoy (49, avenue Bosquet 75007 Paris) and McCoy Café (194, rue de Grenelle 75007 Paris)
Thanksgiving Paris (20, rue Saint Paul 75004 Paris)

-You can also buy products online at MyAmericanMarket.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Paris
American Church in Paris
Thurs. Nov. 24, 12:15pm
Sat. Nov. 26, 7:30pm
65 quai d’Orsay, 75007 Paris

France-Etats Unis Paris IDF
Thurs. Nov. 24 (more info on website above)

American Club of Paris
Thanksgiving Gala Dinner : American chef Diane Anthonissen
Fri. Nov. 25, 7pm (members only)

Bistrot Le Saint-Martin
Thurs. Nov. 24, Fri. Nov. 25, Sat. Nov. 26
25 Rue Louis Blanc 75010 PARIS

Joe Allen’s
Thurs. Nov. 24 (call for time, reservation)
30 rue Pierre Lescot 75001 Paris

Le Ralph’s (Ralph Lauren’s Paris restaurant)
Thurs. Nov. 24, 6:30pm AND 9:30pm (filling up fast)
173 Boulevard St Germain 75006 Paris

Breakfast in America
Fully booked but you can sign up for waiting list

Kat’s American Diner
(usually has Thanksgiving, call them for information)

The Great Canadian
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7pm.
25 Quai Grands Augustins 75006 Paris, France

The WOS Bar
Thurs. Nov. 24 (call them for time, number on website above)
184 Rue Saint Jacques, 75005 Paris

First Avenue (Thanksgiving “after work”)
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7pm-midnight
119 Boulevard Pereire, 75017 Paris PARIS

Kay Bourgine quartet – Thanksgiving Dinner : Concert & Potluck
Thurs. Nov. 24, 9pm
Café Universel, 267 rue St. Jacques 75005 Paris

Lyon
American Club of Lyon – Thanksgiving Dinner
Sat. Nov. 26, 6:30pm
L’Espace Brasserie, 26, Place Bellecour – 69002 Lyon

Marseille and Aix-en-Provence
France-Etats Unis Marseille
Fri. Nov. 25, 7:30pm
Yachting Club Pointe Rouge (info on website above)

Anglo-American Group of Provence
Sun. Nov. 27, 4pm
(contact for details)

Grenoble
France-Etats Unis Grenoble
Sun. Nov. 27, 1-5pm at L’ATRIUM
1 ter rue de Moulin, Le Fontanil
(info and RSVP info on their site under “Calendar”)

Pumpkins restaurant
33 rue d’Alembert 38000 Grenoble
(not sure but they usually organize a dinner)

Tours
France-Etats Unis Tours
Sat. Dec. 3, 7:30pm
St. Cyr

Nantes
France-Etats Unis Nantes
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7:30pm
« Le Hublot » 3 Rue Albert Londres – 44000 Nantes

Toulouse
Americans in Toulouse
members only, but contact for information

Strasbourg
Americans in Alsace
They hosted an event last year, contact them

Lille
American Club of Lille
They hosted an event last year, contact them

Bordeaux
Association Bordeaux-USA – Traditional THANKSGIVING DINNER
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7pm
38 Allees d’Orleans, (Place des Quinconces) 33000 Bordeaux

Monaco/Nice/Cannes
The American Club Riviera
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7pm
7 Avenue Gustav V, 06000 Nice

Rennes
Institut Franco-Américain
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7:45pm
7, quai Chateaubriand – BP 90446 – 35104 – Rennes

Caen
France-Etats Unis Caen
Thurs. Nov. 24, 8pm
Restaurant Inter Administratif – 6, boulevard Aristide Briand – Caen

Biarritz
France-Etats Unis Biarritz
Sat. Nov. 26, 8pm
Hôtel du Palais

The American Clubs of France – events in September

The American Clubs of France (a newsletter and website) brings together expat networking events scheduled every month around France.

You can see a list of upcoming events on this dedicated page. I also have the link to this page on my blogroll on the right-hand menu.

Paris, Montpellier, Lyon, Grenoble, Sete, Clermont-Ferrand, Bordeaux, Biarritz, Lille, Caen…conferences, films, concerts, networking, book readings, dinners, cafés…the list is quite complete.

You can sign up for their newsletter here.

Happy networking!

Bad habits to avoid as an expat abroad

This article comes from Expatica and talks about the behavior of “ugly Expats” rather than the stereotypical “ugly American” image.

You’re probably familiar with the expression “Ugly American,” a pejorative and stereotypical term for US expatriates who alienate the locals with their loud and disrespectful behaviour. It comes from the 1958 book The Ugly American, a cautionary tale that tells the story of corrupt and ethnocentric American bureaucrats in Southeast Asia.

One of the characters in the book characterizes Ugly Americans like this:
“A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They’re loud and ostentatious.”

Ugliness: it’s not just for Americans anymore
This being the age of globalization, it seems unfair to single out Americans as the champions of boorish behaviour abroad. In the spirit of inclusiveness, I’d like to propose we retire the expression Ugly American and replace it with Ugly Expat. Cultural disrespect is an equal opportunity sport, after all – one the entire world is eager to play.

The habits to adopt if you’d like to be an “ugly Expat” are below. They are also the habits to avoid if you want a rich cultural experience. I advise the latter!

I have many French friends (indeed, my girlfriend of three years is French) and believe interaction with the locals is key in my experience here. Not only does it help my French language skills, it helps me understand the different cultural perspectives that are at play here. That does not mean I do not mingle with expatriates, as I actively do. I just don’t limit myself to a certain group.

Being at the cross-roads of cultural interaction can be confusing at times in terms of identity (which country do I call home?) but in the end I think it’s rewarding.

Keep an open mind when moving abroad. There will be awkward times, misunderstandings and sometimes discomfort, but that’s part of the learning experience.

1. Don’t waste your valuable time researching your destination or its people before you move – a country’s history or dominant cultural values are no concern of yours. And for heaven’s sake, don’t throw away your money on any of that cross-cultural training mumbo jumbo – everyone knows what a scam that is.

2. Likewise, don’t bother reading up on the causes and symptoms of culture shock, or how to alleviate it. That’s what Valium is for. (Pack lots!)

3. Isolate yourself. Shut yourself up in your compound/condo and refuse all contact with local people. If there’s an exclusive expatriate club nearby, rejoice: you’re saved! Choose your new friends with care, weeding out any prospects who have ‘Gone native’. (Being too chummy with the locals is a dead giveaway.) Successful candidates will have already aced the 12 steps and will embrace you as a kindred spirit.

4. Show off your wealth, especially if you live in a developing nation. Your baubles and fancy toys will breed admiration and respect among the impoverished masses, who will revere you as a role model.

5. Under no circumstances should you eat local food. They eat that unsanitary crap because they don’t know any better; you do. (You can’t be too careful – who knows what you might pick up?) If you’re offered anything unrecognizable, be sure to show your disdain by peppering your refusal with terms such as “dysentery” and “intestinal worms.” Gagging noises are optional.

6. Let everyone know how backward the country is, and how much better things are back home. I can’t stress this enough – never let an opportunity to compare the two countries pass you by. It’s your duty to teach the local populace a thing or two, and opening their eyes to their own inferiority will endear you to them. (Bonus points if you can insult cultural and religious icons or other objects of reverence.)

7. Speak your own language exclusively, especially if it happens to be English. (If the locals haven’t bowed to global pressure and learned it already, that’s their problem.) In a pinch, speaking very s-l-o-w-l-y and very LOUDLY should help them understand you. Trust me; they’ll love being talked to as though they were five years old. If they still don’t understand, throw your hands up in disgust and walk away, muttering under your breath. There’s some body language that won’t get lost in translation!

8. Don’t try to understand – much less accommodate – local customs. If it’s not The Way Things Are Back Home, it’s irrelevant. (Let them know they’re not fooling you with that siesta thing, for example. Everyone knows daytime napping is nothing but sheer laziness. The steaming midday temperature is just an excuse.)

9. Treat your household staff like the servants they are. They don’t need a day off, and you and I both know that hot water would only spoil them. Since it’s for their own good, I’m sure they’ll thank you later.

10. Social networking was invented for people stuck in godforsaken places like this. Spend all day on Facebook, Twitter, and email, lying about how much fun you’re having. Then log onto Farmville and spend some quality time doing whatever it is people on Farmville do.

11. Drink. A lot. It makes life so much fun, both for you and those around you.

12. Take your frustrations out on your husband. It’s all his fault, anyway. If it weren’t for his precious career, you’d be back home among people who matter, instead of wasting the best years of your life in this hellhole.

Mondissimo International Mobility Conference in Paris March 15-16

To my readers:

You may be interested in attending this conference in Paris at Place de la Bourse in the 2e arrondissement March 15 and March 16. They will feature conferences, info sessions and much more. Visit the official website for more information.

Expat Expo in Paris Feb 4-6

January 28th, 2011 No comments

This below from the Expat Expo website (English version. There are also 8 other languages, quite impressive). You have to register (and pay) to attend. How to get there. Enjoy!

The first edition of the event Expat Expo will be held on the 4th, 5th and 6th of February 2011 at the Parc Floral in Paris. Expat Expo caters for all expatriates in France whether they are executives or managers, pensioners, students, property owners or investors, but also those who are preparing for a future expatriation.

For executives and managers dealing with international mobility, EXPAT EXPO is an opportunity to meet and network with industry experts to improve your knowledge on key topics such as legal issues, tax and social expatriation… Relocation agencies, banks, insurance companies, schools, tax consultants, recruitment companies, estate agencies… are waiting at EXPAT EXPO to offer you advice, information and services to aid your expatriation experience.

For existing expatriates, the fair is an opportunity to explore new opportunities and plan new projects. Travel, sport, culture, social life, investment, education, shopping… Visitors to the show will find everything they need to fully enjoy their new life.

The American Clubs of France newsletter #9: Nov 7-21

November 8th, 2010 No comments

As always, I’ve put the edition up for sharing in PDF format here. The American Clubs is a newsletter that brings together events for expat networking across France. You can subscribe to the newsletter on their site.

Effective Strategies for Expatriate Cost Management

Brian Friedman of Totally Expat published this piece on managing expatriate employee costs. Excerpts are below (click on the link for more details, as there are 21 different items discussed):

We all know that expats are expensive and that a significant proportion of assignments fail – but what can be done to manage costs and to maximise the overall return on investment? And in these straitened economic times, we all know that expatriate costs are increasingly under the microscope……. Prioritise. Too many companies try to cut expatriate costs by reducing headcount in the International HR department or by forcing vendors into unsustainable price reductions. The reality however is that it is not internal headcount or vendor fees that make assignees expensive. In fact research undertaken by the Forum for Expatriate Management suggests that in-house costs typically amount to just 1-2%of total assignment costs and external costs amount to no more than 8-10%. The big costs are Assignment Allowances (35%), Property Costs (35%) and Relocation Costs (15%). So if you are looking to control expatriate costs, concentrate on the big ticket items – don’t rush to slash headcount….

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