If you've read my Paris Plan--the 15 rules I created to guide my time in a City of Light--you'll notice there's a comment at the bottom from Susan Hutchinson, creator of Fleurishing and also my new real-life friend. She wrote:
"Love them all...and I have one to add. #16 Make new friends. Done and done."
Susan noticed, and maybe you did, too, that none of my Paris Plan rules include anything about friends. Sure, I mean, it briefly acknowledges dudes. (And also making friends with all sorts of food...maybe even too much on that.) But when I wrote that list before I left New York, I didn't really give "new friends" a second thought.
Three months in Paris--with lots of time spent with my between-countries roommate Nichole and with several girlfriends and colleagues coming to town--didn't seem like an opportunity to form meaningful new friendships. I didn't think it would be a thing. I'm such an independent traveler, and besides that, I've lived happily alone in NYC for forever. I had no inkling there would be time to get lonely. And hey, in between visits from folks, there would be baguettes and chocolates and strolls along the Seine with my camera quietly in tow, right? I am someone who needs downtime, right? Being apart from others reinvigorates me, right?
Wrong. Nope. Not right. No. I instead found the total, total opposite.
There is a surprising aloneness that comes with not understanding the everyday language around you. It is startling. If I was here for a longer length of time, I'd be diving into an intensive French language course--full on, all in. By not having the ability to completely express my needs to my neighbors or my grocer or to the child zooming at me on his scooter, absent-mindedly aiming for my foot, I am not fully able to take care of myself. I feel intensely vulnerable on a regular basis.
It's not a familiar role for a professional communicator who is adept at fending for herself.
Despite it all, however, new friends have found me. Through the magic of long-standing social media connections and Nichole's generous in-person introductions, I have met an impressive and gracious group of women. And yes, yes, they all speak French in addition to English. And yes, yes, they all take care of me when they're around. But yes, yes, and whatever, whatever, these are all genuine friendships I intend to keep well after Amy's Paris Escapade: Spring 2014 turns into Amy's Back in Brooklyn: Summer 2014.
Their invitations to dinner parties and brunches, how-are-you? texts, and larger French vocabularies have become a soft place for me to fall. But more than that, I'm beginning to realize they're actually teaching me a larger, much-needed lesson.
I am at an age where friends are married, having kids, and moving beyond New York. I, on the other hand, am moving to Paris with my camera. It's simply who I am--a traveler who is not settled, a "child of the world" as a cousin once called me. Part of me choosing to go freelance in 2012 was so I could get back in touch with that side of me--to have the flexibility to do things like move to Europe on a whim. But, in all honesty, what held me back was the idea that people in new cities wouldn't be looking for new friends--that their spouse or kids or long-term BFF would simply suffice. Does anyone at this point really have the time or the room or the need?
Whether they know it or not, my Parisian friends are showing me much more than how to ask the waiter for the check or how to order a bigger slice of cheese. They are showing me that this is possible. That moving neighborhoods or cities or countries doesn't have to be something you do alone, even if you are doing it alone. You just have to speak up, and say the word.