On the Outside Looking in: Living in the Suburbs
Moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone isn’t easy, no doubt about it. I would know, I’ve done it twice. The first time, I moved from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the heart of Pittsburgh for college. I was surrounded by other people my age and despite not being the world’s best at making friends, I was never alone. Also, being in a big city and on a college campus, everything was open early and stayed open late, so there was always something to do with the new friends I’d made.
I spend roughly 2.5 – 3 hours per day going to and from my class in Paris which only lasts 2 hours
Then, a few months ago, I moved from Pittsburgh to the suburbs of Paris to work as an au pair and I can say for sure that it’s definitely not what I was expecting. I live in a tiny little town about 15 miles outside of Paris, which doesn’t sound that horrible until I tell you that the train takes 45 minutes to get to Paris and only runs every 30 minutes. That doesn’t even include having to take the metro once I arrive in Paris to get where I’m going. Like all American au pairs, my visa requires that I take french courses during my time here, which means that I spend roughly 2.5 – 3 hours per day going to and from my class in Paris which only lasts 2 hours. While this is annoying but manageable during the day when my kids are at school and I know my schedule, it makes going to Paris to meet friends during the week nearly impossible, since I work until 7pm and have to be up at 7am the next day.
Recently I found out that there is another train line about a 15-20 minute drive from my house that runs significantly more often and takes less time, so I go there on evenings and weekends, which definitely helps. However, no matter which line I’m taking, I have to keep an eye on the time when I’m out at night so that I can catch the last train (usually between midnight and 1am) and be careful about how many drinks I have because I’ll have to drive home from the train station. Also, if you live in the suburbs you’re liking going to have to drive, which means learning to drive a manual car if you don’t know how already. I got a crash course in driving a stick shift before I came to France but nothing really prepares you for crazy french drivers, so be forewarned.
Small Town Life…
In a little town, the only people at the bar are middle-aged and complaining about their children.
Another thing I hadn’t really thought about before coming was what it would be like to move from a big city to a suburb/small town. In cities, there are lots of young people, you can go to any bar and find dozens of them and strike up a conversation. In a little town, the only people at the bar are middle-aged and complaining about their children. Considering that my days generally consist of driving children to and from school, there aren’t very many opportunities to meet other people that aren’t small children or parents/grandparents.
However, I was able to make some friends around my age when I signed up to play on a women’s soccer team in my town, which has been my saving grace. With practice twice a week and games on Saturdays, I’m guaranteed at least a little time each week with other people my age doing something we all enjoy. I would definitely suggest looking into group activities if you live in a small town like me, many towns even have little “activity fairs” where all of the clubs in the town come together in a public space to hand out information and register people to be involved in their groups. As a side note, in the US when you sign up for an activity, it’s usually just for one season (like soccer I just in the fall). In France, when you sign up for an activity, it lasts the entire school year (September to June).
Living with the family…
Finally, as an au pair in the suburbs, I live with my host family and not in a separate studio. This poses several difficulties, the first of which is being uncomfortable in the house. Even after nearly 3 months here, I’m still struggling to be comfortable anywhere but my bedroom when the family is around. It can be very isolating to feel like I’m stuck in my bedroom and even though it’s my domain and the family isn’t allowed in without asking, I’ve run into issues with the mother coming in and then getting upset because it wasn’t clean. Furthermore, I’m not someone who loves going out at night and would much rather stay in with friends and cook or watch a movie, but that isn’t an option because it isn’t my house. Lastly, the family expects me to eat meals with them unless I tell them otherwise in advance, and if I’m going to be late or stay in the city with friends, I have to tell them. There are days where I feel like I’m back living with my parents, which is rough since part of the reason I came to France was so that I didn’t have to spend my gap year living at home.
Overall, I’d say that living in the suburbs of Paris and working as an au pair is roughly equivalent to being a commuter student at a university. It’s possible to make friends and go out and enjoy yourself, but it takes significantly more planning and will not be nearly as easy for you as it is for your friends who live in the city. Occasionally you’ll have to forgo activities that fall during the week because it isn’t really possible with the commute time and you’ll have to always be watching the time to make sure you don’t miss the train, whether it is the last train of the night or the train that will get you back to your town to pick up your kids from school. I would highly recommend considering your options if you’re still looking for a family and picking one in Paris, but if living in the suburbs is your only option, you’ll manage alright, even if it takes more work than you were expecting.