Living in a tourist’s world…

Paris. It is a word that ignites many different reactions in people. Love, dream, travel, romance, home. Paris is one of those destinations on many, many people’s bucket lists of travel and as resident, I can see why. The only thing that has ever irked me about the tourist aspect is that most visitors appear to forget people actually live here. People have lives, husbands, girlfriends, ex-wives, children, grandparents, jobs, mortgages to negotiate and rent to pay. As a visitor to Paris, you can visit and ‘ooh’ and ‘aww’ at all the sights, but you will never understand the weirdness that is wrapped up in living somewhere that never experiences a downtime in tourist visits. While taking a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower you have waited your entire life to have, you may notice the people jogging around the park. Most of those people live here. We run past you and you huff that we ruined your tripod/timer photo but have you thought about how we internally huff that we don’t want to stop a training run so you can take a picture? You see, Paris is a tourist trap 365 days a year and the locals, well, somedays we are good at not noticing and smiling at you as you enjoy your short time here, yet other days we are aggravated by it.

Never was this aggravation clearer to me than the one and only time I visited Cimitère du Père-Lachaise. Père-Lachaise has become a major tourist spot in Paris synonymous with the ‘greats’ who are buried there. Jim Morrison, Molière, Chopin…just to name a few. What people tend to forget is that Père-Lachaise is still a functioning cemetery. Back to the story, though, it was summer 2010 and my boss, we’ll call him Mr TV, passed away.  I received the call from his wife and she promised to forward funeral details as soon as they were finalised. I was in the middle of adjusting to a newborn and I promise you, death was the furthest thing from my mind.

So, a couple days later the email arrived. The funeral was in the afternoon and the location was to be  Père-Lachaise, the closest cemetery from their long-time residence in Paris. I re-read it several times. Père-Lachaise. In summer. In the height of the tourism frenzy.

I was given strict instructions on how and where to go upon arrival and whom to present myself to. I was told the ceremonies at Père-Lachaise were under strict control as many tourists had tried to ‘crash’ these events in the past. I had to bring ID, head to a certain numbered door and ask for the service for Mr TV.

On that particular day, I arrived, followed instructions and began the process of attending an actual funeral at Père-Lachaise. A group of English-speaking teenagers started heckling me, telling me that it may be a cemetery but it was ‘overkill’ of me to dress in all-black. This was one of those moments where the world of tourists who are seeing Paris from the looking glass and those who live here collided for me. Never was I angrier at a bunch of teenagers in my life.

The ceremony was lovely. My heart broke for Mrs TV, her young boys and all of those in the crowd I knew who were shocked by his passing. We left as a group and were heavily photographed by tourists on our way out. I’m not sure what they were thinking but I know what I was and it was something along the lines of ‘show some respect’.  This may be your holiday but that doesn’t mean compassion has to escape you.

This isn’t meant to be preachy but as I wind up my time here I wanted to pass this on, to both local Parisians and to tourists. We don’t always have to like each other and routinely, we don’t. However, let’s show some mutual respect. Paris is for everyone to enjoy but please remember it would be nothing without the money tourists bring in and it would be even less without the locals who continue to make it what it is.

I have never returned to Père-Lachaise after that day. I didn’t want to. Losing Mr TV was devastating and changed Paris for me. I know I need to ‘visit him’ before I leave for good and I will.  I promise.

Photo: Fotolia

“If that’s what you want…”

By now, a lot of you get it. We are moving to Switzerland this July for, what we understand, is a very long time. I know many people were shocked by the news, especially after we had spent so long in Paris. I expected that reaction as we were pretty quiet about Mr H’s discussions with his new company until they became serious. What I didn’t expect was the reaction I’m going to call “noncommittal”. This is a generic version of this conversation and if any part of it resonates with you, don’t be upset. I am just trying to understand what is behind this:

Me: So, it’s official! We are moving to Switzerland this summer!
Other person: Oh what a shock! I’m happy for you…if that’s what you want?

There it is. Is it concern that I am upset to leave Paris? Is it worry that I am disappointed in Mr H’s newest work adventure? Is it snobbery that Switzerland isn’t “PARIS!”? Is it judgement? I am 99% sure that from most people, it is NOT the latter two.

So, what IS it then?

I had a long talk with a client-friend we will call Curly who told me I appear to ‘have it made’ in Paris and it seems strange I would want, like actually want, to leave here. That I would be excited by it and not devastated. Curly explained to me (hi Curly if you are reading this!) that I have made myself such an involved life here: a running club, a soccer club, a business, friends, clients, client-friends, etc., that it probably hasn’t occurred to people WHY I worked hard to make Paris fit me, versus me fitting into Paris.

You see, Paris and I have a weird history. I never wanted to live here. This wasn’t a dream of mine. I didn’t think about Paris. I didn’t dream about coming here on a romantic trip one day, especially not after I came here once and thought it was pretty but not for me. Then I did the thing I have learned a lot of girls dream about: I met a boy who lived in Paris. We got engaged here and then I moved and have stayed for a very, very long time. I approached my move here with some hesitation but was determined to figure out a life for myself that would work. As it happened, I did realise more and more that Paris wasn’t a perfect fit for me so I made it fit as best I could.  The truth of the matter is, I’m perpetually twitchy in Paris. Sure I love a good night out on the town with heels, a nice bag and a pretty hipster restaurant to park myself in with some champagne, but that isn’t all I need in life. Fashion is fun but I could care less when it is Fashion Week here. I am not an artist and don’t see the poetry in things here like others do. I despise pain au chocolat (sorry, I know!) and I have had to break up with baguettes more times than I can count as they just don’t seem to love my waistline as much as I love the taste! It has taken some time but I have learned that I’m OK with not fitting into the “Paris is everything” mould.

That said, I also know I have been extremely fortunate to have had this time here. I have given birth to two children for whom Paris is their home. I have made amazing friends. I did become as integrated as possible in my own way. In other words, Paris and I, we’ve grown to love each other in a very special way.  Yet, I am ready to say goodbye.

I am not delusional about moving to another country. I know there is xenophobia, cultural clashes, weird quirks and a host of other things you must encounter when relocating. What I also know is that there are places better suited to your interests than others and that is where moving to Switzerland is winning for me. My family are at home in the mountains. We love to hike.  Junior boy is interested in continuing his sailing lessons, like his father. Little Miss believes in her whole heart right now that her future is in competitive skiing. To live somewhere that combines all of this within short distances of each other, plus the benefit of city-life, makes this move compelling to us. We see this as a blend of our Franco-Canuck-Anglo-city-mountain-lake-personalities. Doesn’t roll off the tongue easily but that’s what it is.

Paris is wonderful, there is no doubt, but for us, there is a better place a bit further down the road. And yes, that is what I want.

© Onidji – Fotolia.com

Moving Stress and Furry Kids

If you don’t yet ‘know’ us as a family, I would like to take a moment to introduce you to Leni, our 8 year old black lab that acts like he is still 6 months old. Leni is, without a doubt, one of my best friends. He has been my marathon training partner (up to my 30K runs) and my confidant when some days just don’t turn out the way you want. He sat with me in the bathroom through two pregnancies worth of morning sickness and helped the kids learn how to walk by letting them hold onto him to steady themselves. He is not just a family pet, he IS family.

Our furry kid, Leni

We had discussed how to handle the move with the dog. He gets stressed over luggage, etc., so we often keep vacation packing for after he has gone to his vacation farm. We had decided he would go there for the moving weeks then we would return and pick him up after settled in our new home and show him his new Swiss paradise!

What we didn’t expect was his stress to occur before this. Our house is up for sale and anyone who has been here before knows that means a house that is beyond hospital-level of clean with toys, dog beds, etc., all being hidden each morning when we leave the house. Let’s face it,  no one wants to see a chewed up dog bed big enough for a tiny dinosaur in the middle of a living room when looking at a new house. He doesn’t understand this and has unfortunately reacted badly to this change in his life. He has been a mix of depressed and agitated. If you know Leni, you know he is a gentle giant and agitated is not in his repertoire. I noticed last night that he has begun to obsessively lick his paws and cause open sores. Heartbreaking.

Not entirely knowing what to do, we took him to the vet this morning. He has the most amazing vet who immediately agreed Leni was not acting like his normal self. We talked about a plan of action but in the end, it really boils down to a catch-22. We are stressed. Our home is disrupted. He is stressed by these two things. This stresses us out more and thus, the cycle continues. Our ‘prescription’ is to treat his wounds, try to keep his home life as stable as possible and keep his dr informed. If needs be, his dr recommends sending him to his vacation home for a bit of stability. I hate feeling like I can’t make my dog happy when my days and nights are spent obsessively searching for a home with a garden he can play in! If only dogs could speak!!!!

I look forward to the day I can post a happy picture of my silly, happy, big-dog-trapped-in-a-small-dog’s-body, labrador and say, “we all appear to have survived the move!”

Until then…Lenster, I adore you and we’ll sort this out! ❤
Photos courtesy of Louise Francois

It’s official: we are moving to Switzerland

Back in 2005, when Mr H asked me to marry him at the Paris Opéra, I was just a girl from Canada (Thunder Bay, to be exact) who felt dizzy with the lights and craziness of my new potential life. One that didn’t involve flying back and forth across the Atlantic to see the guy I was falling for anymore but rather, one that meant I was relocating here. Somewhere new, fresh and incredibly intimidating. It was French, it was Paris, it was all a lot to take in!! However, we married, I moved and life was pretty sweet. At the time, we were supposed to live here about 2 years. It’s 2015 and we are still here…until this coming summer.

It’s true, we are leaving Paris. We are leaving for a new life in the Lausanne-area of Switzerland and we couldn’t be happier!! Mr H has found and amazing job that he is very excited about and we all support his decision to relocate us for work. While leaving Paris will see many nights of tears and wine, I have no doubt we are making the right decision for our little family.

We have already told our families and some local friends we are leaving, but in doing so, I have come to realise a lot of folks are a bit in the dark about Switzerland. It kind of seems like the Canada of Europe – everyone has heard of it, everyone can name one or two things about it but after that, there is a lot of humming and hawing. Let me help:

1) Switzerland has 4 national languages (Italian, German, French, Romansh). We are moving to the French-speaking part which is excellent for my little bilingual family. I have been re-learning Italian since December and Mr H has been trying to switch his German to Swiss German. This isn’t necessary but we plan to travel around our new country and always find it useful to speak a local language as best we can.

2) Switzerland is a 6 hour drive from Paris. We will be back my beloved Parisian friends xo

3) Switzerland is not in the EU and we will now require visas to work there…Mr H gets one with his job and I have to sort that out for myself which might take time, hence the blog to keep me busy!

4) the junior Harts will attend French-speaking schools like they have in Paris

5) yes, I plan to ski a LOT with Heidi-style braids whilst wearing a Rolex and eating chocolate. Maybe I will yodel, too.  Then eat fondue. OK these are stereotypes but I’m not kidding on the skiing part (or chocolate)!

There will be shocking changes as there are with any international move but we’ve got this. We have already dreamed up our own traditions being a ‘family constantly away from other family’ and I have no doubt that whatever bumps, shocks and ‘omg I didn’t know that!’ moments gets in our way, we will sort it out the way we always have: with laughter and lots of hugs. Maybe some chocolate, too.

Hello and Bonjour

This is it. After 10 years in Paris, France, we are set for a new adventure. Who are ‘we’? We are a Canadian-British family with two kids born and raised thus far in Paris. We are, as my oldest says, citizens of the world. He is right. His sister doesn’t quite understand how different we are just yet but I think this will happen soon enough. I am leaving behind my job, friends, life, soccer club and running club in Paris to restart soon in another country. I’m not sure how seamless this will be so I decided to write about it. Will anyone read this? I’m not sure but I know it will at least help me!

We wanted this change but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with a lot of stress. Breathe, one-two-three, have a glass or two of wine, and here we go!!!!