When it comes to professional life, Parisians find themselves in a catch-22. They want the seriousness that makes a real job. And the sense of adventure that makes a real life.
Needless to say, such positions are hard to obtain.
“Real job” for Parisians implies either a corporate job or working for a prestigious institution. All other jobs are not serious. “Real life” implies the possibility of waking up to the ocean on the weekend and exposure to other cultures, while of course enjoying an eminently comfortable lifestyle.
Given these parameters, it will come as no surprise that Parisians love expats. Being an expat brings the best of both worlds: a good, well-paid position in a foreign yet cozy environment. Bingo!
Parisians would all like at some point in their career to be sent overseas on an expat contract. Since these days—as Parisians like to complain—”ils ne font plus de contrats d’expat”, many Parisians are given opportunities overseas on a “contrat local“. This option is acceptable for Parisians under thirty-five and for destinations where salaries are significant. If these two conditions are not met, chances are the Parisian is more into real job than real real life. Expat contracts having become scarce, those who obtain them tend to be on the efficient side and are therefore probably more into real jobs.
While Parisians look up to their fellow Parisians who go exploring on a mission, they do enjoy the possibility to socialize with foreign expats. Having an expat friends displays fantastic “ouverture internationale” and implies that the Parisian is both a gracious host and possibly a polyglot. Talking about his expat friend, the Parisian will always mention his nationality: “Tu sais, Mark, mon copain expat canadien.” He will also make mention of the quality of his position: “Il a un très gros poste chez Microsoft … un type assez brillant vraiment.” The Parisian will always compliment his expat friend publicly on his French: “Non, vraiment, il parle très bien. Non, c’est vrai Mark, tu as fait de gros progrès.” The Parisian doesn’t think Mark’s French is any good but he likes to come across as the benevolent paternalist mentor.
Having an expat friend is about adding glow to the Parisian’s life. Not all countries come with the same glamorous touch. Having an American expat friend is the ultimate luxury, then comes South American, then other Anglo countries, then Italy. Having expat friends from any other country will only be acceptable in left-wing circles for whom the betrayal of having friends in the corporate world (losers) will be compensated by the unlikeliness of their country of origin.
Expats arriving in Paris are usually very keen to make Parisian friends and to work on their French. Soon enough, they give up on French and, not long after, on Parisians. Those who love the city enough end up re-creating a Parisian life with compatriots, other international folks and Parisians who have lived abroad long enough. Those who don’t just leave—disenchanted.
For Parisians with social ambitions, the proportion of expats and foreigners at the events they organize is the safest way not only to attract what they deem to be Parisians of quality but also to place themselves on a nice international pedestal—with both their expat and Parisian friends.
Interestingly enough, in Paris, the quality of a social circle will be judged predominantly on the proportion of its internationals. The higher the proportion, the more desirable the circle.
Having many international friends helps Parisians overcome their catch-22. They keep their serious job, while getting a taste of adventure through their international friends. Between real job and real life, Parisians choose not to choose: they opt for real Parisian life.
Sound like a Parisian: “Je peux venir avec mon copain expat? Tu sais, l’Américain, de Boston . . . tu vas voir, il est très sympa.”
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