Interview with Haylei, 29, from the USA 🇺🇸

Urban Index: Hello, Haylei. Tell me about yourself. 

Haylei: So, my name is Haylei. I am a 29 year old woman from California who has been living in France for four years now. 

Urban Index: Were you always in Paris? 

Haylei: I was always in Paris. I’m still in the same apartment I was four years ago. 

Urban Index: Which arrondissement do you live in? 

Haylei: I live on the border of the 11th and the 20th at Père-Lachaise, so technically it’s the 11th. But as far as accessing different neighbourhoods, the 20th is much closer and much easier to go out in. 

Urban Index: Do you love your arrondissement?

Haylei: I do. I actually really, really do! I’m one of those people that will always find something about the neighbourhood I live in, to fall in love with it. I did this in San Francisco and now that I’m living in the 11th and 20th, we have the cemetery, which has a rich, rich history. It’s beautiful. We have a lot of hipster shops, cute little épiceries, cute little dance studios. It’s really thriving and it’s up and coming as well. New shops are opening every day. 

Urban Index: What kind of people would you say live in the 11th and the 20th arrondissements?

Haylei: I would say it’s a lot of young 30-year olds who are probably buying their apartments for the first time.  It’s mostly hipsters. Young, French people. 

Urban Index: Do you think it’s French-International? 

Haylei: I would say the majority is French, around 95%. But walking around the district, you can definitely hear native English speakers. 

Urban Index: What brought you to Paris four years ago? 

Haylei: Unofficially or officially ? Both are stereotypical. I officially came here for school, I was on a student visa. I went to the Paris School of Business, as part of their international program. Unofficially I came for my boyfriend, we had met in San Francisco, where I was a super nerd in high school. I think I had a lot to compensate for and my role model at the time had gotten her masters, so I made it my mission to get my masters. I was putting all my ducks in a row to stay in San Francisco and get my masters at the same university that I had gotten my undergraduate in, so I developed really close relationships with a few professors.

I was saving my money pretty aggressively to pay for tuition. I was looking at scholarship programs, everything, and I had majored in international business, that’s how I met my boyfriend as well. We met in school and two of my professors actually mentioned they had relationships to France. I was seeking advice from both of them and they really guided me towards doing an international program. Although they didn’t have ties to PSB specifically, they helped me make my decision to look towards programs in France. Once I did, I realised that it was actually going to be easier for me to come here with my budget than it would’ve been to stay at San Francisco State University with a 50% off tuition fee. 

Urban Index: So studying overseas would’ve been only half as expensive as it would have been to stay in San Francisco? I assume living costs?

Haylei: No, just on tuition, not including living costs. Going abroad was in line with what I was studying as well. I got to stay with my boyfriend at the time, who’s still my boyfriend, and I got to experience another culture.

Urban Index: You already know that you’re going to stay at your boyfriend’s place?

Haylei: Yes, so I wouldn’t have to pay the rent. 

Urban Index: You get on the aeroplane, you land in Paris where I’m assuming your boyfriend picks you up at the aeroplane, 

Haylei: Also a dramatic story! So dramatic for a lot of different reasons, haha! I was desperately waiting for my visa to come in. I had a one year student visa, which I applied for myself in the French Embassy in San Francisco. I’m lucky enough to come from a place where we have a French embassy. 

When I went there, there were people from all over the northwest part of my country, people who had to take a three hour flight, people who had to drive five hours. I was lucky enough to take a half day off of work and deal with it. I’m pretty sure I had to pay something like a hundred dollars for it at the time. 

The documents I had to bring, if I remember correctly, were my passport, a letter from my boyfriend confirming that I would live with him, so proof of residence, bank statements to prove that I would not be a burden on the system. This is a pretty standard French request, but at the time I remember thinking that I was kind of strange. If you want to become a citizen, you have to prove that you have paid for yourself, you have carried yourself. So it would make sense that if you’re going to go there, they want to have the same kind of proof. I also remember I had an acceptance letter or something like that. 

I had paid half my tuition at that point. I remember being very stressed because they kept asking me for more and more documents, classic French, haha, and I don’t think that they had told me to bring these documents. I remember furiously running around downtown San Francisco trying to find somewhere where I can print these documents and provide them to the embassy. I remember they did an interview with me to say, who are you? Are you really, Haylei, blah, blah, blah. 

Urban Index:  So your top tip is if you have an embassy appointment, make sure you know the nearest printing shop is! 

Haylei: Yes! I mean, anyone who hasn’t already come to France but is planning to come to France, you will learn very quickly that the French administration is always asking for extra documents. I advise that even if it’s not obvious, just print it out beforehand. If they ask for it, great, you’ll have it. Print out whatever, you wasted some paper, but have it ready. 

So back to the embassy: we are all freaking out, especially the unfortunate people who weren’t from a large city in the US. I think that I’m extra privileged moving from San Francisco to Paris, because there’s a lot of similarities of living in a big city. I think it was particularly difficult for the people who had to come from a small town in not even California, from a different state to drive or fly to San Francisco, go to the embassy and then have to run around downtown san Francisco which is a city that’s not a super comfortable environment for everyone who’s not used to it to try to find a printer, et cetera, et cetera.

They took my passport, which was the first time I’ve had that happen,  and because I had already booked my flight I had missed my flight because I didn’t get my visa on time. It was my boyfriend’s birthday in September. As a gift, his parents had booked us a trip to Venice, Italy, and it was looking like I was also going to miss the trip to Venice.

I remember getting an email saying that my visa was coming and it was very dramatic because I was in between housing. I’m living out of a suitcase in a friend’s apartment, and I’m having the visa delivered to my old apartment. I remember basically getting a live UPS-tracker of my visa, where you can actually see the truck on the map and you can track the truck to the destination, so I remember racing to my old apartment where I was still friends with my former roommates at the time. I don’t remember how I got in, if I had like an extra key at that point or what, but I had gotten in the building and I was waiting for the driver. 

I got my visa, I got on my phone and I booked the flight to Paris for three hours later. I called my best friend and said I’m leaving today. It’s happening really fast. My best friend came and she helped me carry my suitcases to the Oakland airport where I flew out of. We had one last drink together and I was off! I landed at Charles De Gaulle, late at night. The next morning, Vincent and I barely made our flight to Venice. 

Urban Index: I hope you got to recover in Venice! Once you came back, did you immediately start with your classes?

Haylei: I didn’t start immediately. I had a week in-between. We had orientation and they had separated the French program from the international program, so most of the people in the international program were not French, although some of them were. All the classes were conducted in English and that was very helpful because I essentially made some of my best friends at that orientation. There are people that I text every day on the daily to this day, four years later. 

Urban Index: Was there any requirement of you knowing any French?

Haylei: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I didn’t speak it, I arrived here without speaking any French. Well, I had done Duolingo. I had done some online courses, but they weren’t structured courses. I don’t even think I could form a sentence.  I remember at the time I studied a lot on my own to try to read French, to try to write French and I remember arriving and listening to these people speak, and I couldn’t distinguish one word from the other. It was all just noise. It took me, I think, essentially a year to even distinguish words within a sentence, words that I knew that I studied. But hearing the Duolingo guys saying it versus somebody who lives here and is from here, very different. Very different. I don’t know if this is coming from a culture where we’re not exposed to many other languages, certainly not French, we’re exposed to Spanish.

Where I came from, we are exposed to some Vietnamese, for instance, but I was never exposed to French. I don’t watch French media and I don’t think the average American does. Other international people hear American media and American entertainment, it’s very prominent here. 

Urban Index: Let’s talk admin.  You’re going to need a bank account, you’re going to need a phone number, you’re going to need your Navigo. How did you do all of this?

Haylei: Luckily my boyfriend’s family really helped me out a lot. They helped me with my Navigo. To get your Navigo, there are a few ways to do it

It’s very difficult to get a bank account as an American in France. If anyone here is American reading this blog, you’ll very quickly learn that our government has a very weird way of tracking its citizens. They have standards for us that other countries do not. And so sometimes it’s easier for banks just to not work with us. LCL is the bank that I bank with, and it is known for being one of the best banks for American students. They don’t have a special program for American students, but they do have a special program for students from outside the EU. Then again, this is French culture, so you’ll learn quickly that everything depends on the person you’re speaking to. I suspect that a lot of bankers see that you’re an American. They know it’s going to be more paperwork for them. Maybe they’ve never been through the process before and they don’t want to learn the process, so it’s easier for them just to say, no, I’m sorry, we don’t work with you guys. It’s a matter of maybe trying again with somebody else.

Now I use a Neobank, I have a friend who worked at Revolut and she’s the one that recruited me to sign up with Revolut. I love it, they give you a virtual card. Contactless payment is very common in Europe which was new for me coming here. American citizens can now easily open an account with Revolut, I think it’s, it just happened about a month ago. I signed up with a referral code (insert referral code) . I needed to provide that document that was in a permanent residence, but now you can sign up using your American passport which is much easier. I think you have to pay like eight euros or something like that, a one-time fee. If you have your details, you have your passport and you have eight euros and you have data, you can sign yourself up in 20 minutes. 

Urban Index: You had a French residence card (carte de séjour)?  How do you get that?

Haylei:  I demanded it. I was on a student visa that was valid for one year. In France, you need to demand a meeting with your prefecture and you can only demand that meeting within three months of the expiration date of your current visa. There was a problem because all of the slots were taken. This would’ve been in August, 2019. I had already signed a contract for a CDI and I was supposed to start in September, but the problem was I was in between visas, so I needed to sort out my visa situation or I felt like my brand new contract was in jeopardy. The company was not going to help me with this. At this initial point they were like “good luck”. They did not help me.

I’m trying to remember to get everything straight. So I couldn’t get an appointment online. I physically showed up to the prefecture office and I cried to the security guard to let me in, because I was really upset and I knew I wasn’t going to get in and I knew my visa was going to expire. I come from a culture where, if you don’t have your documents in order, you’re screwed and you can never be let back into the country. I was at the time operating under those assumptions, which I found out later on is different in France. We always come in with our cultural assumptions and we don’t realise we’re even using those assumptions until it gets pointed out to us, right?

Long story short, I had to show up three days in a row, face the same security guard three days in a row, and beg to be let in. On the third day, he let me in. After that it was easy, it was smooth sailing. They gave me a Récépissé. It works as an official document and it gives you a temporary number, like the social security number. It allows you to work and I got it on the day when I made it into the office. It goes quite quickly.

This document is supposed to hold you over until you can finally get a real appointment to get your carte de sejour. My workplace at the time had to make a case as to why they needed me. As I was working in the anglophone markets, they needed a native speaker. My work sat down, they hired a lawyer and the lawyer drafted all of these documents for me to take into my official appointment.  When I went for my official appointment, I had gone through everything and they still didn’t give me the official card. I don’t know why,, but then Covid hit and everything was completely fucked. And there was a time where I had no documents whatsoever.

The French administration had basically said, don’t worry about it. We know you’re in the country. Don’t leave. They were, they were drowning. They couldn’t do anything about it. Anyway, after six months of not having a titre séjour, which meant that I had no official documents, which meant I couldn’t leave the country because I couldn’t enter, I had gotten an appointment. Finally after that I was granted my card and I was granted a four year visa. At this point I had already spent two years in the country. While my visa will expire in 4 years, it becomes easier and easier to renew – the first time you really had to fight, you really had to make a case. The second time they say, okay, you’ve been at a steady job for one year – it’s important that you don’t jump jobs within that first year. 

Urban Index: Are there companies that are more open to hiring Americans or jobs that are open to hiring Americans? Could you just take your pick? 

Haylei: I found my job on Welcome to the Jungle. It’s a little bit of a cheat, but I literally just typed in “native English speaker” and that’s how I found my position. I ended up in a career I really like, I think it depends on your industry. 

Urban Index: As an international working in France, how did you feel working in a French company? 

Haylei: My first company I honestly loved. Yeah. Coming from the USA, I had a very strict working background. My bosses were not so accommodating. We have no job security as they can fire you whenever they want, the hours seem a lot longer. That’s what I had experienced. If you show up a minute late, you might get a talking to for five minutes. You’re expected to buy your lunch, eat your lunch, finish your lunch within 30 minutes and most days I would eat at my desk. And so when I came here, I remember very early on into my career, I was handed a lot of prospecting tools. I had accidentally sent out an email to basically everybody in our database – I was freaking out and I was thinking, “oh God, I’ve just gotten myself fired”. Obviously I wasn’t going to try to sweep it under the rug, so I went to my manager, I was like, “oh no, oh no, help me, help me, please”. 

I remember he was just so calm and relaxed and he was like,, he laughed about it. He made a little joke and said “okay, let me see if I can stop this”. I just remember thinking that wow, everyone here is so relaxed.

Urban Index: I’m assuming you had a large portion of French people at the company? 

Haylei: My team was pretty international because I was in the expansion team. The majority of the people were French. My boss was French. The founders were all French. 90% of the company was French. 

Urban Index: Did you have a lot of contact with the French employees? 

Haylei: We were a small company. We were less than 60 at the time, and 40 of us were regularly coming into the office every single day. I think my experience is heavily reliant on my industry, I was in a tech startup so people will show up in t-shirts and jeans and, and sneakers and in my experience, tech guys seem to be some of the nicest people. They are just so kind and nice and positive. They are very curious about other people’s cultures and other people’s takes on things. We had a lot of discussion around my experience in France and my perspective as an American. 

Urban Index: Is there any difference you see working in France versus working in the USA? 

Haylei: Yes, the after work policy, the apéro. One thing that I felt very early on, but I couldn’t put my finger on was that French people are not more outgoing than Americans, but they are more social, they’re more convivial. They run in the same social circles, and they enjoy being in a group more than Americans do. You’re expected to show up for apéros, when you don’t, people take notice and you’re not as liked. I don’t think that you get promoted as quickly if you don’t come. One big difference that I noticed was taking an hour long lunch, my boss would order wine and order me a glass without really, you know. In that regard, it’s very Emily in Paris. 

They also respect your life. In the States, if you take a vacation, even if you have those vacation days, your boss can still say no. They respect vacation here. If you have something going on and you say, I’m sorry, I can’t, they respect that. If you need to go to the doctor, you can go, whereas in the United States you really had to make a case. When you’re looking for an apartment or have viewings or have to go to the doctor or you have an errand to run here, you just communicate it and then they let you go. It’s normal. 

Urban Index: What are the biggest life differences for you from before moving to France and now being in Paris? Do you feel that you could pick up the same lifestyle? 

Haylei: When I first moved here, I remember thinking, wow, these people never work out. Coming from the West Coast, I lived in yoga pants and sneakers. In Paris, you almost never see people in yoga pants on the street. When you do, you can tell they’re going to a yoga class. I came from a very active culture  to a culture that doesn’t value athletics as much. That was a huge difference for me.

The vacations were huge, having a whole month off in the summertime, whereas in the US having 2 weeks two weeks was a luxury.  If you did a two week vacation in my parents’ generation, you weren’t doing that again for another five years. 

Diet was hard. Diet was really, really hard. I remember getting enough fibre was difficult in the beginning. Again, coming from California, we eat salads, we have salad chains all over the place. We have Mexican restaurants, which Mexican cuisine is heavily focused on like beans and vegetables, so I remember coming to France and just feeling like, God, these people never eat vegetables. I remember girls walking around with their Contrex, diuretic water. It was the first time I had ever seen diuretic water. 

Urban Index:  In terms of building a life for yourself here, building routine like hobbies and activities and things you like to do, how did that go?

Haylei: It was very difficult.  I think I held myself back for a long time because I know my French was not up to snuff, so I felt like my own insecurity around the language held me back from doing the things I really loved. In California, I would regularly go to yoga classes. It’s much cheaper there, but the classes were in English also. 

Urban Index: Where did you find your yoga class? Where did you look for it? 

Haylei: I think Google Maps. I typed in yoga near me. It’s really hard to know where to start. You might know what you want, but where do you start looking for it? You’re in a new country. I’m a very social person and so I think going to an international program really helped with that, because I was able to form a core there. Basically all of my closest friends now somehow are related to that core. You meet people through people and then your life evolves and maybe now you don’t hang out with that core anymore, but you’re still somehow related to that. 

Urban Index: So what you’re saying is you have to be social just in order to meet people and get introduced to other people. Yeah. And you can’t really lock yourself away. 

Haylei: Even if you don’t necessarily see the person, that you’re talking to as your best friend forever, maybe that person’s going to be the person that introduces you to your best friend, you’re going to be talking to your future best friend that you’re going to be messaging every single day. That’s kind of how it happened for me.

Urban Index: Your closest friends today, are those all people you met first degree or are some of them friends? 

Haylei: Alot of them are friends of friends. Some of them I’ve met directly in a school group or something like that, but I think if you run down the top 10 contacts on my WhatsApp, it’s people of other people. They are mostly international people, but they all work and live in Paris. There’s a huge international community. If you’re an international person working in the startup worldyou’ll start to realise that everybody knows everybody. 

Urban Index: Building a life, hobbies, culture, shocks, anything negative that you’ve experienced?

Haylei:  Don’t hold yourself back. Even if you sound like an idiot (and they’ll make you sound like it). They’ll point out your flaws. Something negative about French culture I think that they’re very comfortable pointing out each other’s flaws. If you make a mistake, whether it’s in the way you speak or if you’re slightly weird, they’re going to point that out. I don’t know why they do that. I think it’s culturally a thing. People complain more here. They love it. It’s not a stereotype, it’s true. I would say they complain to do two things: they complain to connect with each other, just like English people talk about the weather,ant the other reason is that it’s easy. It’s conversation material. So when people are complaining, you don’t necessarily have to go into problem solving mode like an American would do. You can just listen and complain back. 

Urban Index: Last question. What are your favourite places in Paris? 

Haylei: Buttes Chaumont. There’s a waterfall, there are hills. It’s on the outskirts of  Paris in the 20th, so it’s kind of removed. I love La Villette, it’s very cute. It’s a nice place to get a beer in the summertime. There are all these cute little niche bars and restaurants that you can enjoy to see something different. My last favourite place is El Guacamole. It’s great for Mexican food, if you’re missing Mexican food. I guess those would be my favourite places, other than my apartment!