Arriving In Paris During Lockdown: Feelings And Expectations Of A Newly Landed Expat.

Feelings and Expectations

Early December 2020, just a few weeks away from the finale of the “missing” year as described by many; and on a late afternoon, I was heading with my wife to embark on a new journey.

I peeked from the window seat and my eyes were rested upon a haze, a haze that had me compelled with excitement to gaze and use my imagination not only to see what’s beneath but perhaps to also listen, smell and sense the forthcoming. And within few moments later, the landed plane had it all uncovered, the French soil, Paris, the City of Light.

It was my first time in France. The country was on its second confinement. I was happy to be there, yet I was happier to know that I shall be taking off the mask sometime soon after we landed in Charles de Gaulle airport after a seven-hours trip from Dubai where we had been residing for our expatriation period.

The heat that we carried on with us from Dubai through the trip was cut by an icy wave of cold as we got out of the airport after we finished the routine passport control, collected our baggage and were finally heading to our temporary apartment in the eighth “arrondissement” in Paris.

Now I am beneath the haze and all the feelings of excitement started to be accompanied by an obscure feeling of hope as we traversed through the capital. A feeling of hope that the city of light will match my romantic expectations.
As we carried on our way, all the charm I was waiting for, was ready there but I guess not fully ready. The closed doors of the restaurants, the cafés, bars and shops kind of dominated the scene. Though the Champ Elysée avenue, the most famous avenue in the world still managed to keep my excitement on a blaze, still I didn’t want to get ahead of myself since I’ll have the time to indulge on discovering the city.

“Voilà, nous sommes arrivés”, the driver said as he dropped us at the building.

Concerns Of  The Expats

“Now what?” A question that every expat asks upon his arrival to a country, however with the Covid situation and the confinement I guess that question seemed to be more recurring.

My wife had an immediate answer for the question: “The agent from the apartment rental agency scheduled to aid us in our accommodation is on his way to check us in the apartment.” But as soon as the agent arrived, checked us in, we were left with a lot of other questions in mind though he covered some of our major concerns like:

What are the nearest supermarkets, restaurants and pharmacies to our place?

Another concern that I learned about later was shared with me by a Brazilian expat friend who arrived in August 2020 as we were walking in one of the parks in Paris, which is mainly the most common activity nowadays during the confinement: “I was concerned about finding a suitable hospital in case of an emergency since I have a child, in addition to that I was trying to find a suitable school for her before the schools opened their doors in September”.

Now that I am recalling his concern, I really assume that expats with children have an additional load of burden to add to their basket and perhaps that’s why my wife and I didn’t ask the agent about a hospital since we thought our concern is mostly focused on ourselves being a young couple who were hoping to grasp the most fun possible from our expatriation in the country.

“Welcome to France” I remember those were the agent’s last words as we accompanied him to the door before he left. Yes, he said that instead of “Bienvenu à Paris” not because I don’t understand those words, in fact those were some of the few words and phrases that I could apprehend in the French language since I am not a French speaker unlike my wife, therefore it was a nice gesture from the guy to make the effort to speak in English for my sake.

Integrate With The French Community

Still the effort had to be done from my side, though a lot of the people in Paris can in addition to French speak English, I had to start attending French courses which I am still attending until this day to enhance my French. A step which I think is very essential for all expats non- French speakers in order to integrate in a better way in the French community, unless you would like to keep narrating to your family back home the funniest anecdotes about you trying to speak French in the supermarket or plea your wife to be a translator while watching the French news on TV.
Today and after four months spent in Paris, the capital is still on lockdown, the greatest pieces of art in history are still secluded behind the closed doors of the museums. “Les Apéros” have turned recently into “Les Apérues”, a concept which the French people found resistance in to maintain a free space within the streets for their gatherings.

And I with many expats, we do not want to feel estranged, we want to find each other in the city of light, catch up with old friends if found, share our concerns and worries, assemble with the French people and wait together every day for the rain, perhaps it would wash away this awful pandemic.

Elias Moussa

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