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Ten Secrets to Surviving in France

Richard Nahem, the blogger (just one of his many talents), this past April sat at my dinner table for a Passover Seder among several of his “Parisians of the Month” — usually an American in Paris who has contributed to the community in some way who he features with an interview and publishes on his Web site.

One of them asked when I had been featured, to which I jokingly replied, “not yet!” Richard and I have known each other a long time. Occasionally we play backgammon together and participate in a monthly writer’s group. That’s probably why we haven’t collaborated as much together as we could or should have — we’re just ‘too close.’ Then, last week he finally proposed…like waiting for a lover to ask for one’s hand in marriage…and I quickly agreed.

Coincidentally, his request for an interview coincided with a talk I was preparing to give this past Monday at Le WIC — the Women’s International Club’s monthly meeting titled, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”

To open the talk, I had outlined the story of my Parisian life, beginning with the first arrival in 1994 and going through the hills and valleys of living in the City of Light before settling on 10 bits of advice I’d give anyone moving to France. There it was at hand, the script Richard was seeking.

(You can read the Eye Prefer Paris interview)

Richard, as I said earlier, has many talents and wears many hats, like many Americans in Paris who came with nothing and got creative to earn a living. One of them is photography — which may be his favorite ‘hat’…and of course, Paris is his favorite subject. Hot off the proverbial press is Eye Prefer Paris Postcards — a cool deal where you can subscribe (for six or 12-months) and receive three postcards of his iconic Paris photos (two in color, one in black and white or sepia) every month. Each month will be themed, from architectural street scenes…to romantic outdoor cafes….to beautiful gardens…to unique shots of Paris monuments. The traditional sized cards (6” X 4.25”) are printed on a thick matte coated card stock, similar to traditional vintage postcard stock that enhances the vibrancy of every image and beautifully packaged in a special French Blue postcard holder with a custom designed seal. (These are no ordinary cards!)

Gift them to a Francophile friend or treat yourself! It’s only $60 for a six-month subscription (plus shipping) or $110 for a 12-month subscription (plus shipping), but you can score big if you subscribe before October 11th because you will get the 13th month free!

Order a 12-month subscription

Order a 6-month subscription

And when you order, be sure to tell Richard that “Adrian sent you!”

The Le WIC monthly meeting went well. One hundred and twenty members and guests attended with about half of them staying on for a sumptuous luncheon. While I recognized a few faces who had come for the first time thanks to Parler Paris, most were women I’d never had the good fortune of meeting — women from 35 different countries who held illustrious positions in the community, including a group of women from the U.S. State department. I was impressed.

Interestingly, every woman I met had something very positive to say about the organization. The line-up of events they offered were formidable and it was clear why it was so attractive to someone wanting a deeper experience in France.

After several of the committee members reported on past and future items on the agenda for the year, I was graciously introduced by Hospitality Coordinator Pamela Leavy, to take the podium and make the presentation. It really wasn’t all that clear as to what WIC members would want to hear from an outsider like me, but considering the theme, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!,” it wasn’t difficult to talk about the trials and tribulations of acclimating from one’s native country to living in France — I had certainly been through it for the last 21 years.

After giving them a bit of background…having come for a one- year sabbatical and just never leaving, even without the right to work for the first ten years, divorcing early on and having to raise a daughter as a single woman in the City of Light…the main points were the ‘wisdom’ gained as a result of the ‘incredible’ journey.

For those of you who weren’t there and are about to ask what advice was given, here’s the crux of 10 secrets to surviving in France (à la Adrian):

1. Get the Power of Now! (Read Eckhart Tolle’s insightful philosophies.) Live in the present, accept the past for what it was (you can’t change it) and plan for the future, but realize the future is totally illusory and doesn’t exist. This will eliminate fear from your life (which is debilitating) and it will enable you to focus — really focus on the present and what is truly important. If you can grasp this concept, you can change your life for the better forever.

2. Understand the fundamental cultural difference between France and your native culture: NAPOLEONIC CODE: “Everything which is not allowed is forbidden.” ENGLISH LAW: “Everything which is not forbidden is allowed.” The legal system in Anglo Saxon countries is based on what is forbidden while the legal system in France is based on what’s allowed. This is the basis for all cultural differences. If you can think the way the French think, you can avoid making some of the biggest mistakes.

3. Employ “System D””: System D refers to a manner of responding to challenges that requires one to have the ability to think fast, to adapt, and to improvise when getting a job done, like MacGyver who solves complex problems by making things out of ordinary objects, along with his ever-present Swiss Army knife. Do not be afraid to exercise “System D.” The letter D refers back to “débrouille” – to manage, make it work – to do “whatever works.”

4. Take professional advice. Don’t try to do everything on your own just to save the money. In the long run, it will cost you more. Trust in professionals who have education and experience.

5. Think positively. Don’t let the negative French viewpoint steer you in the wrong direction. The glass is not half empty. The glass is half full. Believe you can do it. Believe you can do anything.

6. Synchronicity: “Acausal meaningful coincidences (a phrase coined by Carl Jung)! Pay attention to the signposts…remember that the synchronistic events are a beacon to lighting your path. Follow it. It’s yours.

7. Use both your head and your heart. Do what you like doing and are good at doing, without thinking of the money…that will come if you are good at what you do.

8. Remove your ego from the situation. You don’t have to always be right. When you take the ego out, and let others have their egos, you actually empower yourself.

9. Never have expectations, high nor low. Hope for something, but never expect it – and you will never have disappointments. Just take this word out of your vocabulary, period.

10. Be generous. Give as much as you can, without considering the reward, and you will receive in kind.

Of course, these secrets apply to acclimating to just about any climate anywhere in the world. If you start with just Number One (The Power of Now), the rest will easily follow.

A la prochaine…


Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group

(with Richard Nahem)

Respond to Adrian


P.S. Time to improve your French? I recommend the Institut de Français, a language school for adults offering true French immersion, set in the lovely fishing village of Villefranche sur Mer. Contact them today to arrange you language adventure!

Adrian Leeds and Erica SimoneP.P.S. A very special Happy Birthday goes to my daughter, Erica Simone (Leeds), who will be celebrating the 30th year of her promising life tomorrow, October 1st. I remember this moment as if it were yesterday, when I was in labor too many hours to count and she popped out 2.5 weeks early — ready to take on any challenge that came her way.


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