I love telling people that I live in Paris. It may sound like I’m bragging, but I’m not. Really, I’m not. I don’t think I’m somehow superior just because I get to see the Eiffel Tower whenever I want. I’m not trying to make anyone jealous. I just love telling people that I live in Paris because I’m proud of everything I’ve overcome to get here. I am an immigrant to France, and regardless of what politicians will tell you, I know from personal experience that being an immigrant is hard. Really hard. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding. So yes, I like telling people about it.
I first moved to Paris with the intention of only staying for four months, and that was five years ago. It took less than a week after I had arrived for me to realize that this beautiful city was home. I felt a connection to Paris that I had never felt before, and I immediately decided that I wanted to stay. Turns out that was easier said than done. What followed was years of visa appointments, renewal applications, medical examinations, French society and culture classes, and language tests. At this point, I’m pretty sure I’ve killed a small forest with the amount of paperwork I’ve had to submit over the years. One day I will write the story of this process (and it’s a good one!), but for now, I want to skip to the end.
Earlier this year, I found myself at the Prefecture in the middle of Paris because I had received a text saying that my residency card was ready to be picked up. My heart was pounding as I handed over yet another stack of paperwork. The woman behind the desk shuffled through it, nodded, and then got up and disappeared into another room. I was so nervous while I waited for her to come back that my hands actually began to shake. My thoughts ran through all of the ways that this could go wrong. There was a mistake. They sent the text to the wrong person. France had reconsidered and they were revoking my visa. By the time the woman got back I thought I was going to pass out.
What happened next actually wasn’t all that exciting. She simply handed me an envelope and that was that. She turned back to her computer and we were done. I quickly gathered my things and exited out of the building. Once I was outside, in the middle of the plaza in front of the Palais de Justice, I finally opened the envelope and looked inside. There, attached to an official form, was my French residency card. It was good for four years. At that point, I may have started jumping up and down and screaming in excitement, alarming several groups of tourist nearby, but I didn’t care. I had done it. I was officially an immigrant to France.
In that moment, all I felt was joy. Delirious, exuberant joy. However, the path to that moment was anything but. As I’ve said before, being an immigrant is hard. You live somewhere you consider to be home, and yet you constantly have to justify your presence there. Your motivations are questioned at every turn, and there are years of uncertainty and instability as you work towards a more permanent status. In many cases, you are trying to navigate an extraordinarily complex administration system in a foreign language, and just one mistake could be enough to make it all go away. It’s not just hard. It’s exhausting and emotionally draining.
I also need to state for the record that as difficult as it has been for me, there are millions of people for whom this process is infinitely worse. I am well aware of how much easier my experience has been simply due to the colour of my skin and the passport that I hold. I grew up in a country where French is an official language, so while I’m not exactly fluent, I do have a familiarity with it that many people immigrating to France may lack. I am incredibly lucky to have an amazing network of friends who have helped me every step of the way. And I have the enormous privilege of choosing to live in Paris because I want to and not because I’ve been forced to. If France decides to kick me out one day, I can always go back to my home country. Far too many immigrants around the world simply don’t have that option.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an immigrant these past couple of weeks. It’s not something I ever thought I’d experience, and yet here I am, getting ready to celebrate my five year anniversary in France in a couple of days, and you’d better believe I’m going to be celebrating. I have spent years making Paris my home, and I have quite literally put my blood, sweat, and tears into it. So, so many tears. So yes, I love to tell people that I live in Paris. I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished to get to this point, and more importantly, I’m proud of being an immigrant to France. It’s been a long, hard five years, but it’s also been the best five years of my life.
Plus, I get to see the Eiffel Tower whenever I want.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.