Sylvain Chomet's 'Tour Eiffel' from the film Paris, Je T'aime.
Book-ended by two boulangeries, my street in Paris smelled like butter. Medieval apartments lurched higgledy-piggledy over snow-flecked cobble-stones and on weekends locals would dance in the square to 1920s French songs.
It was on this street that I first met an Italian man with dark faraway eyes who asked me to dine with him in Montmartre.
We spent the days that followed sauntering arm-in-arm through heavy renaissance doorways into secret city gardens, we fed each other Camembert on the banks of the Seine, and we tumbled hopelessly, passionately in love until he asked me to marry him and stay in Paris. Of course I said oui.
If my life were a Hollywood film the story would probably end there. If it were a best-selling memoir I might narrate our ensuing adventures: trips to Rome to meet the mamma, quirky friends and hilarious linguistic mistakes: ‘I asked him if he wanted ‘un pipe’ and realised later it meant fellatio!’
But Continental romances are not as easy as riding on a vespa into a sepia-tinted sunset. We don’t talk about the fact that it’s almost always women who give up their lives to move for love. And we’re not interested when it goes wrong.
As someone who survived a Parisian marriage here are my top five hints for those of you who find yourself swept off your feet by a sexy accent (and who are probably too smitten to take my advice anyway).
1. Make sure it’s really love. You never read books called ‘Almost Vladivostockian’. It’s called ‘Almost French’ for a reason: Certain European countries provide the perfect setting for sensuality, passion and romance. The problem is that it can be hard to discern whether you’re really in love with the person or just in love with the city and your lifestyle: that heady combination of bicycles, holidays, truffle sausage and serpentine boulevards. On the other side of the spectrum, you may also find yourself vulnerable, friendless and alone. Are you really in love with your partner for who they are, or are they just a well-jacketed, well-scarfed key to the city?
2. You will never overcome the language barrier. No matter how fluent you are in each other’s languages, you will never 100% understand each other. Communication is a product of culture and although Europeans may just look like a sexier version of you, in fact they’re sometimes bat-shit crazy. Insisting that your friends are secretly in love with you will start to look less like a cute cultural quirk and more like garden-variety jealousy. Trying to argue this out in another language will also be more teary and frustrating than educational and funny.
3.’Together forever’ actually means until the expiry date on your visa. An ominous clap of thunder can be heard in the background of every Continental romance- it’s the sound of the state telling you your love must come to an end on a certain day. This knowledge will send your romance into a kind of intoxicating crisis, whipping heightened passions into declarations of love until one morning you find yourself in one of three positions: back in Australia weeping for your lover; you and your lover living in Australia, or married and living in Paris. I chose the latter option. The problem with a visa is that it forces you to make life-changing decisions in an artificially short period of time, and in a context of divine, amorous madness. It also makes clear the hidden gender dynamics of romantic migration: statistically, in heterosexual relationships, it’s more likely to be women who move – whose jobs are considered less important than their partners.
4. Bid adieu to your independence. While it may sound rather exotic to tell your friends and family that you’re exchanging Straya for Paris, the realities are less romantic. In the first year moving for love means becoming socially and financially dependent: he has friends and a job, you don’t. When you board the plane you’re not only leaving behind all your social support networks, you’re also leaving behind your career, your cultural and bureaucratic knowledge and your ability to make a joke. You are the conversational equivalent of a toddler, except with palpable resentment over why you and not your partner had to give up a previous life. Getting a job helps, but you might wonder whether being an English teacher for the rest of your life is really what you’d dreamed of.
5. You’ll still call Straya Home. One of the most traumatic aspects of moving for love is realising just how Australian you are. Bursting into tears when a Parisian bar played ‘I come from the Land Down Under’ was certainly one of the more spine-chilling moments of my life. No matter how perfect the tie of your Hermes scarf, no matter how chic you look on your bicycle, no matter how porcelain your skin turns after six months of sunlessness, you will still be tragically Australian. You will expect bureaucracy to be something that works for you, not against you, you will expect strangers on the street to be friendly, you will recoil at a microwaved dumpling and your voice will be too loud.
And then you will realise that this is not tragic, but wonderful. And later, if it really is love, you will discover with your partner the delights of two homes.