Advice for a Sabbatical Year

I get letters from readers around the world asking for advice on their upcoming Paris sabbatical years. Usually they ask about apartment brokers and schools. But the other week I got a letter from a mother in Calgary and she asked, open-endedly, if I had any advice. This is what I wrote her.

Dear D,

Thanks for getting in touch. Here are a few pieces of advice for your upcoming sabbatical year in Paris.

1. Make sure you and your husband have a very healthy relationship and really enjoy each other's company. You'll be seeing more of each other than you ever thought humanly possible.

2. Find an apartment near a park or your kids will become YouTube addicts and you will find bowls of homemade slime under their beds.

3. On the same note, bring lots of English books for them (e.g. box sets) as they are hard to find here. 

4. After-school activities and sports are punishingly expensive in Paris (like $40 an hour, and you have to commit to an entire year). Teach your kids to play cribbage and chess - it's saved us many times. 

5. Take up jogging. It's the only sport you do not need a medical exam for in Paris. Even to play public tennis you will need a doctor's approval, and yoga, and Pilates - one doctor’s note specific to each activity.

6. Make sure at least one of you can speak some French. As soon as you get out of the touristy areas like the Marias and Saint Germain-des-Près, you will need it.

7. Don't get an apartment on the other side of the Péripherique, the ring road around Paris. There is a psychological divide about being in the suburbs. I see lots of parents from the school who spend half their day on the bus or Metro just because they wanted a small yard or a third bedroom. They are totally miserable. 

8. Budget about 2-3x what you would need to spend in North America for everything except wine, cheese, butter and your cell phone bill (which will always be 20 Euros a month.)

9. Be aware that people back home will be jealous of you, even if they don't come out and say it. You will sense it in subtle ways, but try not to let it sting.

10. Try to live in the moment and not worry too much about everything going on back home. Your friends will get divorced, family members will get sick, your former coworkers will get promoted:  life will go on without you. And that's a good thing.

As they say in France, "Bon courage!"