In this first installment of our new "Beckoned to Beijing" series, we talk to Isabelle Malet about uprooting herself from the Parisian suburb of Morangis to come to Beijing, and what she and her family learned along the way. She describes how Beijing defied her pessimistic expectations, which of its quirks still drive her crazy, and blogging about it all.
We moved here because my husband, Laurent, used to come to Beijing for one or two weeks a month on business. It appeared to be easier for all of us to move here. But it turned out to be challenging. Quitting my job and leaving my home was very difficult for me, but not for my daughters. When we landed in Beijing for the first time, I cried my eyes out!
I have to admit that I was not very eager to come here, so I expected nothing but issues everywhere. These awful (and stupid) expectations were of course defied when none of them occurred. First, I was surprised by the kindness of Beijingers, especially towards kids. Each and every day they would chat with us, especially to ask to take photos of my three daughters. We quickly learned that such big families are not the norm.
Secondly, I also quickly learned that Beijingers are always ready to help and try to understand you when you make the effort to speak Chinese, like we do. The surprises haven’t all been pleasant though. Of course we are always shocked, even after a year, to see some Chinese habits that are considered rude in France, like spitting on the ground.
After experiencing a lot of surprising things, and meeting very interesting people, I decided to create a blog (VPN required). At first, it was for my family back home to read. Then I realized it was read by many other people. I hope it helps future expatriates to make the big step.
My daughters are going to LFIP. It was easier for us and for them. They already had the surprise of living in a new country for the first time, so we didn’t want them to deal with a foreign school too.
Whenever we need to, we go to International SOS Beijing Clinic. Our French medical insurance is partnered with it.
Upon our arrival, we bought Blueair purifiers. A friend working at the French embassy recommended them to us.
We were very lucky when we moved, because we found our flat while still in France. Like many expatriates, we had to cope with administration paperwork: visas, bank account opening, police registration, and so on. Once we found the vital things to survive – milk, bread, and the chocolate and hazelnut spread Nutella – we could move forward to try the Chinese way of life.
The biggest benefit of bringing my children here is learning Chinese and English. My youngest girl, who is four-years-old, will start learning English this year, which is not possible in a classic French school. My two other daughters are learning different languages, and frequently speak in those languages outside of class. They’re with many different children from other countries in school.
When I leave Beijing, I’ll miss the safe and secure feeling of the streets, day or night, even for a lone woman. I never feel uncomfortable when I walk in Beijing. Unfortunately, that’s quite rare in Paris nowadays. I’ll also miss my electric scooter; I love it for the freedom it gives me! Most of all, I’ll miss Taobao.
My principal advice for anyone coming to Beijing would be: get a lot of information about this distinctly different culture before leaving. Once you’ve arrived, take the time to go out. Make connections with associations and other expatriates.
Take the time to learn Chinese – it’s possible, don’t be afraid as most of the time, English is useless here. Most of all: expect the unexpected!
Photos: Courtesy of Isabelle Malet.