Moving to the Eternal City from the Big Apple
New York and Rome are two fabulous cities where people from all over the world dream to travel to. And they’re also two cities where I’ve lived, in less than one year. Spoiler alert: they’re amazing, but how does it feel to live between the Big Apple and the Eternal City ?
Maybe first, we need some context. I come from a little village far away in the East of France, and when I decided to travel around the world for my last year of studies, I wasn’t expecting it would become real one day.
New York, in my mind, was just a city which existed in my favorite movies and TV shows. I couldn’t imagine that I’d actually cross Fifth avenue, East Village, and Brooklyn every morning. And Rome…Rome for me was the land of my ancestors, and the thought of walking on the same ground as them was just a sweet dream.
To make those dreams come true, I decided to apply for internships. As the days passed, I had completely forgotten that I had sent some CVs. But one morning, in between my little geek routine: Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Gmail, Instgram, Gmail… I finally read the two bold lines, a sign of a new email, a sign that my life was about to totally change in just a few months.
“We have the pleasure to accept your application and we will be happy to welcome you in our office in … New York / Rome”
And that’s how everything started. The big project of my life started in two francophone newspapers : 3 months in New York City, 2 months in Rome.
First steps after the plane
For my very first day in NYC, you can right away forget the image you had in mind: me, make-up on fleek, impeccable outfit, in a yellow cab driving in the middle of New York City’s skyscrapers highlighted by a sunny day and the music of Sex In The City in the air. Absolutely not. It was raining, I had bags under my eyes and heavy luggages to carry. I took a yellow cab, but not to cross the buildings of Manhattan, but to go in the middle of Queens…in the middle of nowhere. When I arrived in my room, it was 5pm, but in my mind and my body…something like…too late to not sleep less than 10 hours. And that’s exactly what I did.
In comparaison, my first day in Rome was more or less the opposite. The sun was here, and I had that satisfying feeling you get when you arrive at home. But don’t assume anything about me: after 3 months in NYC, I was so used to calling Uber anytime and anywhere, I had snubbed the white taxi, called the most famous company of black sedan, waited 1 hour and paid an outrageously expensive price from the airport to the city center. So, being at home was for sure just a feeling in that moment.
Cross the city center, cross the ages
Every morning, in NYC, to go to work I crossed Fifth Avenue. I spent lots of time after work in rooftops, had some dates at Starbucks, tried to understand the rules of baseball in Central park, and had some job meetings in the Upper East Side. For three months I absolutely lived my life as if I were in a movie. I don’t know if in NYC everything is not real, or if movie makers are really good at showing a realistic image of Manhattan. All day long I was surrounded by high buildings, big cars, fit men and fashionistas. Everything is new, everything is fast, and everything shines behind the skyline. And as soon as I left this charming area to go back home in Brooklyn – my second flat – I was in Hipster land. If you ask yourself what will be trendy in Rome in 2019, they already have it in Brooklyn, but I can’t tell you anything: it’s a Brooklyn hipsters’ secret. The little houses made of red and pink stones, the streets colored by amazing graffitis that smelled of yummy food coming from vegan restaurants and food trucks was my landscape for 3 months.
During my first month in Rome, I tried to visit everyday after work the most mythic places of the city. For my second day, I directly went to the Colosseum, my Italian ex-boyfriend from New York made me swear it would be the first monument I’d visit in Italy. Promise kept. I will not write – like every tourists or expat – that being in Rome is a charming daily life where you’ll be amazed by all the history and beauty. You already know that. The most amazing thing for me is that, finally, I know what summer feels like. I repeat: I come from the North-East of France.
Romans think that Rome is a messy and stressful city, but let me reply: all right in NYC the streets’ names are numbers so it’s almost impossible to get lost, but this city never sleeps, for real, never stops, never takes a break, so talking about stress and mess, let’s schedule an appointment in Harlem subway stops, and then you will regret Termini.
Because I was working in a newspaper for French expats and tourist in Northern America, I didn’t really try to have some friends in the French community of New York, French was enough for work. But it’s not so easy to meet “native” New Yorkers, to be honest, I’ve met only one guy born in the Big Apple, the rest of my friends came from all over the world, except for the US, but it’s the amazing thing about New York: when you cross an area, you travel around the world.
But anyway, when you are in New York it’s very easy to meet new friends, sometimes I just had to walk in the street, people stopped to talk to me, because according to them I “look sooo European”. But don’t be fooled: New York is the city of business, so in fact, most of the time, meeting new people, even in the most informal situation, is networking. And last but not least: New York is not so much a city where people stay a long time, so it was kind of difficult for me to get attached to people by knowing that I will have to say goodbye very soon. Which can be tiring sometimes.
But after three months out of the French community, I think I needed to get in touch with my compatriots when I arrived to Rome, and it was very easy to find them: I’ve met my best French friend when I moved in my actual flat. And from that moment, I discovered what the real expat mind is: everything is new around you, and especially friendships. But when I missed my old life in France, I was sure where to find someone to tell me “don’t worry, I perfectly know what it is, I had the same, let’s go for an aperitivo”.
Being the visitor people love to hate
Talking about meeting new people, I’ve noticed a great difference about being French in New York and in Rome. In the Big Apple, as a French, I was like the incarnation of elegance, style, and culture for locals. My French accent in English was the best dating argument, and I quickly felt like Napoleon when people all around me didn’t stop to compliment my origins.
I think you’ve already guessed that in Rome, it’s absolutely not the same. I’ve come to the conclusion that French and Italian people are like little cousins who love to hate each other. Every time I meet a new Roman friend, very quickly the discussion switches to X things: You’ve stolen the Mona Lisa, The Eiffel Tower is terrible, we have the most beautiful city in the world because Paris is sh*t. I perfectly know it’s friendly, and I think it’s more a little game of ego: who will break the first. And when you think about it, it’s not so bad to keep my French ego on the down low: ever since a New Yorker friend of mine called me “my little croissant” I decided to stop representing the communication staff of France.
When it’s time to leave…
As everything in the Big Apple, my last week in New York was like a movie, but a drama movie this time. A lot of crying, a lot of “but you will come back very soon”, and absolutely not enough time to visit all the places I’ve been to again to “say goodbye”. I remember that when I was packing I was listening to “Halo” from Beyonce … and when I took the taxi to JFK, I asked the driver to turn on the radio. “New York” from Alicia Keys was on air. Like a movie I said.
And when it’s time for me to leave Rome, I just switch off the light, close the door, take the lift, and go to the airport. And why isn’t it so dramatic ? Because I know I’ll be back. When I arrived to Rome it was just for 2 months, but just two weeks before my flight to go back to France was due, I decided to cancel it and be like a French snail for a moment: with my house on the back to be part of the eternal myth of the eternal city.