There’s something in the Parisian air now, but I’ve been asked more than once on the street this week, “Are you a model?” And I answer, “Well, yes, I was in New York.” And they ask, “Why not here?”
And thus begins my long line of excuses, manoeuvring words to casually avoid the cold, hard truth: I’ve overstayed my tourist visa by months and am without viable working papers.
I moved to Paris for l’amour. I finished my last year at New York University and my French boyfriend said come and I said okay, and we travelled the world a little bit. When the date of my return ticket came, a ticket within the three-month tourist visa limit, my boyfriend said stay and I said okay.
It was my first month as an “illegal immigrant". We left the EU without a problem, five days in Bosnia and ten in Egypt, then November came around and my parents said come home and I said fine. But after six weeks in America I could no longer be without mon amour. I could not patiently wait for a visa appointment, could not justify the responsible reasons for remaining in the US, perhaps pulling together a legitimate post-grad life there. I boarded a plane just after the New Year, my heart racing for the entirety of the six-hour flight, near bursting at border control, legs fit to collapse once I realised I was in and had escaped the myriad of “I overstayed my visa” Internet horror stories.
And then I embarked upon the struggle faced by college alumni and illegal immigrants alike: finding work. It was unfortunate to grapple with the reality that Paris is not necessarily the hotspot of opportunity for an English Literature major, but I pursued the passion by spending endless hours in [legendary bookshop] Shakespeare & Co (a habit that requires a sizeable book budget) and writing a novel (which of course, in the end, no one would pay me for). I figured the most obvious under-the-table work to pursue was to tutor English, and lucked out with a student from Kazakhstan who paid way above what I was qualified for. But in the end it turned out he, too, was illegal, and without notice he disappeared just after I returned from a ten-day trip to Lisbon, the duration of which I spent having nightmares about being forced on a plane back to JFK.
I posted ads seeking writing or editing work and received two calls. One from a teenager who wanted me to write, not translate, but write, his resume in English so he could "live in Brooklyn for the summer". I didn’t have the heart to burst his bubble with the woes of acquiring a work visa, especially one for the United States. The second was a student from Thailand whose American business school dissertation needed editing. Our professional meetings quickly turned into venting sessions about the qualms of moving for l’amour, the headache that is all things French bureaucracy, and the endless stack of paperwork it takes to live with your boyfriend in his country.
I put an ad on Craigslist for 'Dogsitter’. It was May, and raining, and mon amour was undergoing extreme stress in his own work life and I’d overstayed two months by then. We started talking about moving to Morocco. Then India. Then the Philippines. "We need change," he said, "We need to see the world, we need away from this Western bullshit." An American woman asked me to watch her French Bulldogs for three days. I said, "Of course", and I thought, yes, please, give me an apartment in which I can independently contemplate the complications of moving to Southeast Asia for amour, give me a place to ponder what could have been in America, what I’ve given up, what I’m risking. The excitement of the adventure that lies ahead. But my boyfriend wanted to come with me, and for three days we did not sleep, the dogs, nor us, and we all stressed about our own things and I had nightmares about being an American illegal immigrant in the Philippines.
There are solutions. An American friend of mine in a similar situation just went home for a student visa, which for an American unfortunately means paying a tremendous amount for a semester of school. Work visas are few and far between, the concept being one must prove that he or she could do the applied job better than a French person, which in my case (reading or writing or speaking English) would be true, but is not exactly in demand. Not to mention the French are basically allergic to bureaucratic documents. There is, of course, marriage, which we’ve discussed and, after all, we are so in amour. And then there is the option of moving, to Morocco or India or Southeast Asia, simply leaving France and keeping fingers crossed for the next time we feel like coming back. Continuing the adventure. Seeing where in the world amour takes us next.