Expats do all kinds of things to feel comfortable in their foreign locale. They make new friends, try local foods, and practice the local language. They probably also stay in touch with loved ones back home, try to seek out familiar foods, and cherish relationships with fellow expats who understand their situation and (whew!) speak their language. All of these actions and others like them are intended to make the foreigner feel more at home, wherever she might find herself. Recently, I've stumbled upon the realization that another, less talked about tactic exists. It happened during a second trip to a Parisian brasserie that I found particularly cozy, welcoming and perfectly French: When you adopt a new town, you must also adopt new go-to hangouts.
I've spent most of the years of my life in and around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. As a result, I've built up an extensive list of shops, lakes, parks and restaurants that I know well, feel comfortable with, and regularly frequent. The knowledge I have about these places, and the level of comfort I have with them, is reassuring; it makes me feel like I'm a part of the city I live in and it gives me direction when planning my daily activities. When you move to a new city, you have none of this. You don't know the best stores, which bar mixes the best drinks, or which parks carry the best picnicking potential. You have to learn all of that from scratch, and the sooner you do, the more at home you'll feel.
Expanding your horizons and trying something new from time to time keeps life interesting, but having go-to places makes you feel like an insider. When guests come to visit, you have great things to show them. You might even get to know the other locals who frequent the same spots. That said, finding you new favorite standbys can be a long and frustrating process. You'll have to deal with you fair share of duds before you hit the jackpot. I spent months going to a yucky, run-down and over-crowded Target store in the DC area before I discovered the big, new, gloriously spacious Target Greatland that was nearby. I still don't feel like I have enough familiar spots in Paris, but the brasserie is helping to change that. After three visits in the past two weeks, I started to recognize the staff, feel comfortable walking in the door (rather than being unsure of how the place operates), and even recommended it to a friend. I'm leaving Paris tomorrow, but it's nice to have some ideas in my pocket for the next visit. And I can't wait to see my old favorites back home.