Jayne Tuttle lived in Paris for over a decade and still moves between Australia and France. maintaining her bilingual copywriting business working with Paris advertising agencies. Fifteen years ago, an opportunity to take a scholarship Jacques Lecoq Theatre School in Paris arose, and it was the prospect of this adventure that prompted Tuttle to make the move to the City of Light from her home in Melbourne.
Her international journey is both unique and familiar, from finding comfort and solace in the 10th arrondissement when she first arrived, to the excitement and unfamiliarity of a new city. What follows is a snapshot of Tuttle’s global story, how she has navigated international transitions, and what it feels like to have your heart and home in two very different places.
What did you love most about living abroad?
I loved the differences. Different language, different culture, different everything. Posting a letter was an accomplishment. Every moment was alive and colourful – I felt constantly present, awake and stimulated. This could be exhausting but was always exhilarating.
What did you find most challenging when living abroad?
Paris is a nice place to visit, but a tricky place to live. The default answer is ‘no’, which takes time to get used to. The customer is always wrong. Paperwork is an endless, time-consuming mire. Learning to be more patient, forthright, cut the crap and defend yourself is a huge challenge for an Australian, but one I’m hugely grateful for. It was a true test of my mettle.
Probably the biggest challenge, however, was raising a child. Paris is amazing for kids in lots of ways – especially in regard to artistic and intellectual development – but in terms of physical freedom and play, kids are expected to become adults very early. Having had such an outdoorsy childhood in Australia, I found it hard to preference intellectual learning over physical adventure, especially in my daughter’s younger years.
What was your reason for returning home?
My daughter. And I think within myself, a growing craving for nature. I’ll never take for granted the ability to toss my shoes off and plunge them into sand or grass – even in the city – again. Also, as a writer, I felt a desire for a simpler existence for a bit, without the pace of a big city. We went straight from Paris to the quiet, coastal village of Point Lonsdale. It was a huge gear shift.
How did the first few weeks at home make you feel?
Good and bad. I was exhausted, so it was lovely to sit and listen to the birds. Then terrible. Leaving a big city can be like withdrawing from drugs – the pace and excitement is intoxicating – and coming off that was hard. Paris is so much more to me than a home, I realise. It’s an escape, a friend, it defines me. Who was I now? It was very disorienting.
What did you find most challenging after you had returned home?
The isolation. Australia can feel very far away. And I was still running my advertising business from Australia, so I would be working all day (and night) on copywriting, my mind still in Paris, yet my feet in Australia. I was consequently neither here nor there. I didn’t make an effort to engage with the community here, as I knew I would likely leave again, and my work kept me cut off, hunched over my computer. The best thing I did was take an office in Queenscliff. As soon as I began working out of home and talking to people, I started to feel a whole lot better.
What did you enjoy most about returning home?
Seeing my child blossom and grow, her stubbed toes and bruised knees. (Cruel, but true! I remember her one time showing me a scab and, seeing the broad smile across my face, said ‘Mum! Why are you smiling? It hurts!’) Seeing her connect with her grandparents and cousins. Reconnecting with my family, and the landscape here. Swimming in the sea. Hearing birds’ tweet. Bare feet.
How do you feel you had changed (personally and/or professionally) during your time abroad?
I lost my naivety, and became a stronger, more capable person. I knew how to run a business, without ever setting out to do so. I learned to negotiate the ‘no’s, to expect nothing from anyone, to be independent, how to find fulfilment on my own. Though I was fragile and hopeless as ever, having managed to forge a life in Paris, I returned with greater self-confidence and a strong global outlook. My perspective on life was certainly defined by my time overseas.
How has your global experience shaped your life?
It has broadened my view, enhanced my wonder, intensified my curiosity, deepened my thinking, confused and frustrated and titillated and thrilled me. It will continue to drive and define the rest of my life.
Do you feel a need to stay connected to the places in which you have lived after returning home? If so, how do you go about doing this?
Yes. A huge, resounding yes. It is my home. My other home. My dearest friends who have become my family are there, my colleagues, my wells of deep inspiration. I return regularly and am in daily contact with those I’m closest to. I try to maintain my daughter’s connections with her school friends and second ‘family’ over there, to keep her own French life and language alive. My husband still has a band over there, and returns for gigs. Our life is forever split.
If you could offer any advice for fellow returning expats, what would it be?
Be patient. It takes time. I remember sitting in the depths of despair upon returning home, next to a woman who’d lived in Europe for a decade. She told me it took her three years to feel at least a bit settled back here. This shocked me, but I’ve noticed after three years of to-ing and fro-ing, I’m finally arriving.
Also, connect with others. Getting out and about is so important; making new connections and re-connecting with old ones. People who haven’t lived abroad may find your stories boring but tell them anyway. If you work from home, go to a café or library, just to feel grounded and surrounded by people. Avoid becoming hermit-like as I did – it can be hard to emerge from.
Express yourself. Tell your stories, write them, share them – don’t forget the experiences you’ve lived, or bury them. They’re what make you you.
Jayne Tuttle’s memoir, Paris or Die was recently launched in Australia, Europe and the UK, and her writing about life in Paris and between cultures has been published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and the Guardian.