The Immigrant’s Truth: #JapaStory06
In today’s post, I speak with Subomi, a lover of haute couture and sophisticated living. Subomi works as an analyst at one of the top financial services companies in Paris, France where she also resides. I have met her a couple of times before now and I have always admired her from a distance. When I finally spoke to her at length for this interview, I found she was even more delightful than I imagined.
She prides herself to be “Yorùbá” to the core and you could immediately tell from her favourite choice of food, which is Àmàlà. While she says she’s not quite there yet, Subomi sends out “Rich Yorùbá Aunty” vibes and I found myself screaming “E for Energy” at intervals during our conversation. I enjoyed every moment I spent listening to her talk about her time in Paris and how she’s survived without being able to speak French. I am equally excited to share with you guys so, enjoy!
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So, why did you leave Nigeria?
Subomi: First off, I would like to state that I think that Nigeria is currently a messed-up country. However, I wouldn’t say it was as a result of my conscious decision that I left Nigeria. Because well, you know, I schooled in Nigeria and I had never travelled outside until my final year at the University. At the time, I knew that the quickest way to leave Nigeria was to go abroad for Masters. I also knew that I didn’t want to get a Masters immediately after school.
My plan was to work for a bit but fortunately, in my final year at Uni, I got an internship with an international company which provided a pathway that I could follow if I wanted to get a full-time offer. The company was in London. By the end of that period, working in Nigeria had already become unattractive for me because there was a better offer that trumped whatever Nigeria could possibly offer me at the time and with the level of experience I had.
It was an opportunity that came and I felt that only a fool wouldn’t take it. Ordinarily, if that hadn’t happened, I would still have followed the plan where I would have gone for Masters after working briefly. It just was not something that I saw happening that quickly because for me, it was bound to happen at some point but as a long term plan. On the other hand, I also realized living in Nigeria was not for me. I mean, I have so much potential and I felt the need to go to a place where there were more opportunities available for me. Nigeria, unfortunately could not offer me the kind of things I wanted.
You mentioned an internship in London, did you later decide to move to Paris?
Subomi: Actually, I did an internship in London twice. In 2018 and 2019 at different firms. In 2018, I kind of fumbled the bag with the firm I did the internship with and that was when I came back to Nigeria and did my NYSC. Then, I did another internship after that. This time though, I knew that I couldn’t possibly fumble this bag as well because that could spell coming back to Nigeria to work in horrifying conditions when I had already had a taste of the good life. So, I made sure to put in my best and thankfully, I got a full time offer. The internship lasted three months and it was at the end of it that I moved to France for the full time offer.
Did you know anyone in France?
Subomi: No, I had no family or friends. There were some guys I met via twitter but generally, I think I knew about two people when I first came to France.
Did that affect the decision to move to France in any way?
Subomi: Well, I don’t think that I really minded not having or knowing anyone. I think that my biggest fear was perhaps the language barrier and how I could not suddenly bridge that. Not knowing anyone was more of a subset of not knowing how to speak the language. If it was elsewhere like London for example and I also didn’t have family or friends, I would still have managed pretty well. But it was different, because I couldn’t speak French and I was going to live in France.
Did you have any expectations about moving to and living in Paris?
Subomi: For me, I think I thought farther than the present. What I fantasized about was that in the next three years after I have moved to France, I would be a fabulous French black woman who could fluently speak French, order fancy wine in my cute berets and trench coats. Basically, I imagined myself to be rich in French culture and be sophisticated. Of Course now, I’ve only spent one year so I still have two more years to go to see all of that happen. When I was leaving, I think I was just excited to be leaving for another country where I could start a new job and a more comfortable life.
What was it like when you arrived in France?
Subomi: Before leaving Nigeria, I had mentally prepared myself for the worst of the French people stereotypes. You know those ones where they say they are snobbish or that they won’t speak to you. However, I met quite a number of French people that were immediately really nice to me. I don’t know whether I just got lucky or something. But I must say, being new to France came with its own share of hardship, to be honest.
Ohhh, give me all the tea
Subomi: hold on, let me try to reminisce on the pain.
Relocating to France was quite difficult and I think the system probably made moving harder than it should have been. First off, housing is ridiculously expensive. Before I arrived, I tried to get an Airbnb option but that wasn’t possible because most of them were unimpressive for the amount they were asking for. It would have been a rip off. So, I had to get a hotel for the first couple of weeks. Now, to get an apartment in Paris, I needed a bank account. To get a bank account, I needed to provide a permanent address.
It was crazy how two things that you need one thing to get the other were prerequisites for each other. Also, you need a guarantor who would be comfortable with you enough to give their payslips for you to add to your application. It was a really long process. And even after that, you’re still subject to whether or not the landlord finds you worthy to rent with them.
Paris is a really small city with more population than it should have. There’s more competition for the apartment options that exist. There are more chances of you paying a thousand euros for an apartment that’s the size of your grandmother’s cupboard in Nigeria. I struggled a lot with settling in, getting a proper place to stay. In terms of the culture shock, like I said; I was lucky to find nice people when I got here and that was helpful.
I have also come to realize that there’s some similarities between the French and the Yoruba people. For example, if I’m going to a store knowing that I can’t speak fluent French, I greet the owners/vendors and say “bonjour” like 15 times while smiling, they treat me better. That way, it was easier to manage people’s egos and it was helpful for me while getting around. Of course, sometimes it won’t work and you have to hope for the best.
I think it’s also important for me to point out that it also came with other challenges like struggling to start a new life and integrating into a new culture. Sometimes, that can be depressing. I have had to develop new habits as little as learning how to send things by post. There are some discomforts that define how I have to live my life because it’s different from what I’ve always known.
Has it been difficult making friends or meeting people?
Subomi: This is a conversation I’ve had with other people that have moved to France and the general consensus has been that making friends with French people is hard. I think that their definition of friendship is a bit different than what we are used to. They show more commitment with friendship because a lot of them are friends with people they grew up with; which makes it harder for an outsider to break into their cliques. They can be cool with you on a casual note but they won’t invite you for drinks or ask you to come and hang out with them.
Also, I can’t speak French which makes it even more challenging. In Nigeria, you could meet someone easily and before you know it, you guys become pals. It isn’t like that at all in France. I think that my current friends in France are mainly people that moved here as well. We are the ones that found each other.
Another culture shock had to do with work. Working here has been nothing like I could imagine in Nigeria. Here, you’re valued and made to feel important. Your opinion counts and no one is transferring aggression to you because of what’s going on in their lives. The work culture in Paris compared to Nigeria is comparatively better. If I had to put them on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give Nigeria a 4 and France, a 7. I’d give France 7 only because I think that sometimes, they are more relaxed than I’m used to. Perhaps because of the work ethic I’ve absorbed from other cultures that demands you to be quick on your feet. It’s different here because the French people really do take their time in getting things done which I am not really used to.
Has leaving Nigeria been the right move for you?
Subomi: If you had asked me this question before October 2020, I probably would have answered by telling you that I would still have had a decent life if I had stayed back in Nigeria. Obviously, it wouldn’t be the same but it wouldn’t have been all bad. However, following the EndSars episode and numerous atrocities that have been committed after; I really think I am glad for leaving when I did. It has been the right move for me because; there is a peace of mind that comes with living in a system that works. For example, if I lost my job, the French government would pay me a decent percentage of my salary for about a year.
Asides from that, the government also pays my firm for me to take some days off. I pay a lot of taxes but I don’t mind because I can see where it’s going. You get so much support, in little and big ways and it just makes all the difference in the world. Working here has also given me the proximity to more opportunities as opposed to if I was working in Nigeria. It’s just so much relief to live in a place where you don’t have to worry about the basic things. Even if it’s for those alone, I definitely think it’s been the right move for me.
Do you think you should have left earlier, if you had the chance?
Subomi: I think if I lived in a wishful world, I would have appreciated the luxury of coming and going. I wish I had started interning earlier as opposed to waiting until my final year in the University. This would have probably prepared me better in terms of acclimatizing to moving to a new country.
Are there any things you miss in Nigeria?
Subomi: Àmàlà, ewédú and gbègìrì. There’s no such thing as too much Àmàlà. I miss Àmàlà from Skye bank a lot. I also miss my family and the ease that comes with having family around. There’s also the social life. Going to a club that actually plays good music you can dance to. Not somewhere you’ll go and they’ll be playing Justin Bieber or some French music that you can’t sing along to. Also, being somewhere and understanding the language that’s been spoken, even when they’re not talking to me. When I visited briefly and was going back, I remember getting to the airport and realizing the language had changed. Something broke in me a little.
How would you describe your current relationship with Nigeria?
Subomi: I think I would describe it the same way some people would describe an optimal relationship with their parents: loving from afar. After my recent trip to Nigeria, I don’t think I’m going to go back anytime soon. Even if I do, I think I would probably stay for about five days. I love and hate Nigeria. Nigeria would always be home no matter where I go. There’s no detachment from her but I see a lot of news that is very unpleasant and upsetting. Which is why I also think my relationship with Nigeria is toxic because though I love her, she makes me more sad than happy.
Do you have plans to move back to Nigeria?
Subomi: I do. I’ve always thought about it even before now. I would like to, if things get better. Perhaps in like 15 years. Also, when I eventually start a family, I don’t want to raise my kids outside an African country. There’s a mindset and confidence that comes with growing up in a place where everyone looks like you and I’d really like for my kids to have that. I would really like to do that if things get better in Nigeria. It will always be home and that’s very important to consider.
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