In our age many have chosen to uproot lives and careers and move across a country, and sometimes across oceans, in order to pursue something “more.” My “more” was born out of reflection that was earned after the 2012 sale of a business that had consumed seven prime years of my life. Part of that “more” was a move to the city of my dreams: Paris.
One of the things that wasn’t at the forefront of my mind at the time of my move was that I was leaving an extremely powerful network stateside that I had intentionally cultivated over almost a decade of serious professional work. I’m sure somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I would have to rebuild that network with the slight asterisk: it wouldn’t be in my native language, that as an English major, I enjoyed using and experiencing at the very highest levels.
Non, indeed in France I would once again be a teenager, or less, while I continued to work on my pronunciation, the right time to use the subjunctive, and which direction to start my bise from, depending on what region of France I was in.
What I couldn’t have expected was that there would be an app in France to not only cushion my fall into my new language, but provide me with a tool to start to build a network that would rival my English-speaking one in America. Shapr was first introduced to me by a friend and fellow American, Jason McDonald, who keeps a dizzying schedule that makes me feel old pretty much every day of the week. He told me he had gotten to know some great people and that I should try it. After that I was off to the races.
The interesting thing was, despite the ENTJ that I am, this was new for me. I was going to get coffee with someone I had never met so we could get to know each other’s businesses better? I mean, I had done this for dating, no sweat, for years, but oddly enough I was a bit nervous at my first Shapr coffee. But before too long we were deep in conversation, sharing our passions about our respective businesses, and even what we did in our spare time. In fact, the gentleman I met at my first Shapr coffee recently sent me a link to an open mic night that he participates in and I happily shared it with some social groups that I help organize and run here in Paris.
As I started to meet more people through Shapr my confidence with the platform grew and I began to be a bit bolder in the meetings. Before I knew it I had picked up a new unofficial language tutor through it — we would meet once a week and I would work with her in English for one hour, and then she would turn around and help me with my French, using the enormous stack of French books I have accrued over the years. Of course we were going to help each other however we could with business (she works in digital accessibility — making websites and apps easier for those with disabilities to access), and it seems that anyone brave enough to venture out to meet another stranger is open to other ways of collaborating as well.
Last week I met a wonderful and thoughtful graphic designer who hails from Syria. She met me at my coworking space which she liked so much that she has dropped by to work there 2–3 times since.
Two weeks before that I had a chance to meet Julie, who works in the film industry. As she heard me explain what I do for a living, which is create web and print content for small businesses in English, a smile of recognition came to her face. “I think…I think my friend does exactly what you do, but in French only,” she said. I told her that it would be excellent for the two of us to meet to share referrals and ideas. So the week after her friend Clemence, who indeed was the French version of myself, met me for coffee and we struck up an immediate informal alliance, promising to send leads each other’s way should our clients want work in the language we were not comfortable producing in. Clemence expressed a desire to better her English and I suggested the reciprocal tutoring scheme I had begun with another Shapr match. She agreed, and there it was: 1 degree of “shaping” had landed me a referral partner and language buddy. And all because I swiped right, said hello, and showed up for coffee with a stranger.
So try Shapr — not just to be brave, not just to build your network, but to make new friends.
Stephen Heiner blogs about his adventures in Paris, including his travails with legally immigrating to France, on The American in Paris. When he’s not doing that he enjoys creating engaging written content for US and EU clients at his one-man firm, Writerly. You can also find him on Instagram and Twitter with the handle @stephenheiner.
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