Kim Ball moved from San Francisco to Paris right after the first Internet bubble burst, more than a decade ago. “It went from insanely busy to over cautious correction,” she recalls. “I remember new flashy cars just purchased 6 months before being towed from tech giant parking lots because the bills could no longer be paid.”
Her husband’s start-up company had just been acquired—meaning he was out of job at a time when throngs of start-up execs were in the same boat. It was his idea to leave San Francisco—"Why don't we go to Paris?"
They had always spoken about living in Paris, learning a new language, doing everything opposite of what they knew. It was a dream that was about to come true.
They had no kids at the time—only a dog that didn’t even need to be quarantined to emigrate. “I said ‘OK’ . . . but just for a few months. My husband took a job with a software company in London but commuted from Paris via the Eurostar.”
Kim, thinking they’d only be there a few of months, took a temporary position so as not to loose her career’s momentum by being away from it for too long.
“I met Susan Westre at Ogilvy & Mather, Paris. One of the best Creative Directors I had heard of. She'd been living in France 13 years,” Kim recalls, “Worldwide Creative Director assigned to the IBM account, she was travelling between the New York and Paris offices every week. I admired her. We clicked upon meeting over a nice French tea called Mariage Frères.”
Kim joined Ogilvy for a six-month assignment while another employee was on maternity leave. It was perfect—because remember, she would soon be heading back to San Francisco.
That was eleven years ago.
Her friends and family have stopped asking if she will return to the States. “We keep our flat in San Francisco because remember, I am returning!” she says with a slight sense of denial, “It's strange but I don't feel that far away anymore. I use to think Paris was far from San Francisco, and I think Brazil is far from Paris . . . but I don't feel this same distance anymore. Skype, FB, Twitter, planes, trains & automobiles. Will I move back to the US? I feel like I never left.”
Kim says she misses her family, friends, the San Francisco Bay, the ballpark, and Pacific Coast Highway. “But I don't miss my stuff I packed up to store in San Francisco—the big screen TV or the over-sized refrigerator. I don't need a King size bed. And mascara. No one wears it here.”
She says she is proud of the U.S., and loves being the American in Paris. “I really appreciate my French friends joining us each Thanksgiving—so excited to learn about our US tradition and being a part of it. Last Thanksgiving there were 16 Adults and 13 kids around two tables in our small flat that is just the right size.”
Her stay in Paris has given her a profound understanding and full appreciation for the world. “I live in the Latin Quarter of Paris. It's a village where you can't walk one block without seeing two or more friendly faces. I never leave my flat without a cream scented face and fresh breath even to take out the trash at 6 am, as there is always someone I know to faire la bise (kiss cheeks). I've never asked anyone how I'm perceived. I think I'm perceived as the American who smiles a lot and walks with a purple cane” –Kim was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) before moving to Paris.
“I think moving from San Francisco to Paris was less of a culture adjustment than if I had moved from San Francisco to Nebraska.” Her first memories are of how nice the French were. “I'd ask for directions, speaking no French, and I'd get led by the hand to where I needed to go. I remember thinking how I wasn't so gracious with foreigners visiting SF. I didn't take the time to offer help or even notice. I'm a more aware, present, connected person having lived in a socialistic society. It's not about you as an individual. Rather, it's about looking out for others and realizing there's no such thing as Utopia—you’re all in it together. This is what socialism has given me. Compassion."
Kim is indeed, the American in Paris.