Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else”

Isabel McCann was an immigrant in Ireland as a child. Since moving back to Paris to pursue a career in acting recently, she has rediscovered an appreciation for the warmth and friendliness of Irish people, and the decency of Irish …

Tue, Nov 22, 2011, 13:36


Isabel as a 1960s Air Inter air hostess in a film called CloClo by Florent Emilio Siri

Isabel McCann was an immigrant in Ireland as a child. Since moving back to Paris to pursue a career in acting recently, she has rediscovered an appreciation for the warmth and friendliness of Irish people, and the decency of Irish men.

I was born in France, to an Irish mother and an American-Irish father. I spent a short time in California when I was very young then returned to Paris where I stayed until the age of 9.

My school was an international one with approximately 2000 students from countries all over the world. There were no uniforms, the school was mixed and non-denominational.

Visits to Ireland were hugely looked forward to with the highlights being visits to our cousins and the joke shop next to St Stephen’s Green. Many fake cigarettes were bought during this time!

Moving to Ireland in 1994 was a huge culture shock. The language was different, my new school was the polar opposite of what I had experienced before but most importantly to me, everybody was Irish! This was a time before the large influx of immigrants and to meet someone of a different nationality was a novelty.

Physically and mentally everybody seemed very similar.

Growing up in southern Dublin was a very pleasant experience. I was fortunate enough to attend a very good school and made many amazing friends. However I always felt slightly apart from my peers and missed the cultural variety I had experienced as a child.

From a young age I wanted to pursue acting as a career and I did drama all up through school. However when the time came to fill out my CAO form I was not sufficiently confident in myself to apply for the drama course in Trinity College. I felt I should do similar courses to those around me and ended up studying law in UCD.

This is a great course for those who are interested in pursuing law but it was the wrong choice for me. I knew pretty soon on I would not be joining the Bar or become a solicitor but I finished my degree so that I would have something to fall back on.

This time spent doing something which wasn’t for me reinforced my desire to pursue acting and I decided to move to Paris to follow my dream. My theory was that my lack of recent experience would hopefully be balanced out slightly by the fact I am bilingual.

I was lucky enough to find an apartment, a job in an English school and an acting school very soon after my arrival. My acting school based it’s techniques around method acting which really appealed to me.

Returning to France after so long was an absolute joy. I loved living among so many different cultures, speaking French again and the sense of anonymity that comes with living in a big city.

Given the job that I had chosen, most of the friends I made at first were anglophones. This was great as our sense of solidarity brought us close together. Teaching English was very enjoyable but I soon realised that the hours were not flexible enough for me to give much time to the acting.

It took me a good year to settle into Paris properly, to get to know the metro system, the formal French I had never learnt as a child and just the way people operate in a metropole.

After a year and a half, I changed jobs and starting working in a restaurant in the centre of Paris. This is where I currently work and I have a great boss who is really flexible when it comes to taking time off for castings and acting work. Working in this environment has given me a much greater insight into French life than that of an English teacher. I feel I know have a much greater understanding of French culture than before and although I am still an avid francophile I don’t hero-worship them as like I previously did.

I have come to appreciate things about Ireland that I didn’t see when I lived there. I realise now how friendly, laid-back and warm Irish people really are. The fact that there isn’t the formal ‘you’ in English means distance isn’t created in the same way as in French. The Irish, by comparison, are also much more positive and appreciative of what they have. Upon one recent visit to Dublin, the AirCoach driver asked me ” Where are you goin’ babe?”. I was shocked for about 2 seconds and then answered him with a laugh. This would be ‘unacceptable’ behaviour for a bus driver in Paris but in Dublin it just seemed charming.

When it comes to men, Ireland also comes out favorably. When I still lived in Dublin and up until not so long ago, I viewed French men as sophisticated, suave, well dressed and sexy. They didn’t depend on alcohol to approach women and were professionals in the art of seduction. Unfortunately I have come to realise that this lack of sexual inhibition comes at a price. It is unfair to tar all Parisian men with the same brush but their reputation as being infidels is not without foundation.

Capricious is a word very commonly used in the French vocabulary and this seems to be the approach towards relationships. The French seem to fall in love very quickly and move straight into intense relationships but this infatuation is short-lived and once one or both partners becomes bored they will move on to the next conquest.

It is a very different approach to relationships to that which is more common in Ireland but where before I condemned Irish men for their lack of initiative, I now commend their general decency and being nice guys.

I can’t write about Paris and not mention fashion. In this domain, the reputation is deserved. Although the dress sense here is quite conservative, it is wonderful! People wear garments of high quality and style and seem to know what suits their body shape. People are very aware of clothing and there is nothing more enjoyable than sitting on the terrace of cafe with the seats all facing outwards to people and style watch! When fashion week arrives here bi-annually, the atmosphere is incredible and one can feel the creative energy all around.

I don’t know how long I will stay in Paris but for the moment I am very happy here. I live in a tiny apartment in the centre where everything is at my doorstep. I have a job I really enjoy despite being one of the world’s worst waitresses and slowly but surely I am advancing with my acting career. I know one day I will have to think about my life in the long term but for the moment I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.