When I look back on the year I am so honored at how many people took time out to write a little something for this blog that probably just my parents read. This last guest post of the year is no exception. I have known Mandie since college and now I live vicariously through her life in Paris. When I reached out and asked if she would write a little something about her ex-pat life in Paris I could never imagine she would send something that is so real and funny. Any broke girl in a big city with a fucking amazing sense of adventure and humor can relate, and Mandie might just be the voice we all needed to hear. And I mean that as a compliment. -A
“…but Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.” - Hemingway
Hemingway is undoubtedly one of the most well-known expatriates to ever grace the boulevards of the City of Lights. Most people are familiar with his famous quote about Paris being a moveable feast; a lovely notion that Paris is something that you can carry with you wherever you go. While a beautiful idea, I often find this trope a bit overused and as a wandering millennial living my own expat adventure, I prefer the above Hemingway quote when it comes to Paris.
Writing about Paris is difficult because I feel like everyone has a relative familiarity with or basic working knowledge of the city itself. I’m not groundbreaking for telling you Paris exists. Because of this, I am not going to tell you my favorite things to do here or the best restaurants to go to (you can Yelp it, read my blog or follow me on Instagram for things like that, wink) I’m just going to tell you what its like to be living here.
People usually have very strong opinions when it comes to Paris, and they often do not hesitate to tell me their opinion when they find out that I live here. I hear equal parts gushing about how it’s a dream city and their favorite city in the world or I hear that people were rude, it rained the whole time and they have no desire to come back.
Before moving to Paris, I was the former. It was my dream location, I saw it as the ultimate end-goal for someone who had spent 15 years learning the French language. At 11 years old, I knew I felt a kindred connection with Paris. Now that I live here, I have to admit, I can see some truth in the frustrations people have with the city.
It’s dirty. It’s expensive. The people can be downright terrible. It does rain frequently. But at the end of the day, I suppose it’s my romantic side, it’s still Paris.
There’s an actual psychological condition called ‘Paris Syndrome’ - it’s an extreme form of culture shock that stems from realizing that Paris isn’t all that you thought it would be.
For me, that is half of the magic. How can it be perfect? It’s a living, breathing, changing city. It’s real.
Part of what I love about Paris is that it’s hard to live here. If it were easy, I genuinely believe that everyone would live here. If it were easy to live here, Carrie Bradshaw never would have broken up with the Russian. Even very small things can feel like a challenge, especially if you don’t speak the language and even sometimes when you do speak it. I had to apply for French social security 4 times before I got a number and was officially in the system, purely because the French administration is so disorganized.
The first time you speak French to a French person and they don’t switch to English after hearing your accent is both an exciting milestone and a terrifying reality because then you realize you have to continue your conversation. A deep and unsettling fear sets in because you never know what this French person might say next and you find yourself often laughing and nodding and going ‘what in the fuck did they say?’ and hoping that they don’t ask you a follow-up question. You go into social settings with a game plan and try to come up with all the possible permutations of language that might arrive. You practice and you think ahead and then you rethink phrases that you have said hours after you said them, only to realize that you mispronounced a word or used the wrong tense. Quelle conne.
Living here is constantly exhausting. My daily commute to work is about 50 minutes long, 20 minutes of walking, a 10-minute train, and another 15-20 minute walk. There are other options that involve less walking, but they include 4 changes on the transportation systems and the same duration of commute, so I have begrudgingly decided that walking 80 minutes a day is good for me. Sometimes the trains are canceled for seemingly no reason, so I walk 20 minutes, have to take a train to another location and walk 40 minutes. No one seems apologetic about this and my bosses never care that I’m late.
The French have mastered the unaffected shrug. They never wait in a line without trying to cut or walking straight to the front first. They don’t care if you have been waiting an hour. They aren’t concerned that you would like to pay your bill. They are entitled to go smoke a cigarette and they are going to do it. They are allowed to take an hour and a half for their lunch and they will be damned if they come back one minute early. They aren’t bothered with customer service because most of them have a work contract that makes it pretty impossible for them to be fired. They speak English but choose not to when tourists come into their restaurants because you should learn their language too. The “je ne sais quoi” that the French have is nothing more than honest apathy.
Living in Paris is like tagging along with your amazing older sister to the mall. She is so god damn cool. You desperately want to fit in and somehow you just feel like an outsider. You can eat in all the same restaurants, shop in the same stores, and even wear the same clothes, but something in your attitude will give you away as trying too hard and doing too much. I have been here for 5 years and I still sometimes feel like I walk around with a sign on my back that says “TOURIST.” I often wonder if I can ever truly become a Parisian in the way that people wonder if you can ever really become a New Yorker.
In spite of all this, Paris is what it has always been. It is a city that had stood the test of time, with architecture so intricate that it puts America to shame, a culture and history so rich that the rest of the world borrows it. America has an obsession with Paris, and for good reason. It’s magic. The Eiffel Tower sparkles over a city full of beautiful people and romance. The food is some of the best in the world, you can drink a REALLY nice bottle of wine for 20 euros, and even bread that is just ‘okay’ here is probably some of the best bread you’ve ever had. I happily trade 2 months of trying to figure out the French health care system for picnics along the Seine, rooftop cocktails, entire meals that consist of cheese and bread, and everything else that Paris has to offer.
Despite its difficulty, frustration and apathy towards me, this chapter of my life where I’m living in Paris is the greatest adventure that I have ever been on and I will be telling my grandchildren about it long after they tire of hearing about it. "We GET it, grandma, you lived in Paris. Where are our Christmas presents?"
** All photos taken by Mandie