What I have come to find the past few months while living in Paris is that the Parisiens are full of contradictions. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something I realized. For one, they are uptight about many things, such as their wine – snobby, even – yet they refuse to shower for days on end. In fact, one time my host mom poured out my 3-euro bottle of wine 2 days after I had opened it (and had yet to finish), claiming “It’s vinegar now, it’s no good” (yeah, lady, that 3 euro bottle was probably vinegar before I even opened it), and dumped it down the drain. Bye bye wine. Also, the Parisians (and Europeans in general) walk reallyyyy slowly. But they are ALWAYS late. They seem to walk slowly everywhere except when they’re in the metro station, when they suddenly seem to realize they’re late and actually care. Another example: legal (young) adults LOVE to drink alcohol out of baby bottles while 13 year olds are allowed to be chain-smoking cigarettes.
On the topic of smoking, I actually had a personal project for the semester I named “Les Francais qui fument” – taking pictures of Frenchies smoking. I didn’t manage to get as many pictures as I wanted, but I loved noticing people smoking in parks, restaurants, indoors, outdoors, you name it, they always have a cig in their hands. 20 degree weather, no gloves, no problem! It’s like a permanent accessory. I have a theory that lung cancer doesn’t exist in France, because no one ever seems to talk about it, and they all just look so fabulous smoking their cigarettes, so how could it be deadly? Anyways, I have posted my pictures of “the French who smoke” on my Flickr, so feel free to look at it! My favorite is the series of the couple on the park bench who pulled cigarettes, lit up, and took drags at almost the act same time.
The Parisians (and French in general) take serious pride in their food, but for lack of a better way to phrase it, are petrified of eating too much for fear of getting fat. They come off as impatient, rude, and snobbish, but, I have come to find, in 4 months here, that they are some of the most down-to-earth, helpful, and amazingly caring culture of people I have ever had the honor of meeting. I speak French, so maybe that adds some bias to my opinion, but I have had friends tell me throughout the past few months that their weekends here, while short, allowed them to see that the stereotype of the French was falsely given.
Before I got here I was worried what a semester in all French would look like. Knowing that I would have an entire program in French didn’t scare me off, but I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the work, knowing it was bound to be a harder program than a lot of my friends would be doing. Turns out, the French way of life doesn’t seem to give much “busywork,” so most days I really had nothing to do. That is not to say that I SHOULDN’T have been doing things and just chose not to. I had several projects along the way, I had texts to read every week, and then of course midterms and finals. As for physical work, that’s as far as it goes. Mentally, class was work EVERY DAY. Zoning out in another language doesn’t work. And after 4 months time, it gets really damn hard to use that much brainpower every day. Sometimes I was more used to it than others, but certain weeks all I wanted to do was speak in English. This quarter was a true test of my dedication and patience. I can now successfully talk to a Frenchie on the phone and understand (nearly) everything they are saying. That was an ultimate success. Overall, I think I managed to do pretty well!
As I started to think more about the very very end, I couldn’t really believe that my semester here has ended. Days passed like minutes – being abroad does something magical with time; it just disappears. I think about how how I have spent more than 3 months in this city, the one I had always lusted for, dreamt of, seen in movies, listened to songs about, but really knew next to nothing about until I got here. And now, it seems, it is time for me to get up and leave.
I don’t think I’m a different person from when I left America 4 months ago. I’m the same old me. I just know that I found someplace that makes me feel more like me than I have ever felt in my life and I know I can’t ever let that feeling go. It was 7 years ago when I sat in my first French class and started daydreaming that one day I would be here. I watched Sex & the City when Carrie moved to Paris with that (god-awful) Russian and she looked so fabulous walking around in her winter gowns. I repeatedly listened to all the cheesy classic French jazz from Something’s Gotta Give and closed my eyes imagining the sound of the street musicians playing on various bridges on the Seine. It was first and foremost, my grandma who would occasionally teach me French words when I came to visit. That made me curious to know more, to be able to talk to another person in another language. And now that I lived that, it’s harder for me to distinguish between what I knew before I was here and what has all blended into my life as I am living it now.
Paris is a city full of love – love for their language, food, art, smoking, sex, fashion, relationships. They are passionate in everything they do. And, as for me, well, it happened: I fell in love. I didn’t expect to, it kind of snuck up on me and surprised me, and as much as I hate to say goodbye to the ones I love, Paris, it’s time for you and I to take a break. I know that when I do leave, I will be leaving part of my heart here. Planted somewhere in the city nobody knows where. Perhaps on the old streets of le Marais, next to the Seine, in my own neighborhood, or Montmartre, who knows. It will be left here for a long time, and I know I’m going to have to come back and save myself from this inevitable heartbreak.
Au revoir! Gros bisous. Paris, I’ll be back, dah-ling.