There are two ultimate truths about my experience in Paris: I love Paris. I hate Paris.
Any expat you talk to that is past the honeymoon stage of living in Paris usually has the same experience. They are in a constant state of confusion why this city has gotten so far under their skin. For those who don’t know Paris, le vrai Paris, it is quite difficult to understand why we suffer this conundrum.
Paris is romanticized and beautified in every way possible to the outside world. It is every girl’s dream to see this romantic city. Once here, the lust is still present and the shock of actually being in Paris is hard to get rid of. Which is why I believe no one who doesn’t live here will ever take you seriously when you complain about living in the City of Lights.
On a random note, before I go further with the actual point of this post, I need to get a couple things off my chest for all those who believe Paris is this glowing city as seen in Midnight in Paris. 1.) Paris smells like pee. All the time. Everywhere. 2.) The weather here blows. Sunshine is not a frequent visitor of Paris. That being said, every season is still gorgeous. Just don’t expect sun.
Ok back to it….
Life is not easy. There is a saying in French: “Pourquoi faire facile quant on peut faire difficile.” Translation : why make it easy when it can be difficult. I learned this phrase in French class when I first moved here. I stared at the board, raised my hand, and naïvely said, “oh, I think you have it wrong. The saying is switched.” My professor smirked at me and replied, “Non, c’est correcte. Bienvenue à la France.” At that moment I had no idea she taught me one of the most important things I would learn about French culture.
It blows my mind how the simplest things here can be so difficult. The French don’t even understand it. And I can’t even begin to explain what I mean if you haven’t visited or lived here. Just try to think of the most efficient and simplest way of doing something and then think of the exact opposite and you’ll get how it works here. This is an ongoing theme, too—I am not just talking about the administration or government, I am talking about post offices, grocery stores, driving, metros, queuing, you name it. But this is just the way things are. You except it, move on, and allot at least 4 hours to go to the post office.
This isn’t the only difference however. I have to say upfront that the stereotype of all French being rude is bs. But, I do have to admit that Parisians are not the most helpful or hospitable people in the world. Moving to a new country that speaks an impossibly difficult language is not made any easier by the surrounding Parisians. They do not have the patience for your rubbish French and no is an acceptable answer to give a customer. There are no alternatives. That just is the way it is. Customers are not always right, in fact, they are usually wrong. Coming from a land of yes’s and multiple options, it is hard to integrate into the black or white thinking.
It is because of these things the expats repeatedly find themselves having numerous emotional break downs. And they creep up on you. You think life is going well and the next minute you are in tears in front of an ATM that is out of service. Is this something to start a tornado of emotional turmoil? No. Not at all. But somehow, even though you didn’t realize it, your brain had been keeping tally all of the no’s and things that didn’t work out making this little tiny thing a catalyst to your freak out.
So why do we stay?
It’s quite simple. Paris is remarkable.
I know, I know. I just bitched for a while about why life is so hard. But this is the thing. I have the typical expat living in Paris attitude. I have a deep love for something that makes no sense at all. I have now learned to scuff off the irritated look the cashier gives me when I (how dare!) step up to her register or the fact grocery stores are closed on Sunday. I know giggle quietly to myself when I hear a French person complaining dramatically about something that cannot be changed, “Ahhh j’en ai marre. Putain. Putain de merde. C’est pas possible. Franchement, c’est dégueulasse. ” I love it. I appreciate the slow service and when the waiters never bring me my check. I sit on the RER with all the other disgruntled people while it’s stopped for 20 minutes without panicking I am going to be late to work.
But more importantly… I love saying bonjour and au revoir when I enter any store. I will never get enough of the boulangeries, patisseries, brassieres, or wine bars. I panic thinking I won’t be able to get unpasteurized cheese, pain au chocolats or foie gras in the states. I love the markets with all the fresh produce and the way 40 year olds think it is perfectly acceptable to passionately make out for 15 minutes in public. I am a strong believer that the states need to adopt the apéro because why shouldn’t you eat and drink before continuing to eat and drink. I admire the fact you can’t leave the house in sweats or looking a mess because its disrespectful to the people you might encounter. Don’t even get me started on ehhhh how de French ehhhhhh speak inglishhh—precious. The way Paris looks at night, the view of all the old blue rooftops, or the way I feel when picnicking on the Seine is unmatched.
In this city where nothing goes as planned, somehow it just works. Despite the emotional breakdowns, constant frustration, and inconvenience of Paris, I manage to fall in love over and over again. It will always be a part of me.