Best and Worst of Paris


It took two flights, twelve hours, and a lot of airport food to get me back to Boston, but I survived it as well as I survived my four months in Paris. I’m still pretty jet-lagged and trying to press the button on my childhood toilet, but I’m coherent enough to write down the five best and worst things about my Paris … aka the things I will miss and the things I most definitely will not.


Top Five Best Things About Paris:

1. It’s beautiful being lost

Even though my Paris Pratique pocket map has the cover torn off and the pages wrinkled and stuck together and circled streets and attractions on every page, I still would end up getting lost. The Paris streets are not organized in the clear, comprehensive grid pattern that Philadelphia is, so it was very easy to go the wrong way or walk past a certain street—and this is something I did up until my last week in Paris.

The best thing, though, is that I never felt very terrified getting lost. In fact, sometimes I would just wander around and wouldn’t look at a map until I found a Metro station. Let me tell you, you cannot just wander around in Philadelphia, so it was a treat to find the beauty in being in a new area and stumbling upon a pretty garden or a cute café or a little deli.

Maybe it’s because in Philadelphia, I always had real schoolwork and actual jobs, so I didn’t have time to get lost. Or maybe it’s because in Paris, I always felt guilty just being a schlub on my laptop at home, so I would force myself to get out of the house for a couple hours. But it’s something I made sure I did a couple times a week, and that’s really the best way to know all of the individual neighborhoods.

2. Everyone puts a lot of effort into the littlest things

This was something that took a while for me to notice, but in Paris, beauty is really paid attention to and people always try to be beautiful or make beautiful things.

There’s a patisserie by my house where the employees always wear crisp black blazers and white button-down shirts … even though it’s a pastry shop and you can buy a big macaron for a euro. And even then they will put it in a little shiny gold box and tie a ribbon around it.

When I bought my host family flowers as a goodbye/thank-you present, I went to the neighborhood Monceau Fleur and felt really incompetent when I looked at all of the different flower choices. I didn’t want to actually tell my host family I loved them romantically or something like that, you know? But the florist there was super friendly and helpful once I told her I wanted to buy flowers for a gift. She asked me my budget and regular stuff like that, but also who the flowers would be for, how old the recipients were, how long have I known them—very personal things that showed how seriously she was taking it. Turns out she thought 60-somethings would like red winter tulips, and since I had no idea there was even such a flower like the winter tulip, I just went with it. So she picked out the tulips, then these ferns, and then these little sprouty things (obviously this is why I had to ask for help), and then cut them, watered them, wrapped them in red tissue paper, then plastic wrap, then put a red ribbon around the stems, then curled silver ribbons to tie around the stems, and then put a sticker on it. And after all of that time, even though there was someone waiting in line behind me, she still took the time to ask me if I was a student, where I was from (and then where I was from in America), what I was studying, which country I liked better, what was the biggest difference between the two countries, and then told me she hoped to go to America one day. By the time the conversation was done, there was a line of three people behind me, but she didn’t care. It was a lovely experience—but I’m sure that if I had been one of the people behind me, I would have been a little cranky.

Appearance is everything and this applies to industries or professions that you wouldn’t necessarily think of.

3. It’s really easy to meet people

Your accent, or your English, will be the greatest conversation starter. Sure, sometimes you’ll be cornered by creeps and weirdos, but the amount of good people you’ll meet really outnumbers them. It doesn’t matter what kind of social situation or setting you’re in, because inevitably someone will want to talk to you about America or Paris and then you can move on from there.

I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t go to bars in Philly, since I’m not 21, or if it’s because I didn’t go out as much as I did in Paris. Maybe we’ll see once I come back and can legally drink in American bars. But then I won’t be able to play the “where is your accent from” game, really.

4. No one wears makeup!

When I told boys who were friends at Drexel that I was going to Philly, a lot of them were like “Awh, man, French girls are the hottest.” And you know what, once I came here, I found out that was totally true—but for different reasons than the guys. I’ve seen the most exquisite bone structures and haircuts and legs and clothing, but I think that the French girls were so absolutely gorgeous because they wore minimal, unnoticeable makeup. And that astounded me.

These girls clearly aren’t wearing eyeliner or mascara or blush or lip color … but they still looked so good.

I wouldn’t say I cake on my makeup, but I would say it usually takes me like fifteen or twenty minutes to “put on my face.” And I thought that my makeup routine wasn’t that noticeable or involved, until I came to Paris. And it suddenly became very obvious to pick out who was American, because those women wear eye makeup and foundation and bronzer and everything. I realized how very American it was to line the upper and lower lids of your eyes, at the same time.

And … in a combination of laziness/”who cares, I won’t run into anyone I know”/”when in Rome,” I stopped wearing so much makeup. I would only put concealer on, and once I got bangs I stopped doing that as well since the only acne I still get is on my forehead.

True, I would still put on makeup to go out to bars and stuff, but that was it. And it was actually kind of empowering (and, you know, let me sleep in for twenty minutes). It sounds dumb, but if someone complimented me on some part of my appearance when I wasn’t wearing makeup, it kind of meant more. It sounds completely dumb and superficial, but I stand by it because it’s true.

I hope I can continue this no-makeup makeup routine once I’m back in the States.

5. Being blasé

The French are very good at relaxing. It’s why they have so many vacation days and long lunches. I didn’t get those, since I was just studying here, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t try to be as relaxed as the French.

It was nice to be able to spend two hours at a café after only ordering a four-euro cup of coffee that was finished in the first half-hour. Tip is already included in everything you buy at a restaurant, so the waiters don’t have to work for their tip and therefore, unlike American waiters, don’t pester you every ten minutes asking if you want more water or the dessert menu or anything else, anything else, anything else. Bartenders are more likely to just let you sit and talk too, even if it’s been kind of a while since you bought your last drink.


Top Five Worst Things about Paris: 

1. Public Urination

Look, I live in Philadelphia, but I was still shocked about the amount of public urination there was in Paris. Even if you didn’t see it happening or that it happened, you could still smell it—especially on the Metro.

I’ve been in the Metro and watched homeless guys sitting on plastic chairs, just peeing in public. I’ve seen guys who don’t look homeless pee on vending machines, which is why I will never, ever get anything from a vending machine, whether it’s the white chocolate Twix bars I can’t find anywhere else or if I am literally about to kneel over and die from starvation or thirst. I’ve just seen too many people pee on them.

And there’s public urination above ground too. There have been too many times where I would round the street corner and almost run into a guy peeing on the outside of a building. There are even public urination stands where a guy can just walk up to this plastic receptacle and just start doing his thing.

2. Paris PDA

I get it, I get it. Paris is the city of love. I believe you. You don’t have to shove it in my face or push it against my side or step on my feet while showing me. But I’ve seen people sucking face in the most unromantic of places—like down in the Metro where there’s a homeless guy peeing on the left of me and a couple making out, hands everywhere, to the right of me.

It’s like I’m third-wheeling even though I have no idea who the other two people are. Paris, je t’aime, but not that much.

3. No berets

There are the stripey shirts and scarves and leather and trench coats, BUT NO BERETS. The first person I saw wearing a beret in Paris was my grandfather when he bought one for eight euros at a cheapy tourist stand across the street from the Louvre, and that was at the end of September. I’ve seen a couple more berets outside now that it’s gotten colder, but even then it’s mostly on grannies with dyed red hair.

4.  No smiling allowed

I really had trouble with this. I’m smiley by nature, and this is a bad thing in a country where, as a French professor aptly put it, “smiles are rare and people have to earn their smiles.” Well, I did not make people work for their smiles, and that gave people certain assumptions that they should not be making. Mostly, guys.

I have a lot of smiles that I give out, and I have some smiles that I don’t really mean. It’s sad but it’s true. I guess the French don’t have those kind of smiles.

So when some guy asked me what time it was and I gave a close-lipped half-smile as I responded, all of a sudden he wanted to know my name and where I was from and what I was doing in Paris and everything that wasn’t what time it was. Or when I went for a Metro seat at the same time as a guy and he let me have it and I thank-you smiled at him. And I thought that was that and we’d each go off into our own little Metro world and just stare blankly at the floor. But then suddenly he unnecessarily was standing way too close for comfort while he not-so-subtly looked down my shirt as I sat awkwardly in my chair until I switched cars at the next stop.

Smiles are like come-ons here, I guess. So that made me an unintentional smile-slut in a weird sort of way.

5. Being blasé

This was both good and bad, as you can already tell. It was good outside of the house, but it was bad with my host family. And from other stories my friends would tell, it wasn’t just my French family in particular. Family members would leave and come back without letting me know, and they’d let people stay over the same way. I’d go upstairs in their upside-down house and see this random person sitting at the kitchen table or at the couch and be like “HI … who are you?” It was like they thought this was something I shouldn’t have to worry about … but I got really freaked out and annoyed every time it happened but of course never said anything.

Paris To-Do List: DONE!

I wish I had posted my list of things I wanted to accomplish in France in the beginning of my study abroad experience, but I didn’t. Rest assured, I didn’t just put up random things that I did so it could look like I am Super Woman.

There were things I didn’t do that I would have liked to have done. For example, I would have liked to go to an apple ciderie in Normandy, but I really didn’t put that much effort into going there. It wasn’t on the list, but it was worth mentioning. Next time, I guess!

And there were things that I wanted to do that I did, but they weren’t that big of a deal. I drank hot wine, I ate macarons, I bought baguettes and ate half of them on the walk home. They weren’t big deals or anything.

Anyways, here are the top five things I would have been pissed about if I didn’t do them while living in Paris:

1. Eat weird animal products.

This was the biggest, and also vaguest, thing I wanted to do. There were specific meats I wanted to try—horse, rabbit, duck, snails—and there were specific animal products I wanted to try—foie gras and boudin, mostly. Basically, I wanted to eat all of the crazy French foods I would never eat in America, which is pretty much what I did, minus frogs legs. I really had no desire to eat frog legs and, what’s more, I didn’t see them at all on any of the menus I looked at.

Robert et Louise -- (L to R) rillettes, boudin, foie gras.

Robert et Louise — (L to R) rillettes, boudin, foie gras.

But whenever I saw something on a French menu I wouldn’t necessarily see on an American menu, I ordered it. Granted, I was still eating on a college student’s budget while in France, so that would sometimes mean a week living off of a one-euro bag of pasta, but I did eat out sometimes and when I did I tried to make it count.

The hardest part, for me, was finding a restaurant that sold horse meat too—I would only find horse meat at open-air markets or at butcher shops, and goodness knows there was no way I would try and cook horse. It wasn’t until the last week when I finally asked my program director where was the best place to eat horse and he gave me a recommendation.

Except, they didn’t have proper horse on the menu, which was good because the cheapest plate was 24 euros and my friend Jenn and I started hyperventilating about how to leave this super expensive restaurant. I asked the overly attentive waiter if they had any horse, and he even went to the kitchen to ask. I said we came just because we heard this had the best horse in Paris, and he said we could have “charcuterie de chevaline,” or horse charcuterie  which is basically saucission or jerky of horse meat.


Jenn and I split it for 14 euros and even though the waiter asked if we wanted wine, coffee, or dessert after, he let us do it. So I did eat horse, but not the kind I was expecting.

And, I ate a lot of unpasteurized cheese. So much that something weird should have happened with my body but it didn’t. I just liked the idea of eating cheese that was illegal in the States, so sue me. I would literally ask the fromager at a fromagerie or a cheese stand what was illegal in the States, taste whatever they offered me, and then end up buying it.

 2. Get my French makeover

I already blogged about this, but I did get a French makeover even if it was one that wasn’t exactly like celluloid makeovers. Still, I got bangs and five inches of haircut off, so I consider it a success.

I also picked out a nice pair of frames for my dad to give me for my birthday, which is December 28. They’re men’s glasses, but they don’t look like them, I swear! (although I have a wide face so they kind of had to be a little bigger). So I really will come back a whole new person!

 3. Receive an invite to a French party

I wanted to do this just because it would mean that I would make French friends, and good enough French friends to get invited to their house. Being invited to a French person’s house or apartment is like a big deal, because they are oddly private.

I did get invited to French parties … that were taking place in my house. Haha. But still, I was really, actually invited to them. And what’s more, at the last house party, my host mom came home early and I helped make the introductions between her and most of my host daughter’s friends. So that made me feel really welcomed!

 4. Give directions in French

The first time someone asked me for directions, it was only the second week I was in Paris. But, it was a letdown because some American girls asked me, in English, where the McDonalds was. Talk about stereotyping! The worst part is that I actually knew where the McDonalds was … because it was literally down the street, within viewing distance, so the whole asking for directions thing was completely unnecessary on their parts. Hmmph.

This is what escargots look like BEFORE you throw them up.

This is what escargots look like BEFORE you throw them up.

But the other times I gave directions in French were much better, mostly because they were done in French to French people. I’ve given directions to the nearest Metro stations, the nearest biggest streets, and how to get to my apartment from a cab. One time someone asked me where the closest Metro station with Line One was and even though that question was crazy specific, I was still able to do it (only because there were two stations with that line within walking distance).

So not only did people think I was a local, but they thought I was a competent local who knew where shit was. Boo yah!

5. Become a regular somewhere

This was just me being superficial and wanting someone to recognize me. The first time I became a regular was at my local Franprix, but that’s easy to do so it doesn’t count. I wanted a kind of Cheers deal where everyone knows my name, or at least my face or my drink order. But have this happen in Paris.

I got that at The Green Linnet, this Irish bar by Châtelet. It’s a block away from the Metro, and originally we only stopped in because I couldn’t remember the bar we had set out to go to and it was cold and rainy and we wanted to go inside somewhere, anywhere. Blindly, we made a good choice. It’s small and cozy, with couches and wooden furnishings and live Irish music every Saturday night. It’s a chill bar where you can hear yourself think and most of the other patrons let you do just that.

La Fée Verte -- parmentier de canard

La Fée Verte — parmentier de canard

Plus, there was an American bartender from Green Bay, Wisconsin who studied abroad when he was in college and loved to give us tips and ideas and recommendations. He warned us no one would ever know what our study abroad experience would be like besides us, and he said this to me so long ago I had no idea how right he was until now. He was wise that way, and also because he gave me the name of the best authentic Mexican food place in Paris that helps during those times he described as “when you just really want some fucking sour cream, you know?”

But, best of all, he knew my drink—the fantastically cheap and wonderfully strong martini blanc—and he knew me enough to say “Hey! How you doin’?” instead of “Bonsoir” whenever I would first come in.

The best foodie picks for Paris

It’s that time of year again where blogs, magazines, and other media publications start putting together their “Best of ____ 2012” end lists to sum up the year in review. And since my four months in Paris were the best of my 2012, I’m going to do a “Best of Paris 2012” of my favorite Parisian foods and restaurants.

So in no particular order…

–Best pizza: La Tavola, 8 rue de la Roquette, 75011

This place looks like a cheap and cheesy Italian restaurant, complete with red and white checkered tablecloths and a sign in red, white, and green—but its’ pizza is legit. Where else can you find a pizza with a fried egg?

La Tavola -- fried egg and merguez sausage pizza.

La Tavola — fried egg and merguez sausage pizza.

I recommend the pizza with chorizo or merguez, two different types of spicy sausage.  And there’s this olive-oil based chili sauce that really complements the pizza, which is cheesier than it is tomatoe-y. You get the fattiness of the cheese cut with the spiciness of the sauce, and the fried egg and thick crust is there to mop it all up.

Definitely get your own pizza, because you can eat it on your own and, more importantly, you’ll want to eat it on your own too.

–Best hot chocolate: Les Deux Magots, 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés  75006

Hot chocolate or no hot chocolate, you should really try to visit Les Deux Magots, especially if you’re into the famed literary scene of Paris.  Located in the fashionable Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, the café was the thinking and meeting place of a lot of great writers like Hemingway and Sartre & de Beauvoir, Les Deux Magots has such a good literary reputation that once a year it gives out the Deux Magots literary prize to a French novel.

Les Deux Magots -- melted chocolate bars in a cup.

Les Deux Magots — melted chocolate bars in a cup.

But on to the actual restaurant. It’s in a beautiful Belle Epoque-era building, but it’s almost worth sitting outside on a sidewalk table to see the waiters in the stereotypical suit and long white apron getup dance in between pedestrians to take orders.

My dad took me here when he was in Paris, and I ordered the hot chocolate because it was freezing and we had been walking around all day. I didn’t know that I’d be ordering a melted chocolate bar, because that’s pretty much what I got. I was so surprised when I took my first sip—not only is the hot chocolate really rich and flavorful, but its’ consistency is also on par with a melted chocolate bar.

Also, I know that Angelina’s has a reputation of having great hot chocolate (with a not-so-great expensive cost). And it does, it totally does, but when I went to Angelina’s I ordered their famous hot chocolate and a Japanese cheesecake thing (basically lemon cream cheese on a thick biscuit covered in white chocolate with strawberry cream) and I felt like vomiting afterwards because the hot chocolate + pastry = stomach overload. So maybe there’s a bias and it was experience-based, but I’d still pick Les Deux Magot because you could sit outside and sip.

–Best typical French food: Robert et Louise, 64 Rue Vieille du Temple  75003 Paris

This is where I had my first boudin noir black blood sausage, my first rillette pork fat paté, and my first foie gras (the sandwich doesn’t count in my book because that was just foie gras on a baguette and now I know that’s not how you’re supposed to eat foie gras).

But the best typical French part about this restaurant is that there’s a huge open brick oven right there in the dining room—not even sectioned off from the tables that are like three feet away—that is surely breaking a bajillion American health codes. Who cares, though—like the honey badger, Robert et Louise doesn’t give a fuck. You don’t even mind waiting for your food because you get to watch the two cooks on duty carry the raw meat up the stairs and throw it in the oven and then cut it up and then put it on a plate.

Robert et Louise -- (L to R) rillettes, boudin, foie gras.

Robert et Louise — (L to R) rillettes, boudin, foie gras.

In fact, watching the cooks is most of the fun. There really are only two chefs—one sous-chef and one head chef, I guess. But from what I could see, there’s one guy that’s in charge of the meat and one guy that’s in charge of everything else, like the salad and potatoes.

This is a nice place to get the French experience, so you might as well go all out for your meal. When I went with my dad and step-mom, we each ordered an appetizer, so we got to split the blood sausage, the rillette, and foie gras (served with American toast and an orange marmalade that really complimented the fattiness of the foie gras, especially when paired with the sweet white wine that comes with the foie gras). Plus, you get a basket of nice, thick pieces of French baguette that you can watch the waiter cut in the tiny makeshift kitchen.

For the main course, I got duck confit and my dad and step-mom split the beef ribs for two. You get baked potatoes with herbs de Provence and a clean salad with a typical French salad dressing (which, coincidentally, is nothing like the disgusting French dressing in America). Everything is simple—no ornamentation, no fancy positioning on a fancy plate, no random dribbles of some sauce, no uneatable piece of green leaves. It is literally meat and potatoes and you wouldn’t want it any other way here.

Robert et Louise -- beef ribs, potatoes, salad.

Robert et Louise — beef ribs, potatoes, salad.

Unless you want to sit at the communal table, I’d recommend getting a reservation here, especially if you’re going on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. There are two main dining rushes—7 and 9 p.m.—but if you go before or after you might be okay. And if you buy the cheapest “dumb” phone like I did—30 euros for a phone that looks like it came straight out of 2003—be prepared to have the cute guy (the grandson of Robert and Louise, we think) laugh at your little phone, but in a cute way.

My dad used to come here all the time, I guess, when he lived here—and more telling, this is where he would bring people who were visiting France, so they could get the real experience. His frequent appearance, coupled with his obvious Americanness, made him memorable in the eyes of the current proprietor François, who is the son-in-law of Robert et Louise. Robert et Louise’s daughter, my dad says, used to make the desserts but I’m not sure if she does now; I am sure that she remembered my dad and step-mom because she waved and smiled and said “Bonsoir” to them when she walked by. François definitely remembered my dad, even saying that it’s been a while since he was there. He came and talked to us at our table, but he did that for all of the guests.

Robert et Louise -- the oven is to the left (with the meat cook) and the kitchen is to the right (with the everything-else cook).

Robert et Louise — the oven is to the left (with the meat cook) and the kitchen is to the right (with the everything-else cook).

François is a character. He sits at the bar all night manning the phone and drinking rosé. My dad said that he first talked to François one night when they were at a table for four and it suddenly got really busy, so the two of them told their waiter they could have their after-dinner coffee at the bar—which put them in François’s eyesight and good graces. He bought them each a glass of wine as a thank-you gift and they started talking from there.

And when my dad took me here, he made sure to send François a glass of his favorite rosé as a thank-you. When François noticed the glass—and that we were leaving—he got up and gave my dad the traditional bises, which was kind of funny to see because François is this big, balding French guy who looks really intimidating. My dad introduced me (in English) as his daughter and said I was studying abroad in Paris for another month, which made François really smile and ask me (in French) if I knew French and that I should come back and drink a glass of wine with him and practice my French. Where else are you going to have a restaurant owner say that to you? It’s been two weeks and I haven’t gone back there yet, but I might—if only because François told me “I am going to do the bises with you” in French as a warning, so I loooooooooooved that (those are not sarcastic “o”s, those are sincere “os”s btw).

–Best duck: La Fée Verte, 108 Rue de la Roquette  75011

I went to La Fée Verte because a former co-worker of my dad recommended it for us to all meet up. The name is literally translated to “The Green Fairy” and both the French and English versions are of the nickname for absinthe, because this is an absinthe bar. But unlike the absinthe bar that I’ve written so much about, this is a restaurant AND an absinthe bar, and the food is just as out-of-this-world as the absinthe. I’m assuming this because I didn’t drink absinthe here, but I did ask where they buy their absinthe; the bartender gave me the business card of the absinthe bar (Vert des Absinthes located right in the Marais) and I ended up going there and buying two bottles of absinthe for my dad to bring home for me.

Anyway, everyone but my dad ordered the parmentier de canard (he ordered a hamburger and got mocked by his former colleagues), but everyone at the table loved it. Parmentier is the name of the guy who popularized the potato as a major source of food in Europe—he even has his own Metro station in the cool Oberkampf area where there is literally a statue of him with a potato—and that works because this dish is basically  a mound of mashed potatoes on top of a mound of shredded confit de canard.

La Fée Verte -- parmentier de canard

La Fée Verte — parmentier de canard

Can you just imagine how fabulously fatty and rich that would be? It was heavenly. I wish I was eating some now. I can’t find the menu online but I’m pretty sure this was an expensive dish for my student budget (not that it mattered the night I ordered it since my dad was paying). It would be worth scrimping just to justify eating this luxurious dish.

P.S. You might notice that this is on the same street—Rue de la Roquette—as the “Best Pizza” place, La Tavola. Rue de la Roquette is this long straightshoot of a street that has a lot of great restaurants, many of them ethnic, and it’s a great place to walk down if you’re hungry but not sure what you’re in the mood for.

–Best French Onion Soup: Aux Anysetiers Du Roy, 61, rue Saint-Louis en L’Ile, 75004

This place is also the unofficial runner-up for best traditional French cuisine. But I love it so much, I just had to include it on this list. It’s so traditional French, its’ name is actually written in Middle Ages French and not modern French—it’s called “the ancestors of the king” but “roy” is the Middle Ages French version of “roi” for “king.”

When I went here with my dad, we ordered the French onion soup as an appetizer and it was so filling I would have been completely content with asking for the check afterwards. It’s French onion soup, but it’s French French onion soup and not the Americanized version of the meal. You get all of the typical French onion soup parts—broth, bread, cheese—but they’re each in separate bowls. You don’t get the queasy thick cheese layer, but instead you get a bowl of broth with a bowl of shredded cheese an a bowl of bread croutons and you get to make your own French onion soup.

Aux Anysetiers du Roy -- French onion soup

Aux Anysetiers du Roy — French onion soup

The difference in preparation technique is extraordinary. You don’t get like seven spoonfulls of cheese and then the rest is just the broth; you’re in control of the cheese, so you can have the cheese and bread and soup in perfect proportions. Before I came here, I had never had French onion soup like this—and now that I’ve been, I’m not sure I’ll be able to order a typical French onion soup ever again.

Head’s up: the soup was 9 euros, and like I said, it’s totally a meal on its’ own even though it’s listed as an appetizer.

–Best Bar Areas: Rue de Lappe, Bastille; Rue des Lombards, Châtlet; Rue Mouffetard, Place Monge; Rue Oberkampf, Parmentier

There are two things you should note about that superlative. One: it is not just one bar, but bar areas. Two: it is not just one bar area, but many.

That’s because for me, the best way to meet French people was at a bar. My program was only for American students, so you were kind of on your own to meet French people to talk to; there was a “conversation buddy” program with a French fashion school down the street, but I don’t think anyone actually met up with their conversation buddy outside of the first required meeting.

Now, granted, my host family had someone sleeping at our house every week so I really got to meet French people. But most of these people were old artists who would just ask me basic questions and then be really artsy whenever I tried to talk to them (example: “How are you?” “Fantastic because I am going to go take pictures of Père Lachaise in the rain.”). So going out and meeting French people was really a big deal for me and my friends and the best way to do that was to go to a bar and just strike up a conversation (or let them hear you speaking English and have them strike up a conversation with you).

So here we go—

–Rue de Lappe, Bastille: This is the tiniest of all of the streets I’ve listed, but what it lacks in width it definitely makes up for in number of bars. There are so many packed on this street that every bar is tiny, which is fine because everyone just orders a drink in the bar of their choosing and then goes outside on the cobblestone street to smoke and chat. It’s funny because I’ve walked by this street during the day (it’s right before that Rue du Roquette that I’ve mentioned twice now in this post) and no one’s there and every bar is closed, but this bar really comes alive at night.

–Rue des Lombards, Châtlet: This is a little piéton, or pedestrian-only, street—which is good if you plan on doing some heavy drinking. A lot of the bars on this little street are open later than the Metro, so you have to be mindful of the time if you plan on staying out late here or be prepared to fight for a taxi in the wee hours of the morning. I first heard about this place because of the Hide Out, a great dive-bar with a dungeon-esque dance floor. But all of the bars in this little area are great, cheap, and open late.

–Rue Mouffetard, Quartier Latin: My friend Lilly lived right off of this street, so that was why she always tried to get us to go here for a night out. But we kept going because it’s such a great cobblestone street with a bunch of bars. This is somewhere that’s actually open during the day, too—there are a bunch of specialty foods shops towards the bottom of the street. It’s funny because at the top, it’s mostly bars, but as you keep walking down you see more fromageries and boulangeries and patisseries and butcher shops. So I love this street in the day and in the night—plus, it spawns the streets that Hemingway and Orwell respectively lived on during their stays in Paris.

There’s one bar, The Wall, that’s always bumping. Its’ name comes from the Pink Floyd album, and the font on the sign mimics the font of the album cover. They play great music here—one time it was three Beatles songs in a row—but it can be kind of hard to hear it sometimes because it gets so packed, despite the hoards of French people smoking outside on the sidewalk. Another great bar here is The Fifth Bar, which is where you can go if you miss playing beer pong and are sad because you haven’t seen a plastic red cup in weeks. We went here with a French friend one time and saw how terrible the French are at playing beer pong. It’s 15 euros for a pitcher and you have to ask for extra cups, but if you’re feeling homesick for the shitty college drinking game this is the place to go.

–Rue Oberkampf, Parmentier: Beware, becasuse this is the real Oberkampf “bobo” hipster area, and not the area that’s at the Oberkampf Metro stop. We learned this the hard way one frustrating night. But once you finally arrive on this street, you’re going to want to stay here for a while. It’s bar after bar after bar—and not even that, but it’s theme bar after theme bar after theme bar. Want to go to a pirate bar? Bar Les Pirates is what you’ll want to seek. Want to spend the night drinking piña coladas and listening to the Beach Boys? My Woodie’s is the place to be. Plus, the streets going off of Rue Oberkampf are full of good bars too; it’s where you’ll find La Cantada II, aka the absinthe bar I’m always blogging about.

–Best Macaron: Maison de Collette, 100, rue Montorgueil 75002

This whole street, rue Montorgueil, is five minutes away from my school, but even if it wasn’t within walking distance it’d be worth going to. This is another piéton area, which means that it’s cute and small and has a cobblestone street. Plus, there’s a lot of diversity here, which means one day I can have Thai and the next Indian and the next French and still walk the same five minutes each way. But the best is dessert. The macarons are bigger than your average macarons and also less expensive—less than 3 euros for a macaron the size of the palm of your hand. Plus, there are really interesting macaron flavors too. Like, I’m obsessed with everything cassis, mostly because there isn’t any cassis in America (cassis is like a fruit that’s half blackberry, half red currents). And they have cassis macarons at this place! It’s the only time I’ve seen it. Same with the praline macaron. I’m really into pralines, since it’s not a flavor I have easy access to in the states. There were even little chunks of pralines in the cookie part! Mmmm… There are many different flavors of macarons, and they are all the perfect combination of cake and crème, of crunch and frosting, of price and taste.

–Best cake: Berko, 31 rue Lepic, Quartier Lepic-Abbesses, 75018 Paris

I’ve already waxed poetic about this cheesecake. But now that I’ve tried the regular cheesecake, the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake, the regular cheesecake with fresh fruit, and the Mars bar cheesecake—I’ve gotta tell ya, the regular cheesecake is my favorite.

My friend Lily and I have it nailed down: it’s the crust. It’s not a regular cheesecake crust, but it’s more like a condensed carrot cake of a crust. It’s kind of like a reverse carrot cake, where there’s more cream cheese and less spice cake. And it’s scrumptious, obviously.

–Best chocolate: Leonidas chocolates (locations vary)

I would feel like a smuck for recommending a Belgian chocolatier on my best-of Paris list, but the chocolate is so gobble-worthy I don’t even care.

There’s a backstory to this. Even before my dad moved to Paris and he was just doing a lot of European business trips, one thing he would always do is bring home a big gold box of Leonidas white chocolates. But it had been a while since that happened, and I got ridiculously, childishly excited when I saw the royal-looking Leonidas symbol from two blocks away and dragged my friends to the store.

All of their chocolates are delicious, but the white chocolate ones take the cake, so to speak. I’m a white chocolate kind of girl to begin with, but these white chocolates are converters. A lot of the Leonidas chocolates feature pralines or hazlenuts, but those nuts combined with the white chocolate is a whole other taste experience I have yet to find in the States.

Leonidas chocolates.

Leonidas chocolates.

These are expensive, to be fair. You can get a small box of maybe 15 chocolates for 10 euros. But they’re worth it. Just be sure to ration yourself off of chocolates or you’ll go through a whole box in four days like I did.

And if you’re getting them as a gift, like I did for my mom (the third-biggest size of box) or for my host daughter (smallest box), then make sure you get it wrapped. Or, if you want to treat yourself, you can get it wrapped too.


–Best frites: De Clercq, les Rois de la Frite. 169 rue Montmartre 75002

This is another example of a Belgian takeover, but I think it’s okay in this case because French fries technically are in Belgian. And it’s awfully cocky to have “the kings of the fry” as part of your company name, but De Clercq has earned their crown, in my opinion.

This particular De Clercq is a five-minute walk away from my school, and a cold winter day it’s so pleasing to eat a handful of hot French fries on the way to the center. This is a tiny little pop-up of a restaurant, and it’s so packed during the lunch rush hour that it’s not even worth standing up or sitting down to eat inside, even if there are specially-made counters with holes to put your cornet, or rolled-paper cone, of fries.

Their burgers are pretty good, but you need to come here for the fries. True, you can get a burger, a small drink, and a medium cornet of fries for under 7 euros. But the fries are really the best part. They’re thick and have some potato-ness to them, but the exterior is fried and crispy so that you get the best of both worlds—mushy and crunch—of all things French fries. 

–Best cookies: Scoop Me a Cookie,4 rue du Pas de la Mule

I never thought of myself as a cookie snob before coming to Paris. Yes, I preferred the homemade kind to the store-bought kind, but a cookie is a cookie so even the bad ones are good. Or so I thought.

Scoop Me a Cookie window display

Scoop Me a Cookie window display

You’ll see a lot of cookies in Paris, but you won’t see a lot of thick, fluffy ones. Even the best patisseries with the prettiest little desserts and macarons only have flat, crunchy-looking cookies that aren’t visually appeasing.

This is the exact opposite of Scoop Me a Cookie, which is located inside of a chocolatier shop, Josephine Vannier, by Place des Vosges. I first noticed this shop with my dad because there were a lot of funky creations, like mugs and plates and little shoes, made out of chocolate. But what made us actually go inside the shop were the cookies. Oh, the cookies.

These were the thickest, gooiest cookies I’d ever seen in person. They were the kind of cookies Pillsbury or Toll House wish they could feature in their TV commercials. Somehow, the cookies were huge, the size of a hand, but they still retained height and volume as well as width—they didn’t flatten out during the baking process, and for that I am very thankful. Maybe that’s why it’s called “Scoop Me a Cookie” because they must use an ice cream scoop or something to make the perfectly-sized cookie dough ball.

Scoop Me a Cookie website screenshot. Even their food photography is enticing!

Scoop Me a Cookie website screenshot. Even their food photography is enticing!

The names are just as sweet as the cookies. I ordered a “Moi Tarzan, Toi Jane” cookie with dark chocolate and dried bananas. So where else are you going to get a Tarzan-referencing cookie with bananas? Exactly.

Even when the cookies aren’t straight out of the oven, they’re still really soft, almost a little too soft in the middle. But the best part is the chocolate—whether it’s a cookie with white, milk, or dark chocolate, the pieces of the chocolate are going to be the size of melting chocolate pieces and not chocolate chips.

The cookies are 3,10 euros, but you’ve never had a cookie like this, ever. If you end up getting homesick for regular cookies, this is the place to go to get your fix. Just beware because then you might end up getting homesick for these cookies, which I totally will be.

–Best outdoor market: Marché Bastille, bd Richard Lenoir 75011

I’m spoiled because this is right around where my dad used to live, so it was always a thing on Sundays to go to the Marché Bastille and buy all of our fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and breads. And the first Sunday of my Paris, I told my friends about this place and I was able to give them their first taste of an open-air market, or un marché de plein air.

The Bastille market takes up a whole block, with rows and rows of different vendors. You’ve got your fish vendors, your cheese vendors, your bread vendors, and your produce vendors. But there’s also ethnic tents of Chinese, Lebanese, Créole, and Italian takeout, plus the roasted chicken stands where chickens are roasted on rotating sticks and the juice drips down onto the baked potatoes lying at the bottom of the oven. Suck it, Boston Market—the Bastille market wins hands down, even if there isn’t any cornbread.

This market isn’t just for food either: plastic jewelry, leather wallets and coin purses, hats, scarves, cooking wear, African masks, clothes … there’s even a stand that literally only sells stereotypical striped French shirts.

Everything is very cheap here, because the food is usually so fresh you have to eat it either that day or the next. I struggled with this in the beginning when I would buy my fruit here and open the refrigerator the next day only to see it spoiled.

I think it’s unofficially open from some ridiculously early Sunday morning time to like three p.m., but you want to get here early. Not just to buy the food first, but to beat the crowds. Most of the Parisians in the area flock here for their food and you really do have to fight for space and attention.

The market can be a little intimidating, with the amount of people and the vendors all yelling their prices, trying to entice you to look at them so that when you do they can offer you a slice of pineapple or a tomato or whatever they’re selling. You can get a lot of samples this way, if you try hard enough. Plus, you can buy a baguette and just kind of nibble while you figure out what to get. It’s the best.

For pictures, click the link up top.

–Best crêpe: Crêpe stand at marché Bastille, bd Richard Lenoir 75011

I tried really hard to find the name of this stand, but I just couldn’t. Guess this just means you have to go to the Bastille market then, ehhhh?

There’s only one crêpe stand there, so you’ll know where it is (it’s usually on the right side of the market if you’re standing with your back to the Bastille tower). It usually has the longest line or biggest crowd out of all of the little tents at the market, and the crêpes make it obvious why.

Like most crêpe stands, this offers sweet, or sucre, and savory, or salé. But the offerings are more diverse than what you will normally find.

The sweet crêpes range from your ordinary sugar, jam, Nutella, or fruit-and-Nutella, but it also features crème and caramel. A caramel and banana crêpe!! Can you even imagine? It really puts the sucre into the sucre crêpe.

Likewise, the savory ones have the usual cheese, egg, meat components, but there’s a lot of variation. For starters, you can get crêpes with goat cheese here, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. And the meat is much more varied too thanks to the different types of sausage and fish. You can get a salmon, chive, and goat cheese crepe here, which sounds like a restaurant plate that you can eat in your hands at a food truck price.

I like coming to this stand in the middle of my usual marché Bastille routine because you can sit on a bench and relax and people-watch the poor sods stuck in the lines you were just in. Plus, it’s the perfect breakfast sandwich in a country where the idea of a breakfast sandwich isn’t really all there. I got a egg, cheese, and saucission crêpe one late morning after a late night, and the crêpe guy literally took a whole sausage and cut it into pieces before placing it on the crêpe. It was exactly what I needed and cemented the idea that these crêpes are exactly what I need whenever I go to the marché Bastille.

Aaaand …. that’s it! Let me know if you have any recommendations or categories!

Getting a haircut in France

While some kids were opening up their French textbooks in the days before we left for Paris, I did some auto-didactic learning about Paris through American and French films. And maybe it’s because all of the actresses in American films about France—Kate Hudson in Le Divorce, Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina and Funny Face—all got these terrific, life-changing makeovers.

And I wanted that to happen to me, little ole Alissa, in real life, in real time, in real Paris, in a real salon.

When I had to fill out applications asking me what I hoped to accomplish in Paris, I would always right that I hoped to be fluent enough to get my haircut in a French salon and only speak French to give directions.

I waited until the last week to do it, but I finally got my French makeover experience.

I wish I had started earlier, though. The one makeover place—that actually gives hair and makeup makeovers, not just haircuts—didn’t have any openings until after Christmas, so my friend Lily will able to get her France’s Next Top Model experience then since she’s staying the whole term. After that, I found out that two other hair academies were on vacation, so there weren’t any students to give me free hair cuts, and three other academies or salons were booked until after Christmas. So I was all the way down on the bottom of the list when I called this one academy that only offered haircuts, no colors, and made you pay 10 euros.

Asking for the makeover was half of the problem. All of the places had advertisements for “models” so whenever I asked I would have to say, “Um, yes, hi, I would like to be a model?” and that’s an awkward sentence to say in English, let alone French! For the first two places I tried, I walked in there with the list of some random blog’s recommendations for cheap hair makeovers, so I would say “I would like to be a model” but also point to their spot on the list to have backup. But once I got tired of running around Paris, I ended up just calling these places and having to explain myself in French. And then listen to their rejection in French.

But finally, I found a place and got a time slot. I just said I wanted to be a model and the woman on the other end of the phone knew exactly what I meant—“Of course, come in at 11 on Monday” she said, “Au Revoir!”

Well, that was easy, I thought to myself as I listened to the dial tone. I hope that’s a good sign of what’s to come.

It kind of was.

For starters, I showed up at the place with Lily, and there really wasn’t a reception area or a front desk when we immediately walked in, so we were being awkward and they were being blasé French right from the get go. But once we were ushered it, it seemed like in the next minute I confirmed my arrival, paid 10 euros, gave them my coat, put on my cotton bathrobe (and it’s sash—can’t forget the sash), and was sitting in a chair.

The first thing I noticed was that there were all old ladies with grey hair getting their hair cut.

Not the most promising sight.

The "Before." DUH DUH DUH.

The “Before.” DUH DUH DUH.

And my student haircut guy (never got his name and he never asked for mine) was this tiny Asian guy with beautiful, delicate features and a tiny black soul patch. He was wearing black cargo pants that did the whole zip-off-shorts thing … which he paired with pointy black dress shoes.

Again, not the most promising sight. This was, after all, the guy who would ultimately be responsible for my style.

I’ve gotten my hair cut at beauty schools before, so I wasn’t surprised when an older guy wearing nicer black shirts and nicer black swishy pants (swishy pants! Really! With black dress shoes!) came over and started asking my little Asian haircut guy where my split ends were and where the dead, dry hair ended and where the highlights ended.

I was a human pop quiz, y’all.

The instructor had fantastically shiny Disney prince shoulder-length hair, which I got to admire while he got all up in my face and studied me for a couple seconds, looking at me from every angle and even picking out a strand of hair and twisting it between his fingers. I really wasn’t kidding about being a human pop quiz.

“This is your first time here, right?” he asked once he moved out of my personal bubble.

“Of course,” I answered.

“But you know what we do here, right?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “I do.” Believe me, I do.

“Great. Ok, okay,” he said, and then looked over to little hair cut guy. “It will be the ends. But now, shampooing!”

The little hair cut guy, who literally has only said “come” to me by this point, said it again and gestured towards the sink area.

Shampooing? We’re not discussing my haircut? I wondered as I followed him.

Lily, who had been awkwardly waiting in the non-waiting area, hissed, “So what’s up? What are they doing?” when I shuffled by her.

“I have no idea. I think they’re only cutting a little,” I whispered, which was ridiculous because no one had given any indication that they spoke English.

“All right, I’m gonna go to Starbucks. Text me when you’re almost done,” she whispered back, and then she was gone and haircut guy was impatiently pointing at the chair in front of the sink.

I sat down in the shampoo chair and closed my eyes as he wordlessly rinsed my hair with warm water. That, I was used to. But the shampoo was freezing, the equivalent of being sprayed with freezing cold water—which I know because my hair was rinsed off with freezing cold water, which has never happened in a hair salon. And, even worse, I was done after the shampoo. No conditioner. And with my thick curly hair, let me tell ya, you need the conditioner. Especially if you’re going to be brushing it afterwards.

I did not make any friends.

I did not make any friends.

Aiiiiight, it’s your funeral, I thought as I followed him back to the chair.

When I was seated, he started combing—not brushing—my hair. Now, my hair was in its normal crazy curly state when I came in, so he should have known what he was working with. He didn’t even spray a detangling spray or anything!

It really was his funeral—and mine; his was going to be death by hand exhaustion and mine was going to be death my embarrassment.

But in reality, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. There were a couple tugs and a couple knots, but nothing I couldn’t handle (or hadn’t already handled in previous trips to the salon). Usually during the brushing part of the hair cut experience, the stylist always says something like “You have so much hair!” that is meant to be positive but really isn’t.

I didn’t hear it this time—but I’m not 100 percent sure that’s because of just the language barrier. My haircut guy wasn’t that social and didn’t ever interact with the other haircut girls; while I was waiting for my hair to dry, he just leaned against a table and flipped through a magazine.

So he brushed my hair and starts sectioning it off in clips and I started to get excited. I still wasn’t really sure I completely understood what the instructor said they were going to do to me, but I signed up to get a surprising makeover, didn’t I? So I watched the little haircut guy in the mirror as he … started cutting off maybe two inches of hair. And that was it. Every section he took down, he’d cut just my split ends off.

And when your hair is as long as mine was, it really isn’t that much—and definitely not enough to count as a real French makeover.

I was trying to quietly not freak out about how small my French makeover would be when the haircut guy called over the instructor. Shit, I thought, that means he’s done and wants to get approval.

Haircut guy says something to me, and I just have no idea what he’s asking. I was so surprised he said something other than “Come” or “Sit” that I forgot to pay attention and there weren’t any context clues words to help me figure out what he just said. I heard “right” and “left” but don’t know anything else.

“What?” I asked.

He kind of hits my knee—not hard, but in an oddly familiar kind of way. It’s the kind of smack you’d give to a friend if she was talking about someone and that person just walked in. A “hey, pay attention” smack, if you will.

And then it clicks. He wants me to uncross my legs for the instructor. Sheesh. But I do it.

Disney hair prince comes over. He snips some pieces, measures the bottoms of the front pieces, and walks around in a circle. “Nice work,” he finally says to haircut guy, and then looks down at me. “C’est tout,” he tells me—“That’s all.”

I looked at the mirror, at my reflection, at my barely noticeable haircut, and muster up all of the French haggling vocabulary and courage that I can muster.

Little haircut guy and Disney hair prince. And me, crossing my knees like an oaf.

Little haircut guy and Disney hair prince. And me, crossing my legs like an oaf.

Non, ce n’est pas tout,” I said—“No, that’s not all.”

Disney hair prince raised his eyebrows, or at least I think that’s what’s going on under the heavy bangs. “You don’t like it?’ he asked.

“No, I do,” I earnestly told him him, even turning and giving haircut guy a smile.

How do I say this? And not get like the salon equivalent of the restaurant spit trick? “But I signed up to be a model. I want … a new identity.”

Why the hell didn’t I look up the French word for “makeover” I yelled at myself. Or at least make sure there’s a ‘France’s Next Top Model’ with the drastic makeovers. 

They didn’t look that confused by my sudden spy lingo. “You have a new identity, and it is beautiful,” Disney hair prince tells me, gently brushing my hair as he points at my reflection in the mirror.

I’m almost tempted to pick up the scissors and hack off some hair just to get this moving. “Yes, it’s beautiful, but I wanted a good French haircut for when I leave to go to America next week,” I said.

This is diplomacy at its finest, kiddos.

Disney hair prince taps his lips. “Okay, then,” he says, and leans forward in front of me, his eyes meeting mine in the mirror. He takes out his comb and starts brushing my hair so it’s covering my face. And it isn’t until he’s reaching for the scissors and taking a clump of hair that I realize what he’s going to do. And by then it’s—

“Say goodbye to your forehead,” he says, and cuts through what used to be the sides of my hair like he’s cutting a paper snowflake.

What a lame reference to “Say hello to my little friend,” is my first thought.

And then I realized, Holy shit I have bangs now. 

New identity, indeed.

Beetlegeuse hairdryers!

Beetlegeuse hairdryers!

“Eh?” Disney hair prince says, smiling and holding the handful of hair that he just cut off.

“It’s perfect,” I say, grinning. Bangs. Bangs. Okay. I have bangs.

“Perfect,” he grins back, and then walks away, still holding the handful of my hair.

I tried not to think about why he would need that hair as haircut guy steps in to trim the bangs.

Haircut guy burns holes into my eyes as he snips snips snips and I’m not sure if it’s because of concentration or he’s pissed that he has to do more work. He cuts off another four inches of hair now, almost for the hell of it.

My hair is now shoulder-length and shorter than it’s been since … elementary school, when I cut my hair to make my growing-out-my-bangs stage complete. It’s kind of a Bettie Page kind of look … if Bettie Page had thick curly blonde hair that was brushed out Hermione Granger style

Now that I got the haircut out of the way, I’m looking forward to the finishing. I didn’t bring a hair dryer or straightener over with me, and I didn’t buy any either. It’s the first time in four months that I will have straight hair and I’m stupidly, superficially excited to remember what my hair looks like straight and compare it to what it will look like straight now. I’m already trying to guess if the blowdry process of the hair cut will be shorter than what it usually is, now that there’ll be less hair.

I don’t find out. Little haircut boy tells me “come” and “sit” at this Medusa lamp-looking chair. It’s like a chair from Beetlegeuse with big red light bulbs coming out of its arms. He turns on a button when I sit down and I immediately feel heat coming out. So it’s a dryer, I think—the kind of dryer you’re supposed to sit under if you got your hair colored.

And so I just sit there for the next twenty minutes or so. No magazines are even in sight, except for the one haircut boy is lazily reading. Lily left to go to a Starbucks and work on a paper, so I amuse myself by texting her I think I’m almost ready. I tell her I got bangs and shorter hair, but that’s it.

My hair is going to look horrible, I think. Like I said, I have thick curly hair, and whenever you brush curly hair you’re going to brush out the curls and be left with these kind of thick, frizzy strands. Pre-haircut, I would brush my hair maybe once a week, and even then it’s before I would take a shower. I get Hermione Granger hair if I brush my hair. And now, they brushed my hair and then threw me under a dryer, so I just know it’s not going to be a good hair day even though I went to a salon.

The "after" pic I took at home, not at the salon.

The “after” pic I took at home, not at the salon.

This kind of pisses me off, but not enough to speak up. I did pay for a haircut, so maybe a blowdry is extra? Or isn’t guaranteed? There’s a small part of me hoping that they did this just to get the hair dry before they style it, but that part withers and dies when haircut guy finally gets me—“Your hair’s dry, right?”—and shuffles me over to where Disney hair prince is combing the hair of a beautiful elderly French woman with a sleek, thick shoulder-length bob.

Lily’s arrived at this time, and she’s smiling at my hair and telling me I look good and taking pictures. And I feel good and confident about the haircut, just not about what they did with my hair after it was shorn. I kind of hope Disney hair prince will be my Prince Charming and say I’m fit for a blowdry now.

Disney hair prince gives me the once-over. He half-smiles and then turns to his client. “This is what I am going to do. Your hair is thick like hers, so it will puff out too”—or, at least I imagine that’s what he’s saying, because I understand up until the “thick like hers” and then he mimes having puffy hair and I try not to get insulted.

“Yes, I love it. It’s pretty,” she says, looking at haircut guy and not me, so I’m not exactly sure who she’s complimenting.

“Great. Thank you,” Disney hair prince says, dismissing me with a flick of his comb. I wonder if it’s the same comb he used on my hair as I follow haircut guy back to the chair.

“Thank you. Have a nice day,” he tells me, and then practically runs away from me down a random corridor.

“Thanks…?” I call out after him, watching him walk away.

I mean, I had watched the old ladies finish up, say thank you, get their coats, and then leave—so I knew there was no tipping here. But still. It was like he couldn’t wait to be done!

Lily patiently listens to me explain basically everything I’ve written about here, and by the time I’m done we’re back in the Metro station, ready to go over to Rue Mouffetard so I can give her the unofficial Hemingway tour as a thank-you for coming with me to get my haircut. I’m at the point where I’m complaining about how bushy my hair is now that they didn’t style it, and she just says, “Why don’t you put it up in like a little hipster bun at the top of your head?”

The Metro "After" pic. Thank goodness.

The Metro “After” pic. Thank goodness.

And I do, and she takes a picture of it and shows it to me, and just like that my crankiness has been cut off, like my hair just was. I really like how I look now that my hair isn’t triangular. I start imagining hairdos, wondering whether I’ll be able to French braid my hair now—turns out I still can, but a regular braid is pretty small—and I feel much better about my French makeover.

It may not have been exactly what I was expecting, but it was still a makeover and it was still a story.

I’m still trying to figure out my hair. The first shower I took, I had to unscrew the cap of my conditioner bottle and put back about half of the conditioner I had squeezed out—too used to having long hair, I guess. My hair only takes about an hour to dry, as opposed to three, but I’m still trying to figure out how to walk down a street and not have my bangs flying in every direction.

It’s also a little hard because, like I said, I don’t have a hairdryer or a straightener and I only have four days left in Paris so it’s not like I’m going to go out and buy one. That’s a good thing about waiting until the last minute to do this, I guess, because I definitely would have just sucked it up and bought a blowdryer if this happened in the beginning of the program.

But each day is a new hairdo and I love that I can think that now! I had to fight to get this haircut and you can bet your butt I’m going to make it work!

Awkward Abroad: The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”

It started at Oktoberfest. French people I had talked about Oktoberfest with told me that Germans spoke better English than Americans, so I thought that’d be true. WRONG. Everything was in German, even at the train station and at the metro and the signs for everything. It was a huge culture shock and my shoddy scribbled list of German phrases did nothing, even when I showed it to the Germans sitting next to me and asked for pronunciation help. By that point, I had pretty much resigned myself to walking around Munich completely oblivious until …

The beer hall we were in had a traditional German band that played the White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army” like every ten minutes. Seriously. Every ten minutes.

And the 10,000 people in the beer hall knew the iconic “DUH… duh-duh-duh-duh DUH… DUH” part just enough to repeat it OVER AND OVER AGAIN EVERY DAMN TIME. With the same amount of people standing up or raising their liters of beer at the end of the song.

I didn’t know if it was because they were hammered or because it was such a great song.

“Why is this song so popular?” I asked the German guy next to me.

“I don’t know. But do you like it?”

“Yes! It’s the White Stripes!” I said. Le duh!

“White Stripes!” he repeated, matching my enthusiasm in such a way I didn’t know if he was mocking me or being sincere.

“Yeah,” I said, apprehensively. “And this is ‘Seven Nation Army!’”

“White Stripes!” he repeated again.

“Um, yeah … is this song a soccer thing… or, I mean, football?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if he knew the White Stripes or just knew that I knew the White Stripes.

“I don’t know. But everyone knows this song.”

“Pretty sure it’s a soccer thing. I mean, football,” I sighed into my beer.

It totally was a soccer thing. It’d play on the TV when the French soccer team was discussed on the French news program. It’d play in Irish bars (or be sung by Irish people in Irish bars) when soccer games were on.

But then, it’d play during the first house party my host sister threw and I watched drunk French twentysomethings dance to it. It’d play at a French bar and people would drum their fingers on the counter in time with the music.

And no matter where it was played, EVERYONE knew the guitar part.

It made me wonder if everyone knew if the White Stripes had broken up this year.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in Paris?

Having a funny accent pretty much guarantees that I’m going to be asked where it comes from, so I’ve had to do a lot of explaining over the past couple of months.

Being asked where you’re from is always going to be a story. It’s one that is constantly retold but also constantly updated—based on your audience and how bored you are.

The thing that really annoyed me and made me homesick was that I always was being asked this question—both at public places (like bars or restaurants or hostels) or at my house (which was practically a public place given how many guests stayed over for dinner or a night or a weekend or a week).

Towards the end of the four months, I really struggled with coming home from answering questions and meeting new people, only to have to do the same thing all over again. If someone asked if I had any brothers or sisters and I was chewing or something, my host mom knew enough to answer and say that I had a younger sister named Erica who was fifteen and lived with my mom outside of Boston (which, to be honest, is a lot to remember so that’s how I really got a sense of just how often I said it).

But at least it made me practice my French, right? And it kind of forced me to think on my feet while thinking French.

See, it’s hard for me to explain when people ask where I’m from even if the question is posed in English. I grew up in a little town outside of Boston and before going to Paris, I went to school in Philadelphia.

But what do you say when the people you’re talking to have no idea where either of those places are?

In the beginning, when I still got excited when I had to explain myself, I would say I grew up close to Boston and now go to school in Philadelphia. But it ended up that not that many French people know Boston.  Really.

I had to show it on a map to my host family. My host parents lived in apartheid South Africa for three months but didn’t know the birthplace of America. I’m judging a little because I knew where to find both of their birthplaces on a map of France (but to be fair, the host dad grew up in Paris so that was easy).

So then I started fibbing a little by saying I was from Philadelphia and that was it. This also coincided with the period of my study abroad experience where I was the crankiest about constantly having to introduce myself.

The funny thing is, I think that maybe it’s because there are more accessible pop-culture references about Philadelphia than Boston. And to be fair, Will Smith never wrote an insanely catchy rap song about Boston…

What, you don't remember this episode?

What, you don’t remember this episode?

Yes, it is true. That was the most common response. I got it in France, Ireland, and Germany—the three countries I stayed in. Some people just asked “Like Will Smith?’ and I would know what they meant; others went further, asking “Like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?” OR EVEN SINGING THE FIRST LINE OF THE SONG.

Because yeah, that happened. It happened twice and both times were extremely magical.

I could put the link up, but you know the theme song already, don’t you? You’ve already thought of the “Innnnnn West Philadelphia, born and raised…” haven’t you? Come on. I know you have. It’s okay. We all have.

Mr. Will Smith and Mr. DJ Jazzy Jeff: making study abroad experiences memorable since 1990. You could even say they’ve been making life memorable since 1990 too, even.

The other big Philly pop-culture reference I got was Rocky. Which, to be fair, is a pretty big Philly-monument—they even moved the Rocky statue to the bottom of the huge stairs outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art because all the tourists were too lazy to job up the stairs in grey sweat suits (or you know, actually visit the museum).

There was even a guy at Temple Bar—the same German from the Awkward Abroad: Inglorious Basterds post—whose wingman friend looked exactly like Sylvester Stallone. He even pulled out his iPhone to show me his friend’s picture via his contact book from when was wearing a grey sweatshirt and I wasn’t lying when I admitted that yes, he really did look like Rocky.

Oddly enough, one of the Germans we sat next to at Oktoberfest stayed for a couple months in Upper Darby (the Philly suburb Tina Fey grew up in). I’m not exactly sure about what he was doing there, but I’m pretty sure I would have asked that day, just because it’s so crazy that he lived so close to Philly in such a specific suburb. So it turns out he really knew Philadelphia, and a Philadelphia that wasn’t taken from someone else’s idea or interpretation of Philadelphia.

And on the other side of our Oktoberfest table, the two thirtysomething Norwegian guys also knew exactly where Philadelphia was and what it was like, because they had lived in Baltimore for two years. But those were the only two instances where people had actually been to Philadelphia, which I usually describe as “a big city south of New York” if someone hasn’t ever heard of it (coincidentally, Boston is described as “a big city north of New York”).

The Eiffel Tower in the background is so pretty.

The Eiffel Tower in the background is so pretty.

The most surprising “Yes, I know Philadelphia and this is how I’ll prove it” reaction that I got was for the Philadelphia Eagles. I think I already wrote about that, but it came from the awkward laptop bises guy from the first house party my host sister threw.

I was standing by the table, pouring myself a mug full of crappy red wine after walking up the stairs and seeing all of the people dancing in the living room in the wee hours of the night. My host sister was introducing me to some people and said “This is Alissa. She’s from Philadelphia.”

I was met with blank stares from a girl, a guy who had either the most ironic or most sincere imitation Civil War-era handlebar mustache, and the awkward laptop bises guy. Until awkward laptop bises guy enthusiastically said “Eagles!” and then literally walked away from the table three seconds later.

Football americain, as the French say, isn’t that important in France. Most people only know it as that crazy game Americans call “football” even though it’s mostly played with their hands. So I would have been impressed if he knew any football team, let alone the one from my college hometown. But he did, but I never asked how he knew.

Betcha this is how he knew the Philadelphia Eagles.

Betcha this is how he knew the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was at that same French house party that someone asked if I lived in Philadelphia “like Tom Hanks.”

I was tempted to make a joke and say yes, but I don’t have AIDS (haha … kind of).  But it was early in my French experience and I wasn’t sure how good I would be at making jokes in French … no worries, turns out I’m pretty awesome at it.

Interestingly, that girl didn’t ask if I lived in the Philadelphia streets that Bruce Springsteen talked about. There are posters all over for The Boss’ Parisian concert in June, so obviously there’s a market for him over here. Oh well.

And, even more of a disappointment  I haven’t gotten a single cheesesteak reference. Which is weird because that gets mentioned all the time back home. But I still have a couple of days left in Paris to find that special someone!

Speaking English like a local

I knew that when I came to France, I was going to improve my French accent. What I didn’t know was that I would have to improve my French English accent.

Let me explain.

Just like there are French words in the English jargon (like crème de la crème or à la mode), there are also English words in the French jargon. But they are, for lack of a better term, random words (like “wheesper” or “haute dog,” in addition to the American companies found in France, like “Starbooooks” or “Skipe.”

And these words are spoken with a French accent, bien sûr.

I’ve been having trouble with this, and have been since the very beginning. Number one, I sometimes forget to say the Frenchified version of the word, which makes it difficult for the French to understand since the pronunciations are a little different. And number two, I still giggle a little and feel like I’m putting on airs when I remember to pronounce “Starbucks” like “Starbooooks,” with the “ooo” sounding like “coo.”

But still. Sometimes I feel like I just sound like Steve Martin in The Pink Panther.

When I go to Starboooooks to get some weefee and order a moofan, if I ask for a “muffin” and not a “moofan,” the person behind the counter won’t understand me. It’s the same kind of awkward situation when I mispronounce a French word because of my accent … only this is because my accent is right in English and wrong in French. If I don’t Frenchify the word, then the cashier will give me the same look as if I mispronounced “muffin” for “Eiffel Tower” or something equally preposterous.

I’ve even had to Frenchify my own name so people can say it (or try to). The “li” sound of “Alissa” is similar to the “li” sound of “lick.” Alicka, Alissa. But in French, “I” is only pronounced like “e” is in English. So for the past three months, I’ve been introducing myself as “A-lee-sa.”

My three Drexel friends, funnily enough, also all have “I” in their name (Jennifer of “Jenneefur”; Brittany or “Breetanee”; Lily or “Leelee”). So in a way, we’ve all literally become new and different people in France, I guess.

It’s funny because between in our classes or in our conversations with Frenchies who know English, we’ll speak French as long as we can before we get to a word we don’t know, and then we just say it in English. There have been a lot of times where I get stuck and ask a bilingual person (or describe the word I don’t know in French) for the translation, only to be told it’s the same word but with a French accent. Now I know that if I’m not sure of the word, I’ll just Frenchify it, smile a big toothy smile, and hope it works. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

But this Franglais exists outside of our classrooms, with actual French people. There will be advertisements in English hanging in the Metro, or there will be shops with English written on their windows or on their products. It makes me wonder if that’s why so many people speak English here: because they’ve grown up around bits and phrases. There’s English in French stores (Kookaï’s “___ but chic” shirts and sweater campaign that uses adjectives like “hungry” or “cool”) and French bars (happy hour becomes “Appy Awar”). And English is definitely more accessible in France then French is in America.

When I told people back home that I would be spending four months in Paris, the almost immediate response was always, “Are you fluent?”

I would always say, “Fluent enough,” and leave it at that.

When I come back to Philly and tell people I just spent four months in Paris, I’m assuming they’re still going to ask, “Are you fluent?”

Now I’ll be able to say, “Now I’m fluent enough in French and French English.”

Bisous! (kisses)


P.S. This is kind of a Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder—“I know who I am. I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude!”—reference, since Steve Martin is an American actor who played a French detective in The Pink Panther trying to improve his French accent. But I love the hamburger scene so I’m kind of trying to make it relevant to this post just so I can add it in.