I MADE IT HOME Y’ALL. BACK IN MURRICA.
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.