Paris, that sweet monster
No other city in the world has challenged me quite like Paris has. While some would say that New York is the toughest city on the planet, I would have to argue that Paris is a strong contender for that title. So, why do I live here? Paris, to me, is what Manhattan is to a girl from the mid-west – alluring and exciting. It’s a place where an opportunity to live the cinematic, romantic dream is within reach.
Did I always love Paris and French culture? Not exactly. Let’s flashback to the early ’90s when my mother moved my brother and me from Manhattan to Long Island after a tragedy struck our family, and we needed to be closer to my grandparents. As much as I would like to say that I was miffed over her decision to move us from the glamorous New York City to the (unfairly) stereotypically cheesy Long Island, I wasn’t. I was going to have a backyard, unlimited access to grandparents, and my new school offered language classes with my choice of Spanish or French.
Choosing French over Spanish was an easy choice. Coming from the not-quite gentrified Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, and my father being a fluent Spanish speaker, I wanted to choose a language that was completely alien to me. Once school started, I fell head-over-heels in love with my French classes, and I fully admit that I annoyed the hell out of my mother as I substituted my proficient English for horrible, broken French during our daily conversations, while she simultaneously screamed over my attempts in her thick New York accent, reminding me that we were Italian-Americans.
After two months of glory in Madame Moureau’s class, clouds rolled over my kingdom of conjugations. It appeared that, while I was excelling in French, my Math studies were suffering, and I was snatched out of French and put into the dungeon of boredom otherwise known as Double Special-Ed Math. I repeat: double special-ed math. Was this a joke? This was pure torture for anyone who has a love for writing and languages.
While I didn’t mind that I was being re-taught how to count money without using my fingers at the age of twelve, I did not see the reasoning behind eliminating French from my curriculum. “We offer language classes to broaden the horizons of our students, but you’re from New York City, you’ve already been exposed to culture,” my guidance counselor said, trying to soften the blow of what was my crisis of 1993. So, that’s it? Being exposed to culture is a one-shot deal? Like, seen one museum seen them all? “And besides you’ll never need French anyway,” he continued. “After all, they only speak it in France (and Quebec, a few countries in Africa, most of the Caribbean, Belgium, Haiti but, hmm, details, I suppose.)”
I’m writing this from Paris.
I coasted through high school without what most students called the burden of a foreign language, and was learning long division in my special-Ed math class by senior year. As irony would have it, my first corporate job was with a French fashion house where our meetings were held in, you guessed it – French. After a torrid and passionate tryst with one of the French guys from the IT department, who ended up fleeing back to Normandy after fashion week, and wanting in on all of the jokes that were being bounced around the conference room during meetings, I wanted in on this ‘French thing’ and finally enrolled in classes at Alliance Française. If I was annoyingly eager to learn French at the age of twelve, you can only imagine how I was in my late-20’s – unbearable.
As my 30’s were fast approaching, I wanted to have one last great adventure, make use of my French classes and take that overseas sabbatical that I had always dreamed of. I came to Paris in 2009 for three months in hopes of getting the dream of living in The City of Light out of my system, while finding that working in a cubicle in Manhattan wasn’t my true calling. But, of course, life has a way of being unpredictable. That aforementioned trip was two years ago, I’m still in Paris, and I refuse to leave. And since then, Paris has been a two year whirlwind of ups, downs, highs, lows, sadness, loneliness and overcoming obstacles.
On top of dealing with language barriers and cultural misunderstandings in a foreign city, I’ve been challenged with a broken engagement which left me homeless, failed friendships, a robbery, mounds of paperwork, and a depleting bank account that would signify my life here is a nightmare. But, in actuality, it’s anything but. For me, it’s been about growth, experience, character building and zipping around town on a Vespa. The highs make the lows worth it, and though I may get my ass metaphorically kicked on occasion, the experiences I’ve had while living in Paris have been priceless, and I will continue to relish the opportunity to live in the city where my heart will always be.Image credits
1, 2, 3, 4 Fifi Flowers
NOTE: This article was first published in 2012 and due to its popularity has been refreshed and republished