Le Regard

Well this hurts. I had written a long and lovely post but one way or another it got erased. I will try my best to recreate it:

Before arriving in Paris I had collected an arsenal of cautions, tips and addresses from American, expat bloggers and from my friends who had recently returned from their year in Paris. Some of the advice was what seemed to me like common sense (don’t stare at someone unless you are hoping to give them the green light to start a conversation with you) and some of it was unexpected and pretty helpful (careful where you step, Parisians are notorious for not picking up after their dogs. The metro in Paris does not run 24/7. Do not order a café au lait in a café; that’s only a drink you have at home in the morning), but all was shared with the intention of helping me adapt to Paris as an American student who has a conversational grasp of the language (at best.)

And so now I cannot tell if it is due to this year and a half long period of preparing myself and familiarizing myself with the cultural and social habits of Parisians or the fact that the Parisian culture is not unlike that of New York City, but I am disappointed to say I have had very few issues adapting myself to the Parisian lifestyle. Compared to my classmates who have spoken about their issues acclimating to Paris and the anxiety they feel over the unfamiliarity of it all, I have yet to feel severely overwhelmed. Which is definitely a good thing but I also have to admit that I am a bit disappointed that there isn’t a great and remarkable contrast between the Parisian and New York culture. After I had spent two years in the safe, comfortable and charming community and town of my college, where the worst thing that could happen to me would be finding out that the dining hall had run out of the plain yogurt that I ate every morning, and I was hoping I would be awakened and bouleversée by all the social oddities of Paris.

There was one thing I was anticipating and had prepared myself for but hasn’t been an issue: I had been told that Parisians love to stare. This is, for me, very untrue. Not only on comparably so, but also in absolute terms.

I want to avoid sounding narcissistic but the fact is that in New York City there is not a single day that I can leave my house and walk outside without being catcalled, whether it’s just a hello, psst psst or another verbal comment, or the silence that goes along with being stared at. Every time I pass by a group of young guys, construction workers or people hanging outside a bar, I instictively brace myself for their comments or their stares. It’s not pleasant but it is something that I have come to expect and accept, since it’s generally harmless, because the effort I would have to put in to stop it isn’t worth it.

However, in Paris, where I had been warned about those “randy French men” and how Parisians love to stare, this hasn’t been an issue. And it’s not that I miss being yelled at by strangers, it’s actually a relief, but it is unfamiliar. At first I spent a brief period thinking I was just too ugly for Paris. But even if that’s true, I have come up with some other theories:

1. The city is full of attractive and well dressed women so you have to be a perfect 10 to be garner attention.

2. The well dressed and perfectly coiffed men are playing the same game I am. After all, they didn’t spend all that time getting dressed in the morning not to be noticed and they’re definitely not going to look at you first. Whoever is the first to look at the other person is not only admitting their interest but their inferiority as well.

3. On a normal day there are 100 high school girls in a 5 block radius that are dressed better than I am.

4. With a pace that is a near jog and New York-trained poker face, I come off frigid and unapproachable.

5. Parisians are, in effect, less rude than Americans/New Yorkers

There is one demographic that loves to stare at me: French women. I don’t know if it’s because they are checking out my outfit or trying to figure out where I hail from ( on certain days I am evidently UN Parisienne since I fail to adhere to the uniform that is strictly black, gray and/or dark purple during months that have an R in the name).

But for all that my New York roots has blessed me with, it has also rendered me insensitive to vowel sounds and that is something that will keep be very much StaceyL’Americaine. That is, until my Phonetique class knocks it out fo me.

À bientot,

S

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