Mimes roller blading on the Quai of the Seine
Statue of Liberty
Jardin des Plantes
Canal St Martin
When clothing stores start taking over boulangeries.
Le Jardin du Luxembourg
The weather in Paris for the past week has been cold but full of sunshine and has given me false hope that warmer spring weather is just around the corner.(EDIT: As I post this, we just got over a few days of snowy, freezing weather and are now experiencing yet another rise in temperature.. 61 and sunny this Tuesday! ) It will probably be some time before I can leave the house wearing a single or even double layer of clothing but that hasn’t stopped me from trying to profit from the absence of gray skies that has plagued Paris everyday since the beginning of winter. I am almost positive I’ve developed some sort of allergy to my wool scarf.
The seasons have always had a rather measurable affect on my mood. And it’s sad to admit that living in Paris has done little to free me from this this tendency. I can’t even remember a time before this week when I didn’t wake up and bury myself deeper into the covers at the thought of leaving my apartment. I would of course to go to class and go to lunch, but the fact that I’ve watched five seasons of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, 3 seasons of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and 4 seasons of the Real Housewives of New York City since I’ve been back from Christmas vacation speaks for itself.
I definitely felt and still do feel guilty thinking of all those hours I could have been out and exploring but all I can promise myself now is that I spend every agreeable weathered day from now until the end of May walking aimlessly, walking to explore walking to take photos and walking to lunch spots.
My newly discovered favorite is a cafe on Ile St. Louis. It faces the Notre Dame, close enough to the Pont(bridge) St. Louis to enjoy the music of what is the Parisian version of troubadours as they play their accordions or celli, busy with tourists and natives walking about but it still maintains a certain calmness that you can’t find sitting at the terrasse of one of the famous cafes on st Germain.
You’re welcome to stay as long as you want and if you orderes one of the overpriced veverages (a cappuccino will run you 5€70 or $7.40!!) you really should stay there for an hour or two. Before the sunlight reached our tables and tanned our faces we were kept warm by the overhead heaters- a staple of almost all parisian cafes. And if that’s not enough you could always grab one if the fleece blankets offered by the cafe, which is cute concept but just about as appealing as wearing a sweater that 100 strangers have worn before you and has never been washed.
After spending two and a half weeks in NYC for Christmas vacation and another 2 weeks in Paris pre-Spring semester, this Monday marked la rentrée: the commencement of school in France.
Flying back into Paris in 2013 and settling in again in my room and old routines reminded me of how different this period will be compared to Fall Semester. Being in New York reenergized me and made me approach my experience in Paris differently. I’m not in need of an adjustment period, other than the first few days spent to get over le décalage horaire. And instead of conforming to every social expectation and custom that is typified as the French way to do things, I will be less apologetic about doing the things that I enjoy though not considered ‘normale’.
I’ve been somewhat disappointed with the way Parisiennes dress. I appreciate that the Parisian uniform dictates a clean, well-fitted style and that, contrary to the overwhelming abundance of borough folk I saw in NYC, no one is wearing pajama pants, sportswear, or carpenter jeans. I’m conscious of respecting people’s style even if I don’t agree with it or find it boring (the more I disagree with your outfit, the more diversity there is!) but the fact that there is such a limited variety in what Parisiennes wear is a bit frustrating knowing that this city is supposed to be one of the fashion capitals. There’s little room for daily creativity or innovation when you’re in a society, especially as a foreigner, where people generally feel it’s their duty to correct you if your appearance or behavior is ‘abnormal’.
The main categories of style as worn by women in Paris seem to be of three camps:
A: The young Parisienne rebels with blank, unsmiling faces
B: The young to middle aged ‘professional’ women usually toting a novel, a shopping bag from Le Bon Marché or a child while coming home on the metro.
and the most daring of them all!
C: The 60+ ladies who will not be slaves to your fashion humdrum!
Camp A: They shop at Zadig et Voltaire, Sandro, H&M and Zara. They wear the same exact styles, in approved colors (black, brown, gray, olive or eggplant), and can’t say no to apparel that is studded. They own a pair of black motorcycle boots with studs, sneaker wedges, skinny jeans and cotton fingerless gloves so their hands are always free to text or light up a cigarette. Leather jackets or large fur coats are what she prefers to complement her chunky infinity scarf. And she usually sports long, wavy hair and black eyeliner. She loves a good leather bag with some studs or zippers or the infamous Vanessa Bruno bag with all those sparkles. She broke curfew once two years ago and since that night she has been using fashion as her way to rebel.
Camp B: She’s a newly graduated woman searching for work or a middle aged professional who keeps Americans begging the question ‘How can I attain that classic, Parisian je ne sais quoi?’ The answer does not lie within Chanel number five or grandmother’s Hermes vintage scarf (although it could), but Repetto ballet flats or heels no taller than 2 inches (I can attest that footwear higher than 2 inches will cause too much of a rio), opaque tights paired with a pencil skirt, and poncho-styled wool coat. She generally abides to the neutral-colors-and-black-only rule but may surprise you with a flash of blue, red or pink with her cashmere scarf. Her bag of choice comes from Tod’s, Lancel, Hexagona, Longchamp or Chanel. Makeup is minimal and confidence is foremost; never look up from your phone or book while on the metro unless you want to surrender your expression of indifference.
Camp C: My favorite group of Parisian woman who inspire me and make me feel like maybe it’s okay to stand out. While not all older woman dress super stylishly, most of the time the most daring outfit and the boldest of colors are worn by a woman above the age of sixty. While modest in her choice of skirt lengths and necklines, she is the true rebel when it comes form deviating from fashion norms by wearing prints, colors and flashy accessories. She has the advantage of a stockpile of clothing from different eras including at least 3 different designer bags from each decade and no one can critique her look. She’s got moxie and she doesn’t think twice about smiling in public. She prefers her hair in a bun and who knows she may even be in your ballet class. (Yes, really!)
This was all in good fun and I hope this doesn’t come off as offensive to anyone! I don’t think that I dress so incredibly different from the rest of the crowd, but I was definitely more concerned about fitting in with the Parisiennes during the fall than I am now. I have always been one to take some risks even if they were huge mistakes and I am here in Paris to continue said lifestyle.
Maybe I am not really going to be Stacey: La Parisienne and more like Stacey: Hey, I once lived in Paris, can you tell?
For Thanksgiving, which is today!, I will be spending half of my day in Paris in class, part of my day on a train and the rest of the evening in London, where I’ll be staying for an extended weekend. I’ll try my best to make it feel like Thanksgiving by dressing up and maybe I’ll eat a turkey sandwich or some peanut butter today, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say that, like Halloween, the day will probably pass without anything remarkable or festive happening. So to get into the spirit ever so slightly I’ll fashion a list of the
50 25 30 Paris-related-things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving season.
30. Having found the perfect spot for hot chocolate
29. Finding what I consider one of the best croissants in Paris
28. The absence of cleavage here in Paris as a fashion statement or whatever reason it’s so omnipresent in the U.S.
27. That the heat finally came on in my apartment
26. How walking around the house without shoes or slippers on is considered a scandal for it makes me feel like I’m living in the 1900s in the old country.
25. Having the opportunity to live and study in Paris
24. Having found good friends in my Paris program
23. Only having to cope with a 6 hour time difference so that I can still skype to my family on weekends.
22. “Prix reduit” at museums and other cultural spaces for students or residents under 26 years old
21 The convenience of the Paris metro (sometimes)
20. That I have yet to be mugged
19. Being able to find good and affordable meals at restaurants
18. Having a wide range of patisseries to choose from daily
17. That I have the time and means to start practicing ballet again
16. The older Parisian women I see on the streets who are dressed impeccably or are even more daring than most younger Parisians, who are generally dressed alike.
15. The enormous yogurt aisle in food stores.
14. The Seine River at night
13. Well behaved children on the metro..Seeing children in the school yard wearing uniform smocks so they don’t dirty their clothes.
12. The no smoking law indoors
11. The dismissal of certain laws (which are really more like suggestions) like the one regle that says you can’t drink while picnicking on the grass beneath the Eiffel Tower
10. Being able to taste and eat “real” macarons, bread, cheese and wine
9. That it hasn’t rained an awful lot this fall
8. That tax is already included in the price of items when you’re shopping
7. Cheaper luxury items
6. My pass naivgo (a.k.a. Metro card) that gives me unlimited rides and that I dont have to worry bending or de-magnetizing
5. The inefficiency of businesses (like not responding to e-mails, closing their stores whenever they feel like it, freezing bank accounts for no good reason, posting inaccurate and deceitful information on their webpages) for it reminds me that I could probably never live in Paris.
4. The too-relaxed attitude (or ignorance?) concerning hygiene and the prevention of illnesses for it has built up my immune system.
3. Going grocery shopping every weekend at the open market
2. The fact that my host has an open tab at the boulanger next door
1. That Disneyland Paris is only a train ride away (even though I have yet to go)
The one topic I believe that I ignored thus far but deserves it’s very own post is of course the one in which I finally talk about my experience with language. After 2 months of living in Paris and speaking French on a regular basis, I suppose I finally have something to say. I also can’t wait to reread this in the spring of 2013 and celebrate all the progress I made.
It’s necessary to confess that I don’t speak French in 100% of my conversations. I always speak French when I’m at school, at home or doing an activity as a part of my program. I don’t however speak French all the time with my friends. I’m not really ashamed to admit it, even though at first I felt very guilty speaking English, because I firmly believe that it’s healthy. I can only speak for myself but when you’re restricted to only speaking French you can only express 60% of your true feelings and thoughts. Additionally, what ends up being expressed, in this language that is not your own, is a watered down version of your real ideas and feelings. I know that the only way to get comfortable in French and reach the point where I can fully express myself is to force myself to speak French in every situation, but I honestly don’t believe it’s healthy. Speaking English became a sort of therapy. When I finally “broke down” and spoke English with my friends for the first time I realized that it had been weeks since i had laughed. In French, none of us are really funny. I wound up laughing so hard I was crying while telling a story, that wasn’t even that funny, just because my sense of humor had been suppressed for weeks. The same is true with your negative emotions that get remain unexpressed all because you can’t find the precise words to use.
So that is my little confession. But after I spend a little bit of time speaking English with my friends, we usually go back to speaking French by choice. Firstly because it’s fun and secondly because I recognize that it’s important if I ever want to advance.
After about a month in Paris I noticed that my fluidity and speed had increased, but I was still convinced that i was speaking incoherently. It was quite an “AH-HAA” moment when my friend told me over crepes that she saw an immense (or maybe I’m exaggerating now) difference in my oral communication and that I was in fact speaking in grammatically correct sentences for the most part. It will probably be one of those moments i won’t forget because until then I had thought I sort of plateaued after gaining a little bit of “speed and accuracy” during my first month. Right now, I feel like my level of communication is just an actualization of what I always knew I was capable of / what was going on inside my head. I really hope my progress continues. At least now I know, due to my phonetiques class, what my “trouble areas” are and how I can improve.
For example, I have to pay attention to how I pronounce [u] [ø] and strangely enough [a]
[u] as in pour, cours, et bonjour & [ø] as in bol, porte, homme. The reason why I have trouble with these sounds is because you have to make your voice quite deep to achieve the sounds. Not only are the sounds unnatural to me but I sort of resist having to hear my voice sound sort of.. masculine ?
[a] as in amie, ananas, américain etc. This sound I was surprised to find was an issue for me. Instinctively I try to pronounce it as “uh” like “uh-mie” and “uh-mericain”. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the result of the 2 years spent during college trying to water down my New York accent, the one that would have made me pronounce it AHH-ksent instead of the more neutral pronunciation of aks-ENT. (I hope this was logical)
And while it’s still a challenge to speak in French because I don’t have a complete vocabulary and I still have to stop myself to make sure i’m using the right very tense (I believe there are 17 verb tenses in French and 12 in English), I see small clues that I’m definitely advancing. Sometimes I shock myself after i realize how quickly I can spit out a response or how when I write or speak in English, like when writing this post for example, I can only think of the French version of what I want to say and cannot find the proper English equivalent of what I want to say.
I hope it isn’t too long until I can write an update on this subject and let you all know how I can finally yell at people in French (my personal measure of what it means to be truly fluent in a language.)
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.