One month Anniversary

My camera took its final breath last Saturday, so I won’t be posting any more photos until I get a replacement.

So, to post a quick update without the aid of photos, I will write about my week briefly. This last week of September included:

-Getting use to the routine of my classes and doing homework (oh, that’s right, the reason I’m in Paris is to study)

-Visiting the exposition “Paris: Vue par Hollywood” for the second time. The exposition, although poorly executed with missing “fiches” (I have no idea how to say this in English.. it’s the card under/near the display that describes what you’re looking at ?)  and a floor plan that makes you feel like a mouse trapped in poorly designed maze, it was actually pretty enjoyable. And the exposition did inspire me to watch a bunch of Audrey Hepburn movies including Funny Face.

-Eating sanduiches chez Eric Kayser

-Drinking a lot of hot tea in order to warm up in this apartment where it’s 10-15 degrees colder than the temperature outside

-Reading A Moveable Feast and having the privilege to visit or know the addresses that Hemingway describes/ visited/ lived at.

-It’s getting more and more easy to speak French but I don’t know if that’s really an improvement; just because I can speak a little more quickly doesn’t mean I’m speaking coherently and without grammatical mistakes. And I know there’s no way to improve my French but to practice and communicate often but I have a feeling I’ve fallen into a dangerous zone of perpetuating my own errors of grammar and conjugation.

-Exploring new streets and neighborhoods. This is the one thing that has contributed to my continually and slowly growing affection for Paris. I have to admit that as much as Paris has been refreshing, intriguing and lovely to look at, I have not really been in love with the city or felt too attached to it (and I still don’t. New York still reigns supreme). However, I just recently started to genuinely warm up to it when that internal map and sense of direction, all inside my head, began to get more detailed. It’s a process of becoming familiar with boundaries and neighborhoods that eventually leads to my being able to orientate myself in a large city.

The concept is personal and difficult to explain, so I might try to write a post on it but for now all I can  say is that it’s the feeling of comfort and familiarity that goes with knowing that the shop that sells hot chocolate to die for is near my school, which is on the way to the vintage shop where I love to window shop, which is not too far from the quality sandwich shop, which is only 2 blocks away from one of the best spots for gelato.

-I realized that I am really irked by something things commonly found in Paris[ian culture]. Or maybe it’s because they are so common that they irk me. This list will continue to grow but so far it includes:

a) Les Sacs cabas by Vanessa Bruno. If I  walk 2 blocks I can be sure to pass at least 5 girls with this bag. I just don’t understand how it’s come to be so popular that women, from 7-70 years old, carry this ugly sequined bag that’s just, in my opinion, an overpriced version of something I’m sure the Children’s Place once sold for $20. Since it’s not practical, sophisticated, nor well-designed, why are Parisians so taken with it?

b) The phrase “c’est pas pareil” (It’s not the same/ it can’t be compared). This phrase irritates me because it’s often uttered when I’m trying to make an argument or a comparison to explain my point of view. Once it is uttered the debate is over, my point has become invalid and my opponent somehow won the debate all because “it’s not the same!”.

c) … I don’t want to be too hard on Paris so I will end this list with: Pigeons.

until next time,

S.

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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

Paris, you’re so vain

Two days spent in Paris do not make for an accurate reading of how I will be treated and what I can expect when interacting with les Parisiens. First, It’s only been two days. Second, I’ve been staying in hotels and a touristy area where you wouldn’t expect to get a taste of what Paris is really like. But I have been to the grocery store, bought a sanduiche at a boulangerie and ate at a Thai food restaurant all without issues. I actually really prefer the way workers treat you here- they don’t hover and aren’t overly attentive[read: Annoying See: Employees of Abercrombie, Starbucks, and most order-to-go places].

And that’s great news for me as I’m someone who takes 10 minutes to pick out a piece of fruit or decide on what type of tea to order. Here, the workers greet you courteously with a “bonjour” without a fake smile and just wait for you to approach them to ask them questions or to order. At first I felt like the two workers behind the counter would get annoyed at me as I did laps around the bakery trying to see what I would like best and spend my money on. But they just carried on a conversation amongst themselves until I went up to them to order. If I was in NYC, I would have a worker who continues to look up at me in anticipation and  asking me if I’m ready, even when I’m not holding up a line. Du calme!

But one thing I will say is that Parisians are so vain.

How else can you explain all the mirrors around the city? They’re everywhere- built into the interior design of stores or mounted in the oddest places. So far, in just two days I noticed that the chain  grocery store Monoprix (or was it Fanprix? I don’t remember) has rectangular mirrors on the sides of those cement columns all around the store. I could understand in the hair accessory aisle or beauty aisle, but why would anyone need a mirror in the soap or canned food isle other than to make sure that they’re just as beautiful as they remembered when they checked themselves out in the yogurt aisle.

I also found a large rectangular mirror on the side of a stone building and, most abundantly, on the wall adjacent to each customer’s table at a sandwich shop.

I don’t know how else to explain this phenomenon other than to guess that Parisian culture is very concerned with looking just so that they need these mirrors available at all times . God forbid the wind, rain or any other everyday force shifts a lock of hair three centimeters out of its proper place.

Speaking of another sense: In the French language, there is a very poetic way of describing the scent of perfume one leaves behind as they walk past you. It’s le sillage de parfum or “trail of perfume”. This phrase that I thought I would never really use has come to my mind several times while in Paris because everyone just smells so good!

And not in that [American] way of dousing yourself in perfume so that everyone knows that you’re wearing a $75 dollar perfume, but in a way that you only recognize it because they breezed past you and the scent perfume doesn’t have to  compete with as much air pollution as in NYC. And I am super appreciative of this as smelling something pleasant always has a way of boosting my mood ever so slightly. I’m sure there will be moments when I’m on the metro and I want to change cars because so-and-so smells offensive. But as of now I’m pretty sure we can dispel that other horrible and antiquated rumor about the French…

Je suis à Paris.

My first day in Paris felt like a dream.

Pars is definitely wonderful, interesting, beautiful and there is so much to be explored. But arriving when I haven’t slept in more than 24 hours (and then forced to wait from 8am to 2pm to check into my hotel room where I could finally sleep), it was hard to believe that I was IN PARIS and that tomorrow and the next day and the next 9 months I would still be here. Also, being here by myself with no one to talk to in English or even have a long conversation in French, made it feel like this all could be taken away from me as if by waking up from a dream.

This could be a very long post if I tried to describe my day so I’ll write some of the things I saw, felt or experienced and maybe I’ll expand on them later in a future post.

1. After claiming my baggage all I had to do was make my way outside to board my bus. No passport check? Nope, that was done in Iceland so I don’t get to have a cool stamp from France.. I might have been able to ask them to stamp it just for fun but I didn’t even see a desk where I could ask that. (And how does one say “ink stamp” in French? And how would you explain why you would want this without sounding suspicious? By the way the verb “to stamp” with ink is tamponner. Kind of glad I didn’t know that and try to use it.)

2. To get from CDG airport to the center of Paris you have to pass some ugly (sorry France) neighborhoods  to get to  where I would be staying, Gare Montparnasse. For a while on the bus I was getting quite nervous as I though “What is Paris isn’t as beautiful as I thought? What if it’s ugly and boring? How can I spend a year in a boring city that falls extremely short in comparison to NYC?”

3. Paris is great. I’ve only been in one neighborhood but it really impressed me. And so have the people. Of course I’ve only been here one day and have yet to interact with too many people, but as of right now I cannot tell you that “the French are so rude”.  However failure to disprove this renders the hypothesis ambiguous.

4. One thing I just cannot get over and wish I had photographic evidence happened this afternoon while I was walking down a petite little street in the 14eme. I was looking to get something to eat and thought I would enter (or think about returning to) this little boulangerie/patisserie that had a blue-painted store front. As I walked closer and got a view of their store window I noticed a teenaged boy cleaning the glass of the door and next to that was a display of colorful macarons above baskets of other pastries in the window. At first I thought I was seeing something.. or maybe they decorated the macarons or burnt them?… No, those most be flies on their macarons.. I mean, that happens from time to time somethimes you can’t help…NO, DEAR GOD THOSE ARE ROACHES CLIMBING ON THE MACARONS AND THAT IS ROACHES AS IN MORE THAN ONE. WHY IS THAT BOY NOT DOIN ANYTHING OR TOSSING THEM INTO THE STREET.

I die. I didn’t want to slander this patisserie by writing this and ruining their reputation (although they only have 2 reviews on yelp) but what I’m writing is the truth so…. I wouldn’t go to La Fournee Augustine in Montparnasse if your looking for a tasty treaty.

5. I don’t think that’s very representative of Paris though. I’ve been comparing it to New York City as I walk around and I feel like there are so many more restaurants here. There are less patisseries and boulangeries than I would have thought there would be, but then again this neighborhood might not be known for that since it’s full of a lot of hotels and may not be very residential. I did however have dinner (toute seule) at a Thai restaurant near my hotel. I got to eat à la terrasse and had a filling meal for 15,30 euros.

6. I also haven’t seen much litter nor pigeons (but quite a few dead ones on the road. Have they not yet evolved to be as adept at dodging cars as their NYC counterparts?).

7.a. Paris cross walks will need a little time to get used to me. Not only are many in the middle of the street  and criss cross, but also  the red standing man that signals “do not walk” does not blink to warn you that you’re time is running out. It just goes from green to red. I haven’t yet found out what happens if you haven’t made it to the other side when the walk signal turns red. I assume you would get automatically hit as Parisians do not slow down or wait for anyone.

7.b. Also there are a few crosswalks where the cars don’t have a light but are supposed to stop for you (I’m guessing as I haven’t actually seen the front of the sign myself). What you don’t know is that cars don’t just stop for you if they see you waiting on the edge of the sidewalk looking eager to cross. You just have to look forward and starting walking, hoping that they are upright citizens and paying attention to you as you speed up, slow down,speed up slow down your way across the road. Hopefully I won’t end up like the pigeons.

I think that should be it for today. It’s not an amazingly interesting post but just a few things I thought I’d jot down before I forgot.