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
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?
Paraphrasing what a little old Parisian woman said to me today:
“It’s really a shame that your skirt is so short. If it were longer it would be much better. You have to be careful going around with a skirt like that. If you go to certain neighborhoods you could get raped. (Did she really just say that? Yes, I think she did) You’re so cute but it would be best if you wore longer skirt. Goodbye. Have a good day.”
Yes it was windy, yes my flared skirt was short and appeared shorter with heels but I was wearing opaque, black tights and holding my skirt down gracefully! Not to mention she’s sharing her belief that a woman’s outfit causes her be harassed and raped, but that’s another problem for another day.
I’m not really bothered but I thought it was funny and very frank of her, a complete stranger. This is something that has never happened to me and I don’t think would ever happen to me in New York.
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,
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.
Paris has got me down. This week has been highly unproductive, comparatively as well as on absolute terms. And instead of studying for tomorrow’s exams, I am going to add to my low productivity and write this post. But I think it’s important I take the time to remind myself of how crappy Paris can treat its inhabitants (as well as let you all know that not everyday is full of buttery croissants and picnics under the Eiffel Tower.)
Monday arrived, passed and was relatively pleasant: I went to Pere LaChaise cemetery and wondered around, had some meetings at school, made small talk with a French woman on the street whom I had asked directions for a certain patisserie, had a marvelous croissant experience at said patisserie, I also tried the famous Berthillion ice cream (I chose two flavors that were recommended to me, chocolate and caramel, and not the ones I knew I would love so I can’t really rave about the ice cream yet..) and wandered around my neighborhood. To top it off I had an amazing dinner of mussels in a curry sauce (my favorite over rice.
Then Tuesday arrived and, garçon, what a contrast. Not only was it grey and rainy, but I accomplished nothing that day. I tried twice, one two seprarate occasions, to find my Paris university with no luck (The directions which I found online and double checked were wrong.. somehow..?). I then tried to go to the Musée d’Orsay but the line was enormous and even went across the street and down the block. I only realized why after I arrived at the Louvre: The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays so every tourist, student and their mother went to d’Orsay on Tuesday.
Wednesday I tried to register for my classes at the Paris University, that is, in person like it’s 1995. After 4 hours of being confused, babbling like a moron, getting lost and having to wait for the workers’ 2 hours lunch break to be over with, I only successfully registered for 1 out of 2 of my classes.
Today, I am successfully enrolled in my classes (5 in total: 2 at Paris VII and 3 at my college in Paris) and was feeling like things were finally in place. I then rewarded myself with a trip to the Musee d’Orsay where I only had to wait 5 minutes in line before getting in and got to see some superb paintings. After that, I was on a roll and headed over across the bridge to Les Arts Décoratifs to see, once more, the Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs exhibition. Lastly, I decided to head over to the Marais and search for a crêperie so I could eat my first crepe in Paris.
It took quite a few hours to find the perfect crêperie if you can believe it. And just 30 minutes before my reservation I went to the ATM only to find out that I wasn’t able to withdraw money from my account. I can’t tell you the reason at the moment as I haven’t a clue why but I know that it isn’t my fault and that someone in their bureau made the mistake of freezing (?) my account.
Luckily I was with a friend who spotted me some cash so I was still able to enjoy one of the best crepes I’ve ever had (the one it rivals is a crepe i had on one of my last days in New York).
Hopefully next time I write I will not only have good news but more interesting stories to tell. For now, I’m trying to see howI can spread 5 euros to last me nine months.
It wasn’t mine!
La Grande Mosquée de Paris
A fountain tucked away from a sidewalk in the Marais
Jardin du Luxembourg; my usual spot for lunch
Fashion Night Out, Paris, 2012
The Spectacle of the Great Water Jets, at Versailles. This was one of many of the smaller fountains at Versailles that were concealed inside the maze.
La Basilique du Sacre Coeur where I attended mass for the first time in ages.
Yesterday was the first time i came so close to the Tour Eiffel
Every hour, on the hour, Gustave Eiffel rolls over in his grave.