As paradoxical and confusing as the title sounds, so has been my life
in Paris. There are moments when fond memories of America’s capital
(designed by a Frenchman) seem to merge into the Hausmannien facades
of posh Neuilly, and even more crazy moments where a song takes me
even further away to Bangkok or a friend I knew in Tokyo passes
through town. I’ve reconnected with an old friend from my hometown who
I went to middle school with, currently stationed in Naples, though I
haven’t met up with my sort-of boyfriend bon mec from the time I
studied here, incredibly in love with the city and sad that I would
have to leave before I ever even met him.
And then there are the innumerable moments when I see beautiful
children and their parents and grandmas and babysitters, older couples
sitting side by side, and little boys play fighting. I miss my family.
What’s more, I dream of having my own family someday, but what my
children’s life will be like, or what the nationality of my future
husband might be-I’ve kissed a frog or two as some might say, but the
last person to really break my heart was something of a Captain
America, and my last romance was with an Algerian. I can only hope to
give them the same unconditional love and support my parents gave me
when they helped me spread my wings and fly away to live here, and
even helped me to believe in myself and stay the course when my dreams
of living in Paris, once attained, seemed a bit of a nightmare in the
first few months of transition. They even loved me enough not to let
me fly back to the nest.
I have had days where I had no meaningful in person interactions, shy
and sad, and trying to find someone online to chat with in a different
time zone was more than a bit of a struggle. Not to mention that it
can feel a little crazy and ungrateful to complain when living here
was all I wanted for a year.There are other dayswhere I am so
connected and human, so simply present, particularly in the metro-
giving diretions to a tourist, getting babies to smile at me, or
crammed in during the daily rush just another body contributing to the
It could be that it was the ultimate illusion of chasing happiness
outside of myself, rather than realizing I could have ended my
suffering with a simple change of attitude rather than continent. Or
maybe, this is the place where I had to learn that lesson, and the
feeling I get from being here is just incomparable. Je repars a zero,
as Edith Piaf sings, I have no regrets.
I live in a city of contradictions, becoming a law unto myself- Paris
has a Socialist mayor and is the capital of luxury, fine living, and
all that is haute couture and high culture. I have a “real” job making
my living as a white-collar professional at a giant company, while I
live in a chambre de bonne, American for broom closet, in one of the
richest neighborhoods in France, where I share a toilet with
strangers with whom I have not really becoming neighborly- because the
French typically require a French cosigner and their pay slips and
bank account information, as well as pay slips and a promise of the
first born child of the renter. Which is reasonable, since you can’t
easily kick someone out once they have inhabited a space- the Rue de
Rivoli, one of the”fashion avenues” of the city, has an art gallery
created by squatters who pay no rent. The mix of boho/bobo and bougie
can be infectious, not to mention joining the ranks of all the Lost
Generation expats who have come before me, enchanted by an ancient
city as they sought to define modern values for an age of insecurity.
I glory in my minimalist luxury.
In this city of aesthetic perfections and classical proportions, I
finally feel comfortable in my all too human, flawed skin, taking in
the delights of youth in a place dating back past the Romans. I go to
mass on Montmartre, once reversed by Druids, in 91% Catholic country
that is really atheist and claims to have complete separation of
Church and state, though I get Ascension Thursday and All Saint’s Day
off by law.
I got religion in the palace of Louis the Sun King, the one who
believed in absolute monarchy and divine right. One of my most recent
adventures was falling INTO the garden, of Versailles that is, dressed
in 18th century attire for a costume ball.While I had the feeling of
being entirely forgotten in the Emergency Room by the staff, had no
one to call to pick me up (didn’t help that I had also lost my phone),
and had to haul myself up six flights of stairs despite a badly
sprained ankle, the loneliness was abated when a close friend and my
next door apartment neighbor helped me when I couldn’t move around,
and doctors and nurses actually came up to see me to give me the care
I needed. One male nurse even went above and beyond and went to the
pharmacy for me.
There are days I feel caught in the swirl of a past I haven’t quite
made sense of yet and a future I really can’t predict. Sometimes I
think about living in a third country, sometimes I think about going
home, sometimes I think about settling down here. All I know is that
living a non-linear, wandering life has made me feel free, and even if
I just stay where I am the journey can’t help but continue, in circles
and spirals and incredibly beautiful detours. Though time marches on,
and I am simultaneously pulled towards building my career, hoping to
find someone special, and creating a community of friends- near and
far- to serve as my home base. I want to be just like my parents even
though my life doesn’t really resemble theirs.
I live between two languages, both in my social life and at work.
Hired for my English, I couldn’t really do my job without speaking
French. The language of my heart seems to be French at times, though
sometimes there’s nothing more conspiratorial and intimate than the
complicite of speaking with another Anglophone by naissance- not to
mention the sens of brotherhood among all the non-French, the
foreigners who flock to a country whose native population KNOWS they
have the highest level of civilization in the world. When I think
about going back to America, I think speaking French is the thing I
can’t seem to get over.
Before I came to France for the first time, where I taught Englih in
the province where butter and oysters come from, I lived in DC and
believed with all my heart I’d come back and make my career in
American politics, though as a public policy professional rather than
a politician and save the world stateside. Now I am in international
marketing, although what I actually do is unofficial diplomacy.
Dreams do come true, and it’s lovely to write a Facebook post without
worrying it will be scrutinized for political ideology, much as I’m
sure I could easily probably end up offending someone and put my
reputation at risk in some other way. All I can say is that my
intentions are good, and I try to assume the same of others as much as
it seems reasonable- the international life would be impossible any
other way. I’m too passionate not to share my experience.
Why did I come to Paris? To find myself? To find love? Maybe to find
God, because living in between cultures has helped me deconstruct the
human expperience much as it has helped form my identity- not to
mention that many of my foundational experiences, like living away
from home and school for the first time, having my first “career” job,
and going to the emergency room, have been in France. Here more than
anywhere else, I’ve come to understand its the journey not the
destination, never knowing if I’ll come back here or not or how long
I’ll stay. Life is precious.
And more than anything else, I have found my voice. Preaching the
gospel of living abroad, sharing the joys and pains of the expat life,
complaining about the French and admiring them utterly, paying them
the ultimate compliment of spending a chunk of my life here. Singing
my own version of “La Vie en Rose.”
Thank you for listening.