This American in Paris, II

I like Paris, but I’m not really sure Paris likes me.
~ From Emily in Paris

There is only one Paris. I have to be honest and tell you that the first time I was there, I found the city enchanting. You might find this surprising, but, at that time (2002), I enjoyed Paris more than the cities I’d visited in Italy. (I think my grandmother just spiritually smacked me in the head.) Allow me to explain, please.

On our first trip to Italy (1996), my knowledge of the country was minimal. Talking to my immigrant grandmother about her life there did not really enlighten me about the place itself. I knew family stories; I knew about her life; and I knew the foods and culture that we lived with. My grandmother, however, was illiterate and had a very difficult life, so while what I learned from her was important, it was very personal.

Our first trip to Italy included visits to Rome, Naples, and Florence. Mike drove, and I spent a good amount of the time on the backseat floor trying not to watch as five cars fit across three rows of traffic while Vespas squeezed between all of them. Add in the crazy driving—my husband’s included—and the crowds and noise, and I was actually lukewarm about the that trip.

Having traveled all over Italy and a number of western European countries since my first two overseas trips, I look at things differently now. I know that during our first trip to France, I didn’t realize that Paris is much the same as other European capitals. Large. Crowded. Noisy. Over-run with tourists.

Still, there is a charm that is undeniably Parisian. During our time there last month, I stood a number of times and imagined living there. While I know there are reasons I could, there are also reasons I would find it difficult.

The Language

When I was in eighth grade, I wanted to study French in high school. One of our teachers in grade school had convinced us that Paris was a magical place, and I wanted some of that magic. My father, however, said, “French, my ass. More people in the world speak Spanish.” I cried. I pouted. I refused to speak to him. I ended up in Mr. Tedde’s Spanish I class.

If you know me at all, you know that I eventually majored and did graduate work in Spanish. Since both French and Spanish are romance languages, they have a base in Vulgar Latin. Much of the grammar and vocabulary of all romance languages share common roots, although the phonological structures (sound, in other words) vary.

What I’m getting at, as you might guess, is that the language would be a hindrance if I were to try to live in Paris. Even though I might be able to read and interpret some basic vocabulary, once someone starts speaking French, I’m pretty much lost. Since I am extremely uncomfortable if I cannot understand or speak the language where I am, I would have to learn French. I guess that would be okay, but I’m not sure I could fit many more words in the grey matter. When someone asks me if I speak French (or Italian or German or whatever), I joke that I speak “Italospanglish.”

By the way… Did you think that the romance languages are so-called because they are the languages of love? Well, that isn’t the reason. As I mentioned before, the romance languages have roots in Vulgar Latin, the language of ancient Rome. And vulgar, in this instance, means common, referring to the language spoken by the Romans.

THE PATISSERIE 

I realize I said the patisserie are a reason I could live in Paris, but they are also a reason I could not live in Paris. Quite simply, I have no willpower when it comes to good breads, pastries, pies, cookies, cakes. I think I gained about 10 pounds just writing these three sentences.

The Food

While there are some French foods that I enjoy, there are way too many that do not agree with me. The French tend to use butter and eat a lot of cheese, both of which I like in moderation. In addition, sauces are so very important in French cuisine. Did you know that the French have five sauces—béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato—that are the bases for other sauces? Most of them tend to be just a little too rich for me.

If we’re being honest, I have to add in that I have not had a good pasta or steak meal in France. Overcooked pasta is a sin, and rawhide steak is more to my dog’s liking than mine. The frite (French fries), however, are usually fantastic.

By the way, French in “French fries” refers not to the country of France but to the method of cutting potatoes to make the fries. Belgium actually claims to have created the french fry in the late 17th century. When a river froze and people had no access to fish, they had to find another item to eat, and they used potatoes. Don’t believe it? Well, you should. UNESCO even added the French fry to Belgium’s list of cultural treasures.

So where does the “french” in french frieds come from? It has to do with cutting the food. When one “frenches” a food item, he/she cuts it so that all four sides of the food faces the cooking source.

The Cost of Living

According to many studies, Paris is the second-most expensive city in the world (Shanghai, Singapore, and NYC fight for the top spot.). The average unfurnished studio rents for about 2000 euro per month. Add in the cost of furniture, utilities, food, clothing, transportation, and other just essential items, and the cost go up and up.

Just to give you a little more useless information (unless you are seriously considering moving to Paris), Parisian apartments can be very small. Unlike cities in the US, Paris limits the height of residential buildings to 50 meters which is about 15 stories. And because most buildings are old, the size of apartments can be small. One Parisian apartment rental site that I checked offers apartments starting at nine square meters. Nine. Square. Meters. That’s less than 100 square feet. That’s smaller than the bedroom I had as a child. That. Is. Small.

Worse, according to that rental site, you can pay 1200-2000/month for that limited space.

The Tourists

Tourists in any large city are a bit turn-off for me. Yes, yes. I realize that I should consider myself a tourist. I prefer to think of myself as a traveler. Think they are the same? Au contraire. (HEY! Two more words of French I don’t have to learn.)

A tourist is one who goes somewhere purely for pleasure. They tend to travel in larger groups and go just to see the highlights of a place. A traveler goes on a journey. Most of the time, they travel solo or with a small group, Travelers immerse themselves in local culture. More than anything, tourists tend to stay within their comfort zone. There is NOTHING wrong with that.

Tourists standing in the middle of a busy street on Pont d’Iéna to take photos in front of the Eiffel Tower.

What drives me nutty, though, is that tourists get in the way of travelers and locals, block the sidewalks, push and shove, take stupid chances just for a selfie or two. When we visited the Eiffel Tower last month, we crossed the Pont d’Iéna, the bridge that leads from the tower to the Trocadero. It is a busy road with four avenues merging on one side to lead vehicles across the Seine to a highway on the other side. Note the tourists in the photo above. Enough said!

Bottom Line

In France in 2013….

If I am to be perfectly honest, I could live in Paris. While I would find some things challenging, I could get through. The most daunting aspect would probably be the language, but in the end, I’d probably just start speaking Fritalospanglish.

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