What I Learned in France

Today, I leave Paris. In fact, right now, at 11:30 AM, my plane is scheduled to take off. No, I am not posting from the airplane, well after flight attendants have asked that all electronics be turned off, carry ons stowed, and seats in the upright position. I anticipated this post being so difficult to write, I began it ten days early.

On January 4, 2012, I moved to Paris, a city I knew I would one day live in from the moment my feet hit the ground at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle March 25, 2005. I looked like this:

Though I didn’t quite have the uniform down, my look of Parisian insouciance was spot on. It may have just been the eleven-hour flight.

In the following days, I visited somewhere that, seven years later, would become one of my regular haunts. I never went inside.

Yes, this was my first visit to Les Deux Magots. If you recall, my first post from Paris was about my cappuccino at Les Deux Magots. Little did I know then that a café crème at Deux Magots would become a weekly ritual of mine.

Here I am my first day in Paris, unsure what to expect, terrified to find out what exactly I was doing in the city I’d dreamed of living in my entire life. 

Here I am three months later sitting at my usual table with my usual order, looking like someone I wouldn’t recognize from the photo in January.

All this is a long way of saying I learned to live the life I wanted to live in Paris.

I will confess, I was terrified to move to Paris. In the week leading up to my departure, I cried without provocation, lost my appetite, and begged friends and family to give me reasons to stay. As I explained to one friend about my meltdown, “living in Paris was always something I was going to do, not something I actually went and did.”

I reluctantly got on the plane. I figured the worst that would happen was that I hated it and took a flight back home. But I didn’t. Instead, I redefined “home.”

I have spent a lot of time imagining what my perfect life would look like. In my dream world, I have a chateau in France, a pied-à-terre in Paris, an apartment in New York. My work running my own publishing company and writing novels requires a jetsetting lifestyle. I catch lunch and coffee with friends around the globe. I wear shoes from the rue de Grenelle boutiques and the dresses I covet each time I enter Le Bon Marché.

All of that is nice, but it doesn’t exist yet.

This was perhaps my only chance to live in Europe, and I didn’t want to waste it.

I traveled. Spare weekend? Sudden desire to go to Hungary? I went. Traveling had always been high on my list of things to go while studying abroad. I figured I would meet people, travel in a group. As it turned out, I never found travel companions, so I often went by myself. Occasionally, I met up with friends, but most of the time, I went alone. People thought I was crazy. To be honest, though, it bothered me less than I thought. Once off on my own, I realized that I could do whatever I wanted, when I wanted. Didn’t feel like going to a church? I didn’t. Felt like eating dinner at six (ridiculously early on European time)? I did. I traveled to the cities and countries I wanted to go on my own schedule. People didn’t often express an interest in going and seeing the places I’d marked as “not-to-miss.” In the end, it was more important for me to visit these places than to travel with other people. It was the right choice for me.

Back in Paris, I wandered around museums, stopped frequently in chocolate boutiques, and occasionally ate macarons for breakfast. I spent hours at cafés, becoming aware that the people I watched walking down the street were just as keenly observing me. I read. I wrote. I became annoyed with tourists.

I made a list of goals shortly after I arrived. I wanted to explore, travel, take a class at the Sorbonne, improve my French accent. In fact, in the days following my arrival, I would speak French to waiters and sales associates only to have them respond back in English. My French was excellent and my accent decent, but I didn’t speak as quickly as native speakers.

No one has responded to me in English since February. The tchotchke hawkers at the Louvre avoid me. I am regularly asked for directions on the street. On good days, I feel like a real Parisian.

Merci et au revoir, Paris. Je reviendrai, je te promets.

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