With only two weeks left, I finally feel like Paris is home. My roommate and I have begun to point out all the little things we are going to miss back home in America. While we are excited to get back home (to where you can get a freshly brewed iced coffee for about $2.00), there are lots of places, faces, sounds, and smells that will be missing from our lives. Even something as small as the distinct sound of the rented Velib bikes passing our apartment is something that I know I will become nostalgic for.
I’m really thankful for this course because it has forced me to reflect on my experience here. I’ve always wanted to keep a journal of sorts; I have a handful of them on my desk at home, each with a few entries, but more empty than not. I always seem to give up and then regret it. Even though these posts are more guided and focused than a journal, they will still act as a personal recount of my study abroad experience.
One thing I’m sure I’ll notice back in the states is the price of things. To wash and dry a load of laundry here it costs me about 15 euros. This is outrageous compared to prices in New York. After four months though, I’m not shocked by the steep prices anymore so it will be interesting to maybe now be shocked by “cheap” prices in the states.
I’ve also gotten kind of used to the slower pace here in France. After weeks and weeks of being frustrated by the unhurried nature of the people here, I now am used to it and almost appreciative of it. I hope that when I go back to the city I will easily adapt back to the “go go go mindset”.
One of the biggest problems I faced was accepting the fact that my time here became very similar to any other time in my life. I imagined my time abroad to be a time of constant adventure and excitement, but it became four months filled with a similar routine as in New York. Prior to moving here, my fantasies about Paris failed to include school, friendship struggles, sickness and all those other fun things. It was hard to realize that life doesn’t change drastically even if you travel 3,000 miles away.
After living in a place for a significant amount of time you start to feel like a native, like you have things to say and wisdom to impart. Studying abroad in Paris is no different. There are so many little things you gather from living somewhere every day. I can tell you lots of little things that you think would be unimportant. I can point you in the direction to buy vitamins and American comfort food, and I can tell you that here in France they don’t refrigerate their milk before they open it, so you’ll find it in the un-refrigerated section. But above all, the biggest tip I could give anyone is to keep your expectations low.
I would definitely recommend studying abroad in Paris, but maybe not through NYU. The city and the culture have so much to offer, and it truly is a great place to live. The NYU program, however, is really small. The class offerings are anything but vast, and I am taking classes that I would never take back in NYC, and they are not really helping form my concentration in any way. The school is split up into two categories, Program I (take a French course and everything else in English) and Program 2 (all courses in French). Because of this, the students from Program 1 and 2 never get to have class together, or really get to know each other. I have all my classes with all the same kids. I have friends here who are studying at different colleges (AUP, Sarbonne, etc) and their academic experiences seem to be much better than mine.
In regards to housing, I would find an apartment on your own, but start the search early! If you find a place by yourself then you can pick where you want to live, which is really important in Paris. This process is long and frustrating so start way ahead of time.
I wish someone had told me that NYU in Paris has no fall break of vacation time of any sort. For some reason I thought we did so I was banking on traveling during this time. We didn’t have a break and now there are three weeks left and I really feel like I didn’t travel enough. I regret not traveling during the first few months here on the weekends.
There are many different times during my stay here in Paris that I have struggled with homesickness and my overall choice to study abroad. I find myself missing America more often than not. When I read this assignment a few days ago I started reflecting on my time here and became pretty overwhelmed by the topic of the post. For a few days I’ve had this exercise looming in the back of my head, and for that reason I almost feel like my epiphany was a little forced. Regardless, what I’ve learned from being here is that I have an intense love for learning about different cultures, specifically the nuances of the French language.
Yesterday, my Parisian friend was over and he misplaced his wallet.
Obviously, he started cursing up a storm as we searched for it everywhere. He was yelling all the usual terms I’ve heard said before; for the most part they were exact translations of common curse words in English. But one thing he said I had never heard before, so I asked him. Fils de pute?He explained to me that it more or less means son of a bitch. I know that pute is not the word for bitch so I was confused. He continued, “In French, we literally say son of a prostitute.” This got me thinking about all the ins and outs of the French language.
Trying to learn French has been frustrating and stressful, but when I hear about all these little intricacies, I am so enchanted by the language. When people think of the French, a lot of people think of romance. Their terms of endearment definitely add to this aspect of their culture. For some reason, I find their loving terms so much more beautiful than ours. For example, they often call loved ones mon petit chou, which literally translates to my little cabbage. In France, they often tell children that babies sprout from cabbages, similarly to our American stork story. So their term of endearment loosely translates to my little baby. One other translation I love is dans les fignes du Seigneur. It literally translates to in the vines of the Lord, but people use it to describe a state of intoxication.
All of these random little nuances I’ve learned throughout my time here have led me to my epiphany that I have a great love of linguistics.
The genius loci of Paris is extensive and multi faceted. So many foods, drinks, smells, places, etc. make up this city and embody its’ culture. I’ve written many times before about the abundance of sidewalk cafes here and that definitely falls into the category of genius loci for me. But there are also many other things here that create the “spirit of the place”.
Most prominent for me is the Paris Metro. There is a saying here that we learned in French class that goes, “metro, boulot, dodo”, which translates to “metro, work, sleep”. A lot of Parisians use this to describe the routines of their days, and it rings true even for my time here. To me it feels more like “metro, school, metro, metro, metro, sleep”. So much of my past few months have been spent on the metros. I feel as if I have truly mastered the 1, 4, and 6 lines. My friends and I know which cars to ride in to make the transfers quicker and easier, and which cars to ride in so that we are closest to the exit we want at our destinations. We have mastered metro etiquette, of giving up seats for the elderly, as well as the young. We know how to push ourselves on and off at the crowded central stations during rush hour. And we know just how many layers our Navigo passes can travel through to activate the turnstiles.
Plans are formed around the system. When choosing a restaurant, bar, lounge, store, etc. to go to we always ask, “Which line do we take to get there? How many transfers do we have to make? How long?” When the metro closes, 12:30 on weekdays and about 2:00 on weekends, that is when the nights’ end.
The Metro in Paris is a way of life, and if you don’t have your own personal form of transportation then you are bound to be an avid metro rider. Sometimes the sounds of the metro haunt me in my sleep. I can hear the conductor repeating the stop two times in different intonations, “Saint Paul…Saint Paul”.
Almost every time I come in and out of my apartment building I encounter a neighbor. We always exchange a bonjour, or a bonsoir if it is after 6 pm or so, but never anything more. If I saw any of them in the Monoprix around the corner I probably wouldn’t recognize them or even look twice. Most of them don’t speak any English, and they give my roommates and I looks as if they know we are Americans and are annoyed we are living in their building (sometimes making more noise than they want).
This past week our hot water heater exploded at 2:30 am. Unable to reach our landlord or turn it off we started knocking on neighbors’ doors. We went directly downstairs because we figured the flooding had started to affect them and they would be eager to help, we were wrong. The young, and completely bilingual couple was so incredibly rude it was mind-boggling. Yes, it was 2:30 in the morning, but they were treating my roommate and I as if were purposefully broke the heater, and stood there laughing as we watched the water continuously pour out like a waterfall. Ever since the incident I try to scurry out of the building as quickly as possible in hopes of avoiding my downstairs neighbors.
There are two people in my building, however, who I always pray I’ll run into going in and out of the building. They are these two little old French ladies that are truly the cutest things I have ever seen. They speak absolutely no English, so we’ve never had an actual conversation. Whenever they shuffle in a hold the doors for them and then walk them through the courtyard to their side of the building and hold those doors as well. They always say “merci merci merci!!!” with the most endearing faces, and I simply respond “derien!!!” with the biggest grin on my face. I don’t know anything about them, and at the rate my French is going, I probably never will. But for some reason, they bring me so much joy every time I see them.
In their book, Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong, Jean- Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow investigate why so many people love France, but not the French. Living in Paris for almost three months now, I found myself relating to almost every aspect of inconceivable French culture that they pointed out. The French, Parisians even more so, are a one of a kind breed of people. They have a certain air of superiority that is imaginable to a lot of other cultures.
The authors preface their book with an explanation of France’s way of operating. After listing a bunch of French terms they say, “We’ve done out best to explain them, but many don’t translate well, if at all. And that, in itself, is a sign that France really runs on a distinct model. The country can only be explained in its own terms” (31). In French class, the teacher often gets stumped in ways to translate terms and sayings. So many things that the French say are completely unique to their culture and are truly unable to be translated.
“Other mind-boggling customs left us scratching our heads as we were impatiently tapping our toes. Our baker individually wrapped every pastry she sold no matter how many people were waiting behind us to place their orders. Our dry cleaner meticulously (and slowly) wrapped each article in paper, gingerly, as if our shirts were St-Honore cakes. At the grocery store in our neighborhood, people still paid by check, even for five-dollar purchases” (40). My mind is constantly boggled by all these same things. There really is no such thing as “popping in” quickly somewhere to grab anything. Picking up developed photos, buying a quick snack, and refilling credit on my pay as you go cell phone should all take five minutes. In Paris, however, these minute daily tasks drag on because everyone here does everything painfully slowly and meticulously.
Sometimes it feels like France has been unfazed by the “need for speed” that is so prevalent in the United States. Especially in New York, we are all so hurried and have the mindset of “on to the next thing”. Here, they all seem very in the moment, and overly dedicated to every task that is in front of them. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is endearing and impressive that they have such dedication, but at the same time it can become very frustrating to feel like people are unaware of their surroundings, and therefore take all the time in the world.
The city of Paris is filled with great good places. There really is something beautiful and enchanting down every street and around every corner. Ray Oldenberg explains how distinctive informal public gathering places can define a city. He states, “Thus, its profusion of sidewalk cafes seems to be Paris, just as the forum dominates one’s mental picture of classic Rome.” What he says really does ring true here. Sidewalk cafes line the streets and are always packed with a variety of people. In the morning, on my way to school, I always see businessmen and moms who have just dropped their kids at school, having espresso and croissants at the same café in the heart of the 16eme. Coming home from school in the afternoon there are always handfuls of high school and college students overflowing into the streets from all the little restaurants around my apartment. Even in the wee hours of the morning, the sidewalks are bustling with people congregating, smoking and drinking. One café in my neighborhood is open twenty-two and a half hours of the day, and there is always seems to be a good-sized crowd enjoying the inside and outside tables.
Sitting for hours on the sidewalk is such a part of Parisian culture. As the weather gets harsher with winter approaching, I wonder what will happen to the businessmen, moms, and school kids that have their sidewalk café routines.
Even though I often enjoy the good qualities of the quintessential Parisian sidewalk cafes, I have found that other places in Paris are even greater. In my mind, I have broken down all the great good places I’ve found into two different categories; one is a place that overwhelms you with its’ beauty and grandeur, and the other is a place that comforts you and makes you feel safe.
Paris has endless amounts of both kinds of places. Yesterday I had a field trip to the Paris Opera House for a class. Even just sitting on the steps outside, I found myself totally in awe of the magnificence and opulence of the building. The building made me feel at home in a weird way; it was so incredibly grand, but still welcoming. Paris has a way of doing this to the visitor; overwhelming them but welcoming them at the same time. On the other hand, I have found lots of nooks and crannies throughout the city that are less impressive, but make me feel comforted and safe, just like The Medici Fountain in Luxembourg Gardens I talked about a few posts back.
The Centre Georges Pompidou in the 4th arrondisement of Paris is exactly like that. The modern art center houses a variety of exhibitions and holds a handful of different events. The art is vast and varied, and includes much more than just French artists’ works. Last week I visited this museum as part of a course I am taking here, Intro to the Parisian Contemporary Art Scene. I got there a little early and sat in front of the museum in the Place Georges Pompidou, a big square with a slight hill that invites guests to sprawl out for hours. The area is used famously by a lot of street performers. Adjacent to the museum there is also the Stravinsky Fountain. The instillation features sixteen water spraying, movable sculptures.
When I first entered the museum it felt more like a science museum than an art museum. The interior is extremely industrial and cold feeling. To proceed to the main galleries you have to take numerous escalators that decorate the outside of the museum. This is one of the only times during my visit when I felt like I was really in Paris. The ascending escalators give better and better views of the city as you continue to climb up to the main exhibitions.
Once inside the main galleries, the art is divided into little rooms that visitors wind through. It’s easy to feel as though you are missing something because every single corner is filled with art. The collection has no common theme, except for that it is all contemporary. The artists are international and the genres are expansive.
If it weren’t for the expansive city views from all the floor to ceiling windows, I really could have been anywhere in the world.
Almost every neighborhood feels like a “tourist trap”. Sometimes we are fooled though. There are so many restaurants we’ve been to that I think, “wow this is so French, this must be where all the locals come” but slowly, throughout dinner I start to hear so many different languages around us and realize that it is just where all the concierges tell their guests to go for a “real French dining experience”. It is just like MacCannell says, “It is also found that tourist settings are arranged to produce the impression that a back region has been entered even when this is not the case. In tourist settings, between the front and the back there is a series of special spaces designed to accommodate tourists and to support their beliefs in the authenticity of their experiences”.
It is so hard to differentiate between tourist spotsand local haunts. A lot of my friends who have studied in Paris before passed their lists along to me, complete with restaurants, bars, stores, and museums. They all handed them over to me with pride saying, “these are my favorite places, the places I found and loved for four months”. So many of the different lists overlapped though. What one of my friend’s thought was her secret Sunday brunch spot was also another girl’s.
It is also incredibly difficult to come from a place like New York City. In the city, there are so many recreations of “the French bistro”. Most of them have “Disneyland-esque” qualities. Places like Pastis in Meatpacking, and Balthazar in Soho try so hard to capture the essence of what we think of as an authentic French restaurant. So now, being here, it is hard for me to see past the Disneyland qualities, even if they are completely authentic. It is exactly how MacCannell explains, “It is always possible that what is taken to be entry into a back region is really entry into a front region that has been totally set up in advance for touristic visitation. In tourist settings, especially in modern society, it may be necessary to discount the importance, and even the existence, of front and back regions except as ideal poles of touristic experience”.
Suzy Gershman’s book C’est La Vie chronicles numerous ups and downs that she experienced when she moved to Paris. She always fantasized about movie there, and when her husband dies, she finally takes the leap. Reading the light and fun memoir, I found myself relating to a lot of the Suzy’s experiences. Obviously I am not a middle-aged widow, but I am going through a lot of the same struggles, simply by being an American in France.
Gershman and myself had similar frustrations when trying to rent an apartment. In the first chapter she explains how she finally finds the perfect apartment. “It never occurred to me that anything could go wrong. I was naïve. The following day, the broker called back to ask me numerous financial questions. Did I work in France? No. Did I have a carte de sejour (permit to stay or to work in France)? No. Would someone in France sign the lease to guarantee it for me? No” (page 26).
My quest for a Parisian apartment was anything but fun. My two roommates and I were basically homeless until a week before arriving. We had scavenged the Internet through and through to find a reasonably priced and sized place in a good location all summer. Almost every site we came across had a handful of options, allegedly. But then we would email the companies asking for further information on specific places and days, sometimes weeks, later they would respond explaining that the apartments we were interested in were not available for the duration of our stay. We had to rent the places for either shorter, or longer. The struggles continued as we realized that the French, unlike Americans, are not addicted to working. They do not sleep with their blackberries and respond at all hours of the day. If you are lucky, you can get a response once every 24 hours, if you are lucky.
Once you get past all of these obstacles, you realize that no one wants to rent to Americans, and no one wants to rent to students. The amount of paperwork that had to be done (via fax and email mind you) was really uncanny. About a week before arriving in Paris it all fell into place, but the agonizing and stressful process is something I now associate with moving to Paris and trying to become a Parisian.
Everything here is just a little more. It all takes a little more time and costs a lot more. Coffee for example, I’m addicted to coffee. I usually have two or three a day in NYC. Drinks on the go here are not really a thing. Here, people sit at a café for an hour and have an espresso, croissant, and a cigarette. I like to have my coffee on the go, always one during my morning commute. The only place here that really does coffee on the go is Starbucks, and sadly there isn’t one on my route to school, only one right across from campus. Not to mention, it costs about twice as much as it does in America.
Apartment living here is only slightly different. In my eyes there are two main differences. One being how to get into the apartment and two being the noise. All apartment buildings here have codes that you buzz in. You can’t buzz an apartment number with an intercom system how we have in New York. Here you have to give your guests codes before they come over, usually two. A majority of the buildings have a main door, then a courtyard, and then a second door. You then enter a pitch-black stairwell where you have to find a switch labeled “lumiere”, or sometimes, not labeled at all. In my apartment specifically my roommates and I have noticed another odd feature. Our doorknob is located right in the center of our door. It is really the oddest thing. It kind of looks normal, and sort of decorative, but when it comes to function, it feels weird and totally off balance to open and close a door from the middle of it. Secondly, neighbors here do not stand for noise. When we played music past 9pm during our first week of living here, we immediately got our neighbors banging on the walls from all sides.
Every day that I’m here I notice these things less and less. I feel that after four months here, going back to New York I’ll have to readjust to that daily life as well.
Within two days of living here I realized that people don’t really say “oui”, one of the only words I knew. Instead they go around saying “ouais ouais” to everything. This term, pronounced way, but spelled nothing like it, is more informal, and means “yeah” or “yep”.
It’s as if the French have an evil plan against anyone who wants to learn their language. For starters, the young generation here literally swaps words around to form their own French slang. Instead of saying “merci” they say “cimer” and so on. Phonetics and grammar is another story. Nothing is pronounced the way it’s spelled. Singular and plural words are pronounced exactly the same even though the plural words are spelled “avec s”. Other words that mean completely different things are said the exact same. For example, the word fêtemeaning party is said the exact same way as the conjugation of the verb faire meaning to make or do, into the we form, nous faites.Context clues and gestures are all playing a huge role in learning this complicated and frustrating language.
It seems to me that people here do not care to go out of their way to include you in their conversations. Maybe they are just as embarrassed to try to speak English, as I am to speak French?
Last week I exercised the “watchful silence” as I sat in Luxembourg Gardens. I was reading a book for school, but was mildly distracted by a young man sitting across from me at The Medici Fountain. Honestly, he was beautiful, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He was reading a book and rocking out to the music he was listening to on big headphones. He grabbed a cigarette from his bag and fumbled around for a minute. He then stood up and started looking around, obviously for a lighter. A woman with a toddler walked by and offered her light to him, he accepted, thanked her and went back to his business. About twenty minutes later he went to smoke another cigarette, and realized again that he was without fire, as they say in France. Just then, the toddler from before came waddling over to him and gave the young man his mom’s lighter. It was one of the cutest, most endearing moments I’ve ever witnessed. I couldn’t understand a word of their exchange; yet I understood the scenario perfectly. The lack of understanding French can get in the way of a lot of experiences here, but some basic human interactions can be understood in any and all languages.
Everyone knows one of the best ways to learn a city is to get lost in it. But for me that is easier said than done. It is so incredibly hard for me to get lost, even when I try. I was born with an innate sense of direction
Because of Hurricane Irene I was alone in Paris for five days. During the days I forced myself to venture out and explore the city. Sometimes I had a destination in mind, and other times I figured I would just walk. In the hopes of getting lost one day I left home without a map and a plan. I walked aimlessly for about two hours in various directions and when I was ready to find my way home, I retraced my steps perfectly without even trying. I wove through streets that I had recognized from my stroll, Rue de Rivoli, Rue de Rennes, Boulevard Saint Germain, and Boulevard Raspail. All the while passing by landmarks everyone knows, Musee de Orsay, St. Sulpice, and Luxembourg Gardens.
Paris is a city that caters to tourists. Popping up all over the place are huge maps on the streets with a big “you are here/vous êtes ici” circle. In addition, every street sign states the arrondisement or neighborhood you are in, ranging from 1-20, so you can really never get that lost or turned around. Finally, big markers pointing the way to famous landmarks are abundant.
The journey to school is a complete nuisance. It is located about 40 minutes away, and to get there we have to take two different metros and walk about 15 minutes. It is kind of on the outskirts of town, in the 16eme arrondisement, and whenever people ask where school is and we tell them, their response is usually “I’m sorry”. The best part about the commute is the second metro we take, line 6. We get on it at an underground station but within seconds we are taken outside onto an above ground track for the rest of the ride. Curving through the neighborhood right behind the Eiffel tower and then crossing the Seine, it feels surreal and movie like, as if we are riding through a studio back lot.
There was another metro I was on this past week that was above ground, and I can’t remember which line it was. I do remember though, that I got a jolt of excitement when sun radiated into the metro car. Being above ground ads to the magic of the city. It is so much more beautiful when you get to see everything between your starting and end point. The next night I made a point to take the bus instead of the metro. If I cannot walk somewhere, this is the next best option, allowing for a complete intake of my surroundings.
Botton speaks in great depth about the “relationship between the anticipation of travel and its reality” (9). In some ways though, studying abroad in Paris nixed the opportunity for anticipation. Of course I found myself anxious and nervous about moving here and living here, but my familiarity of the city overpowered any sense of anticipation. I’ve been to Paris many times before, both on family trips and with some of my best friends. I’ve been here in the dead of winter as well as that week in 2003 when over one thousand people died of heat stroke. I’ve vacationed here and studied here. I feel like I’ve seen Paris in the best light and the worst light.
I was not anticipating those quintessential “post card moments”; I was anxiously thinking about the struggles of living in a foreign country. Instead of creating images and moments in my mind of seeing the Eiffel tower, the pyramids at the Louvre, and the views from Sacré-Cœur, I was anticipating the language barrier, commuting to school, and grocery shopping.
Even worries specific to this trip were somewhat alleviated for me. With the help of technology, all sense of mystery can be lost. It’s hard to be under whelmed or overwhelmed when you can street view your apartment and actually “take a walk” around your neighborhood via google maps. Without this, I probably would have had a pretty excited reaction to the beautiful red door to my apartment building, on the perfect Parisian street. But instead, when the taxi slowed down near the address I had given him, I knew I was looking for a big red door sandwiched between the Laundromat and the Salon.
Almost everyone thinks of Paris as the city of love. The French are some of the most romantic people in the world and it completely shows through their culture and their words. Movies, music, books and stories have shaped everyone’s thoughts on this city. For me, I moved here with my cousin’s personal story lingering in the back of my thoughts. She came here for her work about five years ago. She was supposed to stay a mere two weeks to help style various fashion shoots for magazines. One night she was out with a bunch of friends at a famous bar, La Palette and she met a French man, David. She hasn’t left since, and now, five years later, she is married with a little French baby, and lives on Canal Saint Martin on the Right Bank.
I hope that I will still be able to experience the magic that is Paris even though I’ve experienced it all before. I’ll have to be waiting for moments in time instead of places.
Photo taken in front of our apartment by Jake Sammis and Me.
I’m Alanna! I’m a junior in Gallatin studying a bunch of fun stuff. My concentration right now is called “trend forecasting and event production in music and fashion”. Paris, being a cultural hub, will hopefully enhance all my studies and add a new aspect to my concentration. The classes here are pretty limited, almost all are about Parisian politics and art, two categories that have always been less appealing to me. I hope to learn more about my major through being here and living here. I’m excited to read about everyone’s different experiences in the different abroad sites and hope that through this class and blog we can all live vicariously through each other!
Photo taken on Pont d'lena by Leslie Kirchhoff