When you go to Paris, you’re never going for the first time. This city is the subject of so many movies, books, and plays, you know its history no matter where you come from, and you arrive with so many preconceived notions of what the people, the city, and life here will be like. My favorite thing so far about living in Paris is discovering which perceptions are real, and which are absolutely not. Some examples:
First, all Parisian women really are fabulous. You might think it’s impossible for all of the women in an entire city to be incredibly gorgeous and flawless, but I have yet to see a French woman who is not effortlessly chic. It is both intimidating and inspiring, because it pushes me every day to dress way better than I normally would to try to earn their respect.
Second, French people aren’t as rude as they’re made to seem. About a week ago, while walking through the Montparnasse neighborhood after dinner with some friends, we saw a group of French children playing a game of ninja on the street and decided to join in. They didn’t care how good our French was or that we were foreigners, and they thought it was hilarious that a group of twenty-something Americans wanted to play a kid’s game in the middle of the street. That has been my experience almost everywhere: the French accept and respect you if you just try to speak their language, and most of the time they think you’re adorable. PS: French children are really, really good at ninja.
Third, they really do eat cheese all the time, and it is amazing. I have dinner with my host mom three times a week, and after the main course she always brings out salad and a plate of four or five different cheeses from different regions of France, after which she describes each one in detail and has me taste them properly (with a baguette, of course). My first week, she reprimanded me for buying brie from the grocery store because it was too “industrielle.” I have since learned my lesson.
Finally, France is so much more than the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. It is the tiny cafés wedged into cobblestone alleyways, the wrought-iron balconies jutting out from every 19th century apartment building, and the hidden bookstores nestled into narrow lanes. It is the steely gray sky, the cool air, and the sound of street performers playing the accordion on busy corners. Paris has its own rhythm, its very unique personality, unlike anywhere else I have ever been. And every day, it feels more and more like home.
It’s only been a month an a half since I began my semester here, but I have had my mind changed by so many experiences and have seen my perceptions shift each day. I have come to know my Paris, or at least the small section of it that I inhabit, and I am learning and exploring more as I go. I can’t wait to see what else this city has to teach me.