…. until I leave behind the soaring stained-glass windows of Sainte Chapelle, the miles and centuries of skeletons stacked inside the Catacombs, and the glow of the Eiffel Tower at night [as well as a few more wondrous things I mentioned here.]
Three months ago, I came with no grand expectations, no lengthy to-do lists of shopping on the Champs-Elysées (too expensive), climbing up the Eiffel Tower at night (worth it, no matter how cheesy), or trying overpriced macarons (definitely not worth it; alfajores are much better). In about 11 days, I will leave this barbaric paradise, appreciative and relieved.
Appreciative for the chance to get the living-in-romantic-Paris-for-a-few-months bug out of my system; to witness a city that’s changed much in terms of history and architecture, but very little in terms of mindset over the last few centuries; to eat the best crunchy-outside-and-soft-interior baguettes you can imagine; to better appreciate [American] washing machines that don’t jam your fingers as you attempt to close them and [American] windows that have screens to keep out mosquitoes and [American] diets that include real vegetables and fruits, not drenched in butter or syrup.
Relieved to find out that I will not need to move to Paris to be happy, as I had naively thought as a kid. I’ll miss the endless array of colorful, completely unhealthy pastries on display in neighborhood bakeries; the ability to walk along the Seine on a warm night with the yellow haze of lights transforming the water into Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhône; and the inevitable respect for the old and older while walking down the small, winding streets of the Marais… But I won’t miss the many rude waiters, the urine-stained streets, the racism and resistance to change, the need to wear heels to a grocery store to fit in.
My humble verdict: Is Paris worth visiting? Absolutely. Is it worth living in? Only if you live with friends.
As a little girl, I had this whimsical idea that Paris was like Disneyland, except for grown-ups–particularly, grown-ups who loved romance and passion, culture and art, and were fairly creative and open-minded.
After the seven weeks I’ve now spent here, I can say without a doubt that this is at most 5 % true. I share the same streets as men who think it’s perfectly fine to urinate against a wall in public (and have been doing so for centuries without fail); as men who think it’s perfectly fine to shout sexual slurs at women walking down a street alone, as if that automatically makes her a prostitute; as men who step on you or push you while dancing and never think to apologize. Forgive me for having expected to live amongst an advanced civilization. No, instead I find people living in Paris who’ve never heard of Moldova, even though this is just past the edge of the European Union; people who unabashedly make assumptions about Americans and the British without having ever visited either country; people who call themselves socialists living in a country of “liberté, egalité, fraternité” while still holding onto extremely xenophobic views.
As for creative and open-minded: if there’s one thing that my class on Parisian architecture taught me, it’s that the French resist change, and hate foreign influence even more. Throughout Paris’s history, many of its most influential architects, ministers, and kings have pushed for a “French” style. The result: homogenous (“harmonious”), colorless (mostly limestone and blue roof tiles), classical and neo-classical style, no matter the arrondissement or its history. When architects like Hector Guimard tried something different and innovative, the French thought it was over-the-top. The result is a city that is far from romantic, even in the springtime (which just means rain and/or clouds 90% of the time.) It’s saying something that Paris is more romantic and colorful at night–the yellow street lamps and black surroundings result in more color than you’d see in the daytime.
(Further examples of non-open-mindedness: Music? French music must be on radio airwaves at least 40% of the time during prime hours. Wine? Nothing but French will do. (It’s also usually cheaper, possibly because of government subsidies.))
Yes, I still have pretty pictures from my time in Paris so far. Some hidden gems are the interior of the Opera Garnier, the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, the Musée du Monde Arabe… and of course, the inside of Notre Dame. But will these spots of beauty overshadow the unpleasantries enough for me to want to live here? Probably not in the long term, though I’ll wait one month more to be certain.