L’amour/La Haine

Allow me to be frank, please.

The U.S. is constantly fed an extremely exoticized, romanticized version of Paris via the media and means to lure tourists. I do not know when or why this started, but I, in addition, was victim to its spell until actually living here. I think that most of us, when pondering Paris, imagine the most beautiful, romantic, fashionable, artistic, perfect city on Earth. Disparate things, such as the movie Moulin Rouge or the Long Beach restaurant La Crêperie, are more pleasurable experiences because one can virtually transport oneself to the City of Lights. I even, at one point in my life, had my bedroom decorated in a “Paris” theme, with Eiffel Tower motifs and all. Why Paris? Why not any other city?

It was quite disturbing when I came to the realization that Paris is not the Promised Land. In fact, there have been so many times when, within the course of the same day, I hate Paris and then love it a few hours later.

First of all, though this might sound like the pettiest complaint of all, it’s so. cold. here. And cloudy. How many times do I have to re-learn the same lesson, that I really hate living in a place that is cold and cloudy every single day? It’s not like I lived in Seattle for two years or anything… it’s just that, being cold makes me physically uncomfortable. Walking around outside, I find myself tensing up my whole body to fight it off, with limited success. I don’t like having to layer and wear giant coats all of the time; I feel like I can be so much more creative with my outfits when I don’t have to have actual practical concerns about the weather. Furthermore, not seeing the sun for weeks at a time really does put a damper on my mood. The few times that it has been sunny here, I felt, in myself, lighter as well; the sunshine makes me appreciate the small things in life a lot more.

Additionally, not to generalize an entire population of people or anything, but Parisians actually are rude. In Istanbul, for example, if I ever looked lost, someone would come up to me and spend twenty minutes with me looking up directions on their phone or actually walking me to wherever I needed to go. In Paris, that does not exist, and a Parisian might even seem annoyed upon being asked for directions. Furthermore, I have encountered numerous times being at bars or clubs in which everyone there seemed as if they only came with their friends and without a desire to meet new people; I typically have to be the one to make the effort in socializing with new people.

And it’s noisy and crowded here, and too concrete, and I hate being squeezed like a sardine in the metro, and blah blah blah…

However, whilst walking around with my giant coat and tense muscles, I’ll take a look around and stumble upon a historical monument or a beautiful, world-famous museum. How am I so lucky to live in the city that contains Notre Dame, Sacré Coeur, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower? I feel like I live in an art history textbook, and for that I am so appreciative.

Then I’ll meander down an extremely narrow, cobblestoned street, filled with cute cafés and boulangeries; they reside at the bottom of cream-colored, historical-looking buildings with black railings and flower boxes on the balconies. I will think to myself, “Shit, this city is beautiful!”

Finally, in the night, I will go to a club filled to the brim with snooty hipsters. However, I will dance my booty off until the wee hours of the morning to the best electronic music that I’ve ever heard, and I will realized that only in Paris could this happen. (Might I add that it seems so normal to me that I would be allowed into a club. I’m twenty years old! I’m an adult!)

I can feel like I am being bratty during my moments in which I don’t like living in Paris. For example, when I was taking the train from Southern France to Paris, I actually thought to myself, “Man, too bad I have to go back to Paris now!” Like, what a terrible problem to have! However, as much as I try to be as appreciative as possible, I think viewing this city with honest eyes instead of idealized eyes is also an important endeavor. It has definitely been an interesting process to live a more quotidien life here as opposed to being on vacation; studying abroad in Paris is vastly different than what I experienced as a tourist here last year. And for that, my return back to the United States will definitely be bizarre, if not bittersweet.

How My Fashion Crisis Was a Metaphor for Being a Foreigner

If it were solely up to me, I would dress like this everyday:

However, this picture was taken on Halloween, and I wouldn’t dare wear all of these pieces at the same time in Paris. Why? Everyone here wears one of three colors: black, grey, or tan. Sometimes navy blue when they’re feeling adventurous. Don’t get me wrong, Parisians are an incredibly stylish bunch. Both men and women always look very chic yet effortless- like, “Oh, this old thing that I just threw on this morning?” However, it’s as if everyone wants to match the sky, and the autumn sky here is hovered by a constant mass of grey clouds. In that sense, Parisian fashion is not particularly concerned with individual style; there is no such thing as choosing between being punk, boho, girly, preppy, minimalist, just straight up weird, etc. There is one look that both women and men share without fail, and it tends to be: a nice peacoat, a cashmere scarf, slim fit pants or, for women, a skirt with black tights, and tan, leather boots. While this look is very stylish, there is one problem: it’s not me.

At all.

I like to match the sky on a sunny day, not a cloudy day. I like to match gardens, the ocean water in Hawaii, Bordeaux wine, Jamaican flags, Indian saris! I like vibrant prints, white eyelet, dramatic earrings, head scarves, large and unique rings that I’ve received as gifts over the years, long skirts! I like clothes that express life, love, happiness, femininity, sensuality. I want to brighten the world and express my spirit through my outfits.

But how do I do that in Paris when I so desperately want to fit in?

I live in a city that generally dislikes the country from which I come; as so many loud, obnoxious, Republican, entitled American tourists who don’t speak a word of another language besides English have filled Parisian tour buses over the years, I don’t want to be viewed in that same light. I want people to mistake me for a Parisian as opposed to being “That American.” In fact, I am flattered when, from my accent whilst speaking in French with someone, he or she asks if I am British- because, thank God, he or she does not think that I’m American!

In that regard, to what extent must I abandon my identity in order to assimilate into French culture? I would like to think that I am not loud or obnoxious, I generally do not feel entitled as a traveler, I am not a Republican, and I do speak French. However, must I go as far as to dress exactly like the general French public as well?

One night, while getting ready to go to an open mic night at a café, this inner conflict reached its climax, and I had a Fashion Crisis. It took me nearly two hours of changing my clothes to realize that, ultimately, I really wanted to wear this bright turquoise tunic of mine with orange and cork wedges. I knew that it was not a Parisian look at all, but my inner self was feeling turquoise and orange and had to express itself as such. Trying on neutral colored clothes with neutral colored boots just felt wrong; I felt off; I didn’t feel like myself. At that moment, I realized that being true to myself was more important than trying to entirely blend into another culture- for there is a difference between respecting another culture and denying one’s own identity.

Therefore, I wore the turquoise tunic with the orange and cork wedges. I added black tights and a black leather jacket because it was cold outside, and I also threw on a pile of bangles that I have collected from various friends, places in the world, and Forever 21. My life felt right again.

Life, Love, Stress, and Setbacks

I don’t know where to begin. I’m living in a new country, and it is so many things all at the same time- beautiful, overwhelming, exciting, scary. Katherine coincidentally ended up being my roommate, and our apartment is small and cute- a perfect Parisian experience. We live on a really cool street that lacks tourists and English speakers but has cute cafés, pâtisseries, and sandwich stands. My host family is so much better than I could have imagined; my host mom, Gaëlle, is literally the nicest person on the planet, and her nine-year-old son, Naël, is equal parts sweet and sassy. They don’t speak English, which I actually love because it forces me to practice my French and to try and figure out other ways to explain something when I don’t know the right word for it. I’ve been taking French for longer than Katherine has, so I actually have to translate for her sometimes. Naël expresses his sassiness with occasional remarks of “En français!” or by correcting our grammar. I appreciate it though! It is very helpful.

Paris itself is a very beautiful city. I have actually been here before; I visited Paris for four nights last summer, which is what officially cemented my desire to study abroad here. I feel comfortable here and an actual connection with my roots. You see, my ancestors came from Russia, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, and France, so it’s understandably difficult for me to feel like I have a culture. However, France is the only one of those five countries that I have been to, and I honestly do feel more in touch with my people and can maybe understand a little bit more deeply why I am the way that I am. Seriously! Anyhow, I like being in a place whose culture I understand and whose language I more or less understand.

However, everything isn’t all peaches. Moving to a foreign country is difficult. What doesn’t help is the nature of the study abroad program that I’m in; I’m here with other UW students, taking classes with UW professors and, while I do like the people in my program (holla!), it’s hard not to feel like I’m isolated in a UW bubble. For the past few weeks, I was constantly traveling and meeting cool people every day; it’s much harder to meet actual French people/non-Americans now that I’m not staying in a hostel, Couch Surfing, or attending a French university. Part of my program also requires weekly “field trips”, in which all 23 of us go somewhere in Paris and look like a big American tourist group. I want to feel like I actually live here- not like a tourist in my own city.

And though I’m pretty good at French, I’m not fluent. It’s also kind of odd being in a city in which nearly everyone speaks perfect English as well as French; like, it’s a weird thing to know in the back of my head- that if I try to communicate with someone in French, they might realize that I’m not French and start speaking to me in English. I feel even more pressure than if I was a beginner at French and could have that as an excuse- that “Je parle le français un peu!” I almost feel like I can sympathize more with immigrants and international students within the U.S. who aren’t perfect at English. It’s fuckin’ hard! It’s scary to try to not only communicate with but establish meaningful relationships with people in a language in which you are not fluent.

Regardless, I have been doing some really fun things! The other night, for example, Katherine, her French/UW friend Marine, and I all went to an open mic night at a café. It was an English-speaking event, and it was so inspiring to hear such awesome poetry. Also, yours truly performed at it! I’ve only performed at maybe two open mic nights in my life, and for the longest time I was incredibly secretive and sensitive about my poetry. I’m finally starting to change that, and performing was quite exhilarating!  I want to start going there regularly as well as attending their writers’ workshops.

I also started taking ballet! In the land where ballet was invented! Here, they simply call it “la danse classique.” I’ve been focusing solely on salsa dancing for the past couple of years, so it felt soooo good to return to the kind of dance that I used to do back in the day. I just love moving my body and feeling graceful and elegant. Thus, I have also decided that I’m going to become a ballerina (at least while I’m in Paris).

Other less interesting things that I have been up to? Why, hours spent sitting in cafés and writing, exploring the nightlife, shopping, going on long walks around the city, going to Balenciaga exhibits, and, uh, studying…

It’s been odd trying to settle down here when, in the month of September alone, I was in a total of five different countries. Thus, I’m trying to create a balance between having, like, some sort of a normal life and having adventures. But why be normal when you can be adventurous?!

Also, here’s the one photo that exists of me in Paris. C’était au restaurant :D.