How to Become Parisian

Hi everyone! I hope you’re not expecting an in-depth French beauty inspiration article because that is not what this post is about. I mentioned in a previous article that I turned myself into a Parisian to avoid being scammed. I also made this my goal because I wanted to fit in, to not look like a tourist and mostly to feel at home…and, friends, I sure did!

Here are some tips on how to swiftly turn yourself into a Parisian:

  1. Dress the Part: You may be thinking. Hm, I thought you said this wasn’t going to be a beauty/fashion article. This will be quick though, I promise! I was in Paris during one of the biggest canicules (heat waves) in Parisian history. It was around 100 degrees Fahrenheit/37 Celsius and Parisians don’t like AC because they think that it’ll give you a cold. It was HOT HOT HOT all the time. Therefore, dressing the part felt like an incredibly challenging task. I was still up for the challenge though. Instead of shorts, I opted for skirts, dresses, and nice breeze blouses. I always carried my cardigan around, specially when I had to do research at the library/the archives. It makes a good impression to not have bare arms. The French don’t usually wear flip flops or shorts, but that doesn’t mean you should dress up either. Opt for casual looks and don’t overdo it like the 897128309218 American influencers I saw every day.
  2. Make (it) UP too: Alright, alright. I need to talk about beauty a little bit. Wear a bare face or keep it light. Do NOT contour your face in Paris. I already mentioned that it was incredibly hot. Imagine if I had been sweating off pounds of foundation.  I only wore a couple of touches of concealer (because the dark circles under my eyes will ALWAYS be my biggest insecurity), some mascara and some lip balm. C’est tout ! In addition to that, make sure you don’t style your hair too much. Remember to keep it simple! 😉
  3. Learn the language: If you want to become an actual Parisian, you need to learn actual French! haha! I know that it’s easier said than done, but a little French goes a long way. The Frenchies appreciate it a lot and if you work on getting rid of your accent, they’ll love you even more. Order in French, ask for directions in French, THINK in French. I promise you that it’ll be appreciated.
  4. Learn the customs: I remember walking into a store with one of my American pals and having the owner give us a stern look until he said, “Vous êtes Américaines, n’est-ce pas ?” He hated us after that. It was the ONE time I forgot to say Bonjour and it bit me in the butt. When you walk into a shop or a resto, say “Bonjour”. Don’t forget your manners! Say Merci, S’il vous plaît, Excusez-moi, etc. Americans claim that French people are rude, but actually a lot of Americans don’t make the effort to learn the customs and use them on a daily basis in France. Be polite!
  5. Order like a Parisian: As Americans, we’re used to asking a lot of questions about the dishes on the menu or asking for a lot of changes (no pickle, no mustard, extra mayo). The Frenchies do not do that (especially if you don’t bother to (a)say it in French and (b) say it politely). The French have a specific menu that they carefully crafted and they expect you to order from that. Imagine if you had 50 different questions about a jambon beurre (ham and butter sandwich) at the boulangerie. I think the owner would kick you out. Remember to order like a Parisian: confident, polite, and sans questions!
  6. Memorize your route: I had people (mostly Non-Parisians) stop me on the streets to ask me for directions to the métro or to a specific street. I always gave them my best answer in French and if I didn’t know I would say, “C’est pas mon quartier” (It’s not my neighborhood) and I would keep walking. It always made me feel so excited as if I had fooled them somehow.
  7. Take the métro: You’re just going to have to do it. Ubers are SO American. Unless you’re going to and from the airport, I can’t see how an Uber can take you somewhere faster than the métro will. Memorize your line and make a routine out of it. It’ll be great!

These are all of my suggestions for “becoming a Parisian”. They all worked really well for me and I was only mistaken for a non-Parisian on one-on-one situations where I could no longer mask my American/Puerto Rican accent. Don’t get me wrong. This worked for a brown girl like me because Paris is so racially-diverse. That being said, Parisians still have a lot of biases about People of Color and they especially do not know what to make of Latinxs. At picnics, friends of friends would ask me if I was Asian or Moroccan because I didn’t look “American” . My advice is merely a series of options to portray a casual French vibe without getting carried away with a myriad of striped shirts, berets and baguettes.

Courage !

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Here’s a little outfit that I wore a lot: a simple dress. I took advantage of les soldes (yearly sales) and bought this one at Vicxite A. in the Montmartre area.

Purse: Mango. Ballet Flats: Michael Kors. Sunglasses: Rayban.

Traveling Solo in Paris

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As some of you may know, I spent Summer 2018 in Paris, France. It was a true dream come true, but it also came with a lot of worries (mostly from my mom). I made some ground rules, I followed my gut as best as I could, and I had the most spectacular time. Here are some tips on how to travel solo as a woman in Paris:

  1. Give yourself a Curfew: It may sound absurd, but trust me, it’s a great idea! I turned myself into Cinderella and made a point to be home by midnight every single night. Now, you may be thinking, “It is not that hard to do that”, but, my friends, Frenchies love to go hard. They love hopping from bar to bar until the crack of dawn sometimes. I was also in Paris during their big World Cup win, so yeah…. it was pretty hard, but I’m glad I stuck to my curfew. I felt safer and happier.
  2. Location, location, location: Make sure you find a safe area to live in! While Paris is mostly safe, I knew I didn’t want to live right next to the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe (mostly because of pickpockets, but I’ll get to that). I lived in the 18e arrondissement and it was AMAZING. Sure, it was still a little loud, but it was incredibly safe. It took me a l o n g time to find a nice apartment in the right location with the right roommates, but it was worth it! Do you research and it’ll pay off. Also, if you have any questions, just send me an email!
  3. Turn yourself into a Parisian: When I came back from Paris, a lot of people asked me if it had been difficult to live there and if I had had any problems concerning my race. My response? Not really! There were SO many people who assumed that I was just a Parisian girl minding my own business. I had at least ten people ask me for directions and they all faithfully trusted me. This had been my NUMBER ONE mission, which I know realize sounds funny. After having lived in a mostly-white Midwestern city as a “racially-ambiguous” American girl, I knew wanted to blend in….and I accomplished just that! Paris is such an amazing metropolitan city with so many racially diverse groups. I honestly felt at home. I’ll share a whole article as to how I managed to “become a Parisian”.
  4. IGNORE everyone: Guys, I wish I could say that it’s common sense to ignore strangers and pickpockets, but I saw SO many people who just didn’t seem to have any ! I lived quite close to Montmartre and Sacre Cœur and I cannot begin to tell you of how many people I saw getting scammed. The number one scam in touristy sites is the whole “Can you sign this petition?” thing. They butter you up until you end up giving them your signature, your cash and sometimes your credit card number. If a stranger approaches you, just ignore them! My number one trick is the following: sometimes the scammers would ask me “Do you know English? or Vous parlez français ?” to which I would respond, “Ah, mais non. Pas du tout” OR “Oh gosh, not at all” and keep walking. Sure, I’m lucky enough to be a polyglot and I would use any iteration of that in any language I know until they would leave me alone. Make sure to also avoid street sellers. They end up putting bracelets around your wrist and then demand payment. Just ignore them and you’ll be fine!
  5. Plan your Routes: I would spend every morning mapping out my route for my after-work plans. It worked perfectly. I knew exactly where I was going. I was confident and I succeeded. I didn’t get easily lost and I felt safe and comforted because I knew what was what and where I was going.
  6. Big Crowds?: So, I already mentioned that I was in France for the World Cup (Allez les Bleues !), but did I mention that I was also there during the Tour de France? 14 juillet? Semi-finals? Finals? Les vacances? Yes, I was in France during pivotal times of the year (with the exception of the RATP grèves -strikes- thank GOD). However, I tried to not let this get in the way of my safety. France is actually pretty organized when it comes to huge events. I planned to meet up with a new friend or two before going to watch the finals or the fireworks by the Eiffel Tower. I felt nice to have a buddy even if I had just met them!
  7. But what about Public Transport? Great question! Public transportation is the best way to move in Paris. I used it every single day. When you’re taking the métro, you need to make sure you have all of your bags as close to you as possible. If you’re wearing a jacket, put your hands inside it. Do not give anyone a chance to steal your money because they will–especially if you’re on an incredibly full wagon.

Et voilà ! These are my tips for safety success in Paris. I do have to briefly mention that I used airbnb to find an apartment and roommates. It was the safest way for me to find an apartment and make a payment without it being a scam. I read up on tons of reviews and I talked to my roommate/AirBnb host multiple times before actually booking the trip. He was fantastic with me and I trusted him completely.

All of these tips, however, don’t matter if you don’t trust yourself. Trust your gut!!! I know it sounds absurd, but confidence was what helped me ignore scammers, and take the métro sans problème

 

Maman, Papa, I don’t want to leave Paris

And so it begins…the countdown to my departure.

I feel like I want to savor every moment of Paris. I am progressively saying, “À bientôt” to the City of Lights and “Can’t wait” to get back to my life in the Midwest. Paris, a city that has worked its way into my heart, yet has managed to anger me the most. From the bustling métro rides to my strolls along Le Marais or Montmartre (two of my favorite neighborhoods, the latter I’m proud to call my own), I have to admit: I have fallen in love with Paris.

Take a left turn to take the métro? Run into a fabulous festival. Walk alongside la Seine? Fall in love with the beautiful sunset and have a little apéro. Forget to say Bonjour to the waitress? She’ll forget about you. Take your time taking out your Navigo Pass? Prepare yourself for the dirty looks, sighs and groans of Parisians

Paris is a contradiction, but it’s my contradiction and I love it so much.

Je ne veux pas quitter Paris, mais I have to…I’ll no longer speak Franglais with my expat friends or French on a daily basis. I’ll go back to an Anglophone world with no surprise expos, concerts or bisous avant de partir. The pains au chocolat and cheap wine will be limited [guys, Two-Buck-Chuck doesn’t count]. The sense of adventure will be gone from my Madisonian routine, but hélas, that’s the way it has to be.

Time has flown by, but I cherish every single moment I have spent here.

Living in Paris, even for such a short amount of time, has been an incredible and unforgettable adventure. I have a sense of melancholia and nostalgia that is endearingly inexplicable, but I appreciate it nonetheless. Paris, unlike other major cities I have lived in or visited, has worked its way into my heart and has produced the most complicated of emotions within me–emotions that I am unable to adequately describe in English.

Maman, Papa, je ne veux pas quitter Paris, mais I’ll be back !

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Métro-Boulot-Dodo

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Paris is a place of work for me. I wake up early in the morning, eat some French yogurt, and take the packed métro to the Archives or the Library. If I’m feeling fancy, I stop by the boulangerie and get a pain au chocolat.

There’s nothing luxurious or adventurous about this routine.

Parisians have the infamous expression, “Métro-Boulot-Dodo”, which basically just means “Metro-Work-Sleep”. I sometimes identify with this phenomenon. I get lost in the pursuit of my research and suddenly forget that there’s an entire world around it.

Work days in Paris are quite similar to work days in Wisconsin. I do what I’m supposed to do and when I’m supposed to do it. My schedule is quite flexible, but I work hard at what I do, yet…it’s a routine–one that I’ve built in so little time, but a routine nonetheless.

Paris may seem luxurious and fascinating (and it can be), but it’s not. After doing (very few) touristy things,  I realize just how different the tourist experience is from the I “métro-boulot-dodo” here. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Cœur? They’re all full of people and, sure, that’s the condition of living in a city, but it’s different. I seem to feel more at ease when I have a routine and when I meet up friends for a picnic outside of the city or a drink in our neighborhood.

I don’t care for the glamorous side of Paris. I don’t care for the weird stereotypes that we built up in our heads about European cities.

I care about genuine people, places, and emotions. I care about a job well done, a conversation over my lunch break or post-work drinks with friends. I care about connections, literature, philosophy and art….and, frankly, that’s hard to do in a sea of tourists waiting to capture the perfect shot.

The funny thing is that I am a tourist. I’m a tourist and I live here. I’m living abroad and I’m not living abroad here. I also do want a nice picture by the Seine or the Eiffel Tower, but I care about the experience too much to let that deter myself from it.

I don’t mean to sound unappreciative of the city, but there’s so much more to learn from it.

 

Paris, I Love You, but…

Despite having been here for a couple of weeks, I feel like I have spent a lifetime in Paris.

I thought that the constant stimuli of the city was bringing me down, but I am slowly coming off the hump of being here. Paris is an amazing city. I love getting lost in the city. I love finding the cemetery where Alexandre Dumas and François Truffaut were buried as I finish off the crêpe from that little hole in the wall of Montmartre.

I love having great research days and feeling fortunate enough to dig into “Classified” documents from World War II. I love ordering a café from the Madame near the métro stop by the National Archives. I love being mistaken for a local and, hopefully, directing tourists to the right métro stop.

Enfin, I love all the things I get to experience in the city, but…there’s a part of me that feels uneasy in the city. A part of me that prefers to stay in with a giant mug of coffee while I read a giant book (which is frankly impossible because my roommates don’t even own a coffee maker of any kind). A (big) part of me enjoys having a routine, checking books out at the Madison Public Library (whose security is frankly a joke compared to the National Library in France), and writing my dissertation at Stone Creek Coffee.

I love Paris, but I love regularity. However, I’m open to Paris in ways that I didn’t think were possible: making tons of new French and American friends, ordering a Ricard at the old café in Pigalle, celebrating the World Cup (on a gagné !), and watching the Bastille Day fireworks by the Eiffel Tower.

More to come soon…1dZ9_RO5gNC7DRV6cUptEnwyjxjsl2LB-mkXh1vUf6wFRT8tbN38QYWBRTmbWNPuZX1c5h582WQwmtSrRTLZdj1OE-cT_XIjldUkCx-ZRrfXqmY6TvyQGfFz2z2qN2BwAPbSJbd_4xzUGuMVE8u_jxr0YAbSl_Iv0q-7bythkePJu28S0mnZo34Cvu

Paris…a week later

“He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime.” Victor Hugo*

Ah, Paris…Victor Hugo does a wonderful job describing precisely how I feel about being in Paris. It’s only been a week since I got to Paris yet it feels like years. This city is a contradiction: radical beauty and sublime history engaging with terrible smells and unashamed disputes on the metro.

I cannot help to be amazed, surprised, and confused at this marvelous city. I am frankly never bored. There is so much to do and I’ve slowly gotten used to the hype of the city. I no longer need google maps to help me take the metro or to find out which route is better for work. I no longer get lost in a sea of unknown brands at the grocery store. I now get lost in the city and I enjoy it.

However, I keep thinking of this quote by Georg Simmel: “The psychological basis of the metropolitan type of individuality consists in the intensification of nervous stimulation which results from the swift and uninterrupted change of outer and inner stimuli.”

Paris is the city that never sleeps, not New York City (sorry, New Yorkers!). There is always something to do. I am never bored. I am constantly being stimulated by motorcycles driving down the boulevard, live music on my street, people-watching from my apartment balcony, watching football matches with mes potes, drinking French rosé by the Seine and simply talking about the wonders (and downfalls) of Paris over some falafel.

I love this stimuli, but I hate it too…and, just like that, I am a living contradiction just like my Paris.

*Qui regarde au fond de Paris a le vertige. Rien de plus fantastique, rien de plus tragique, rien de plus superbe.

The Art of Flâne(use)rie

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,
Une femme passa, d’une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balançant le feston et l’ourlet;

“À une passante”, Charles Baudelaire*

We all know this love story: Girl meets city. Girl falls in love with City. The End.

We’re used to hearing the narrative of the City as a character. From Carrie Bradshaw to the amazing cross-dressing George Sand, women  have been falling in love with cities for centuries. What is so appealing about the city though? What makes us indulge in the fantasy of living in a giant organism full of displaced peoples trying to “find themselves”?

This is fascinating to me from the female point of view. Women have been drawn to walking the city, so much that they’ve done the impossible to do it: dress like a man, leave your husband and family (George Sand, again). All’s end that ends well, right?

Perhaps not.

The noun, flâneuse (f), and its masculine form, flâneur, come from the verb, flâner, which is cognate with the Old Norse, flana, which means to act rashly. What is a flâneur/flâneuse and why are we, as humans, so invested in the art of flâne(use)rie ?

Flâneur can simply be translated as “stroller”, but can mean someone who wanders the city aimlessly, observing, and not being observed. Perhaps this is why it’s difficult to ascertain the flâneuse within this context. Women are observed on the street. Cat-called. Humiliated. Harassed.

Paris is perhaps the queen city of flâneuserie, but it’s virtually impossible to not be noticed by men. With the French #MeToo hashtag, #BalanceTonPorc, which places blame on the aggressors rather than the victim, it is quite difficult to stroll the streets of Paris. I try to lose myself in the city, frowning, hoping to not be noticed by the passers-by, yet…it happens.

Bringing back Baudelaire’s male gaze onto the female passante, he reduces the flâneuse to the admiration of her body.^

How can I master the art of flâneuserie when I am a woman myself?

By the Seine, on the rues of Paris, down the streets of Montmartre, it does not matter, the flâneuse is not invisible, but rather seen.

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*The deafening road around me roared.
Tall, slim, in deep mourning, making majestic grief,
A woman passed, lifting and swinging
With a pompous gesture the ornamental hem of her garment (1974, Wagner)

^Some critics argue that Charles Baudelaire’s poems should not be reduced to his misogyny (*roll-eyes*), but rather his views on individualism. I want to make it clear though, he was a misogynist.

**I recommend Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse: Women Walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo,  Venice, and London. (I’d skip over the entire Tokyo chapter, for a number of reasons)

 

Lost in Paris: the art of getting lost

Coucou from Paris !

As I had mentioned before, I will be living in Paris for the Summer, which is fantastic and a dream come true, etc etc etc….BUT dang it, it is a hard city to get accustomed to!

It took me three hours to get from Charles de Gaulle to my apartment. After taking a well-deserved nap after a sleepless night, I started thinking about the art of getting lost. In the Catalan-French film, L’auberge espagnole, Xavier is in Barcelona for the first time with his luggage feeling lost and insecure. He says, “Quand on arrive dans une ville, on voit des rues en perspective des suites des bâtiments vides de sens…tout est inconnu, vierge.” [When we arrive in a city, we see streets in perspective of buildings empty of meaning…everything is unknown, virginal].

This short part of the film always always reminds me of life in a new city. Everything can be disorienting and bizarre. Even though Xavier knows the Spanish language (even though Catalonia’s official language is technically Catalan) and has a map that is supposed to guide him, he still manages to get lost. My biggest desire is always to find something to hold onto–something that feels familiar and not uncanny. Nonetheless, it is incredibly difficult to not get lost. It just happens to you. Oh, you were supposed to head west on Boulevard de Clichy, not east. Suddenly, the mind plays tricks on you spatially (regardless of how good you are at directions) and you find yourself in between two other fellow American tourists,  who are trying to find Moulin Rouge, trying to figure out where west is.

This feeling isn’t exclusive to Paris. I’ve felt this way in the many cities I’ve encountered: New York, Rio de Janeiro, San Juan and Madison (the latter two I live/have lived in for years too]. My first time driving in San Juan with my roommate turned out to be a two hour drive around the city trying to find this little bar that ended up being a block and a half away from our apartment. When I first moved to Madison, I went for a walk trying to find James Madison Park and I ended up in a crazy intersection facing Lake Monona instead of Lake Mendota. It happens, but then, magically, you figure out how to take public transportation. You figure out that the 14 in Rio is full of gatunes (thieves), so you try to avoid it. You realize that Lower Manhattan isn’t really that complicated to figure out even though it frankly feels that way after spending most of your time in Upper Manhattan.

My trick is to accept getting lost as a part of your experience in a new city. It’s not [as] tragic if you planned for it..or at least that’s what I tell myself!