1) From the vastness of the outback to the metro-boulot-dodo crowded Parisien lifestyle, it was a strange adjustment if ever there was one. The gravity of Europe’s refugee crisis hit home and the ubiquitous presence of armed troops served as a constant reminder of the underlying tension following the attacks that rocked the city last year.
2) The centre of Paris is abound with beautiful buildings, oozing grandeur and extravagance and dripping with nuggets of history that flow down to the banks of the Seine. High end shops, trendy cafes and an air of snobbery blend to create an atmosphere that only really Paris could get away with.
3) When I alluded to the beautiful, historical buildings that form the backbone of central Paris, that did not, for obvious reasons, include the Montparnasse tower, whose Kit Kat like appearance and visibility throughout the city rather obstruct the skyline, leading me to question all modern architectural city planning. I just can’t quite see the Parisien look they were trying to emulate here. However, its one redeeming feature comes in the form of the magnificent view from the top… if rookies climb the Eiffel Tower, pros take on (the lift) of La Tour Montparnasse.
4) The Parisiens speak fast. Very fast. Yes/no questions are never given yes/no answers. And why explain something succinctly in 5 minutes when you can talk about/around it for, say, over an hour? (Light relief provided by the fact that at least 40% of each paragraph spoken comprises french noise … Euh… Bon…Alors… Hein… Bref…Ouais…)
5) However the French cannot be blamed for not answering oui/non to a yes/no question. The British also avoid these answers with the standard “I don’t mind.” Failing to find a satisfactory translation, I understood this to explain a significant part of the cultural difference and took the opportunity to become more decisive.
6) Living with a host family exposed Fais pas ci, fais pas ça as more of a documentary than a sitcom. I could have phrased this “more of a documentary than a drama” but that would be overlooking the fact that things here are all drama, all the time; the French having mastered the art of reactionary communication.
7) A world of peace, tranquility and happiness exists just a few short hours away from Paris in the form of the white chalk cliffs of Étretat.
8) Times of stress and brain frazzle can lead you to (temporarily) put aside your lifelong dislike of liquorice and our feline friends to snuggle up with Réglisse the family cat.
9) They will never admit it, but the French secretly love the Royal family.
10) The place is a total bureaucratic logjam. Everything is complicated. Nothing is straightforward. It is equally refreshing and disturbing that French people find their bureaucracy to be a shambles and fail to do anything about it. The epitome of the logjam perhaps being the postal system, oh the postal system. At this point I can only quote my host mum: “franchement la poste en France c’est casse-pieds… ca me rend dingue… c’est l’infer…!!!”
11) For examples of the pompous extravagance of French architecture, let yourself by dazzled by the chandeliers adorning the roof of Palais Garnier opera house or the sweeping symmetrical gardens surrounding the Château de Versailles.
12) Road rage in Britain is taken out on the passengers in one’s own car or, for better or for worse, internalised and taken out on one’s family swiftly upon return. Road rage in France is taken out instantly and directly on the offending party. Cautious driving is not a thing here. Neither is respecting green men or disabled parking spaces or indeed any parking spaces. Why not park in the middle of the road and hold everyone up while you unload a statue? And if you are the one being held up be sure to wake everyone up and let everyone know about it by beeping your horn repeatedly. And on that note if a road is one way, but nobody is coming the other way, there is no problem in going the wrong way down a one way street and if anyone dare contradict you (for example by driving straight towards you the right way) show them you mean business by making use of that horn and yelling out the window.
13) Exceeding all expectations, snails are actually quite nice, despite the fact they are consumed with torture weapons. Foie gras, on the other hand, is not (nice or consumed with torture weapons, just to clarify).
14) I hear the Louvre has some pretty nice paintings, am I right? For me, after seeing (the corner of) the Mona Lisa through the crowds, the Louvre is more a place to get in some pedometer steps or study the fascinating behaviour of fellow tourists. Especially when they are trying to locate a) a painting or b) a family member gone astray in the 17 km of corridors.
15) Although the sky sometimes dramatically collapsed (perhaps an apt representation of the world in 2016?)…
…hope and happiness can always be found in the little things. The barista that starts your day with a smile, a random quirky sinking building outside a mainline train station and a jazz band to kick off your metro journey on a good note.
A brief aside… notes on life in the 6th arondissement.
For a couple of weeks I found that my status within French society had been elevated. A move to Rue de Seine, living with family members who work for Vogue and waking up with a view of the dome of the École national supérieure des beaux-arts was altogether a different lifestyle to the student lifestyle I am accustomed to. Observing how the other half live proved to be endlessly fascinating.
Let me explain. The 6th especially specialises in little modern art galleries, containing perhaps one or two pieces of “art” at most, but always filled with the French, class of wine in hand, scrutinising whatever is on offer.
French men can be found together in these galleries, jackets over one shoulder, wine in hand, staring at a blank wall. French ladies in the 6th are to be found tottering about in heels, small dog under arm. If one wishes to find evidence that these manicured-to-perfection-guinea-pig-sized-hair-tied-up-in-pigtails-creatures are actually dogs, one need look no further than the soles of one’s shoes. The co-existence of the trendy inhabitants of the 6th and the dog poo that graces the cobbles on which they walk is truly a incomprehensible french conundrum.
The 6th is also the arondissement where the French and the tourists (read non-french) collide, yet the two world’s do not merge. If you walk back after a hike in trainers and covered in mud you are not seen by the local inhabitants.
16) Paris is expensive. Enough said.
17) Classic by day… classic by night…
18) Another truly incomprehensible French conundrum is their relationship with smoking. Dinner conversations often revolved around who had started smoking in my host brother’s class. A fieldtrip is broken up several times for “une petite pause pour les intoxicants.” While I hate to say it, they are undeniably the only nation who smoke with style and make it look (slightly?!) cool.
19) I spent a significant chunk of my time in Paris climbing up tall buildings (had to make up for the lack of mountains somehow) to get amazing views, the climb always being worth it…
20) A highlight of the semester was my French class.
This is where I picked up some essential lingo such as while cows worldwide go “moo,” in France they “meuh.” Roosters, much to everyone’s amusement only cock-a-doodle-do in English, in France they “cocorico” with style.
21) Point 21 seems an apt place to finish musings on a somewhat stressful semester. But, heck, in hindsight things never seem so bad and now the memory of strolling along the banks of the Seine to class seems to have replaced the reality of being honked at while breathing in toxic fumes that engulf the Seine in a haze of fog and rain (the pollution in Paris is a shocker). While I heard many a time “but you’re in Paris, shouldn’t it be wonderful?!” I’ve come to the conclusion that living in Paris and being a tourist in Paris are two entirely different realities. As is life in Paris compared to life in the rest of the Hexagon. While exploring was fun, the splendour, fanciness and slight pretentiousness are really not for me. Give me mountains, lakes, sunshine and hiking boots any day. So, it is with some relief that as the sun sets on the Paris chapter, new adventures are just a sunrise away…