If I got the opportunity to move to Paris, here’s what my dream version of life there would look like.
Before I go, I have spent at least a year doing an intensive course, speaking with natives, immersing myself in French content and research about Paris. I’m confident enough with my language skills to know that I will move beyond Bonjour when I arrive and I will be able to get myself to wherever I need to go next. I will ask any questions I happen to think of along the way and no one at the airport will even get a chance to come up to me and ask, “Madame, vous-parlez français?” as I briefly pause by the ticket machines for my train.
My apartment might be tiny, but there will be an enormous window, either floor-length or with a window seat. No matter how small, the place will be in good condition, the shower will be working, and if it does break, my French will be sufficient to fend for myself as I try to find someone to fix problem. If I happen to have an attractive downstairs neighbor, I will not make the mistake of confusing his floor for mine, instead identifying distinguishing landmarks for myself to make sure I arrive at my own door. Maybe I’ll lay down a doormat. By the way, I’ll also take a smaller window, just as long as there is one. Oh, and a safe neighborhood would be nice, doesn’t matter how far away from central Paris, just as long as there’s a subway station and a supermarket within walking distance. And a bakery. And a post office. Maybe a park, doesn’t have to be big.
I will take all the inevitable big and small culture shocks, bureaucratic hurdles, daily struggles in stride, because I will hopefully have enough hard-boiled common sense to know that Paris is not bending to my will. I will use very modern things like Facebook and the internet to my advantage to find expat groups, meet-ups, free walking tours for those first few months. I will read and YouTube a ton to find out more about questions that pop up along the way, because so many people have already produced very helpful content about How Things Are Done Here, also about the workplace.
In the meantime, my French will improve through being surrounded by it all the time when I’m not sleeping. I’ll mentally note down all the little phrases and turns of conversation, always remember to say Bonjour Madame and Bonjour Monsieur in the appropriate situations, pardon, excusez-moi. I’ll become so fluent, I’ll be able to be sarcastic in French, convey all my quirks and idiosyncrasies while still sounding almost like a local, get why things are funny and never commit a social faux pas.
Because French is the key, it is always the key, to that dream Paris life. Now, doesn’t this all sound ideal?
What can I add that hasn’t been said already… Well, just in case, I could add the trailer.
The internet was talking about this so much, I just couldn’t stand aside, though I’m often able to, content to wait until the noise dies down and it’s quiet enough for me to think for myself. I got wind of the reactions and reviews before I’d even seen the trailer or had any clue Emily in Paris existed. I was enjoying the stuff people were posting and writing so much, I just had to see what it was all about. Luckily, with only ten episodes available to stream so far, this was doable in less than a week. Paris is, fortunately, a big part of my life, and I miss it very much these days. This was part of the reason, as it might have been for many others, that I dived right in. I’m neither French or American, but here’s what I have to say. Warning, minor spoilers ahead.
The whole not speaking French and getting a job in Paris thing…
OK, so the opportunity to go work in Paris for a year basically fell into Emily’s lap unexpectedly, so one could argue that she simply didn’t have time to learn French or never considered she would need to. What’s interesting is that despite the language class she does start attending during the series, or the amount of French she hears around her on a daily basis (because if you go to France, there is NO WAY to avoid hearing French everywhere A LOT, duh), neither seems to be having any visible impact on her. Her Bonjour and Très stubbornly retain the American R in every episode. Sure, some sounds take work to reproduce properly when you’re learning a foreign language. But the implication is also that it’s impossible for her to pronounce things the correct way, which brings me to my next point…
The horribly cliché representation of French people…and of Americans?
Fair point, enough said. But aren’t Americans, through our heroine, also represented in a cliché way? Just like not every single French person exhibits all the, um, qualities depicted in the show, surely not every single American disregards the importance of learning the language of the country they find themselves in, only goes so far as to look for daily interpreters, expects everyone to speak English, treats Paris as a playground and is ready to confidently instruct anyone how to do life and work? I can’t decide whether the show is meant to show actual belief in what Emily represents or her character is supposed to remind us that, yes, such people do still exist, and it’s not the best thing. In fact, I’m wondering, is she full of clichés or is she simply almost fascinatingly clueless? Basically, is the show painting ALL of its characters with the same brush, regardless of their nationality?
But back to French things and Paris
My travel-hungry eyes feasted on every single shot of Paris cleaner than I have ever seen it. Than anyone has ever seen it, probably. The visuals are wonderful and that’s fine. It was also less crowded than I’ve experienced it in tourist areas, which is also a fantasy I’m willing to accept. The city is, of course, about so much more than its visual appeal, which seems to be the only dimension capturing Emily and her phone so far. Paris is a whole world onto itself, and I’m not sure this is possible to convey through the current concept of the series. Maybe that’s not supposed to happen. But still, Emily biting into her first pain au chocolat and reducing it to a “Oh my God, butter and chocolate” combination? Non. Emily rejecting her rare steak because it’s “wrong”, without having done some prior research or politely asking before ordering? Non. Emily making fun of how the French say her last name? See above for Bonjour and Très. Non. Emily wearing berets every chance she gets, because we are clearly expecting this from Paris fashion? Non. I’m surprised the striped shirt hasn’t made an appearance yet. Emily being rudely dictated which roses she is allowed to buy by the lady who sells them? Non.
Then there’s all that stuff about French guys
My impression is that the two recurring points in the online debates on this topic are whether Gabriel is likable and how realistic it is to have an attractive downstairs neighbor when you move into your Parisian apartment. Point two gets a quicker answer: sometimes you have attractive neighbors, sometimes you don’t. But it’s definitely an issue to be addressed for all those ambitious dreamers moving to Paris. As well as the fact that said neighbor should come with the following attributes: either single and honest about it OR taken and honest about it. On the other hand, he might just want his privacy, like any normal person. Now to point one. Is Gabriel likable? He’s very attractive, he’s got that whole smize thing going on, he’s easily confident around women, he considers it a normal reaction to kiss a woman who is not his girlfriend back after she kisses him…this isn’t just a French thing or a French guy. Take away the beautiful language, the seamless flirting (let’s give him that one), and you will find this guy in many, many countries. As well as the guy who told Emily what he liked after the dinner party her friend Mindy threw, the older leering men (not so sure about the lingerie gift delivered to work, though, but hey, it’s fiction), the confident mansplainer.
So many shows have provoked questions not dissimilar to those following Emily in Paris. Wow, see what I did there, see it? It’s a fine line between escapism and how far you can suspend disbelief while still being able to relate to characters and events. Because no matter how much switching off happens in the brain, there has to be some connection felt to what’s on the screen. Bottom line, they achieved what they set out to do. I’ve watched it all, I’ve contributed to views, I’m writing way more about it than I intended and I’m probably not even the target audience. Et voilà.
The two days that we had in Nice were definitely enough to get many unforgettable impressions of this famous city and to understand why holidaymakers have flocked here for more than two centuries.
I’ve already detailed my swimming experience at the local beach, and after that it was time to do some discovering around the city. Being successfully frenchified on our tourist level, after the swim and some lunch we set out to locate one of the nearby patissieries. It took a bit of circulating despite the aid of Google Maps, BUT in the process we discovered where life was happening slightly beyond our quiet hotel.
We turned a corner and walked straight into rue Masséna, and it was like entering a little world of its own. Gone were the white and pastel of the hotels lining the Promenade des Anglais, instead I saw yellow, burnt orange, minty green, brown, red, and more restaurants crammed on both sides of this mostly pedestrian zone than I could count. Pizza, pasta, oysters, glasses of white wine sparkling in the evening sunshine, every single table I could see occupied. This was it. This was the epitome of joie de vivre. C’etait la vie itself!
The rue Masséna leads to the historic Place Masséna, with its red-white architecture and colonnades. It is wide and spacious, thankfully not spoiled by kiosks, construction or crowds. All I feel is buzzing, encompassing joy that it’s summer and that I’m here.
A short distance away is a local landmark I had absolutely no idea about before we came here, and which turns out to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, namely the Albert I Garden. It’s still light out and we walk through the gates to see visitors running, jumping, dancing across a vast space covered in water and small fountain jets. So as it turns out, we can also, quite literally, walk on water.
We have a few hours left before departure and set off in search of the flower market. While we don’t see the flowers, we do wander around the market, and then quickly find ourselves in the old town, the heart of Nice. Buildings here stand much closer together and there are plenty of side streets cloaked in shadow. Guides cycle through alleys with tourist groups, passing restaurants, artisan boutiques and the inevitable colorful souvenir shops. While things are busy enough, the atmosphere and the sounds are completely different from the Promenade and the high street. It’s simply beautiful. I’m enchanted.
We take our first walk along the spacious Promenade des Anglais and after one look at the sea on our right I am forever informed of just what makes up the Côte d’Azur. Yes, I got a taste in Cannes, and now the cycle is complete. Welcome to Nice!
It’s a beautiful city, gorgeous, in fact. Everything is on a noticeably bigger scale than in Cannes. Lots of white and pastel in the local architectural landscape as well, at least among the modern buildings, while in the distance I already glimpse stone and red-tiled roofs. Hotels are everywhere, one more impressive than the other. The rest of the world seems far away, except for the unsurprising, but still unnerving moment when I glimpse armed soldiers patrolling the Promenade.
My dad had been here a long time ago and I remembered him saying the beach was covered in stones, and the same obviously went for the bottom of the sea, making it very hard to walk to the water, then get in and get out. Fast forward several years later and here we are. I’m about to experience this for myself.
I’m feeling confident. I’ve successfully tested out my swim shoes in Cannes, albeit on sand. Now they will get their real chance! We walk down the steps to the beach, me having changed into the shoes beforehand. The pebble covered ground is very level and we make our way through the numerous spread out (sun)bathers already there. I feel fine. We can do this! It’s just a few skips and catching the right moment to wade in, right? We get to the water’s edge and discover that the descent down, though not high, is steep. Waves break against the shore, which is covered, as far as the eye can see, with glistening wet egg-sized stones.
I take a tentative step forward and as my self-protection instincts kick in, several things become clear. Despite my shoes, it is actually very hard to remain standing if you try to go down to the water. The stones, though round, stick out at all sorts of angles. There are no rules to getting in and out – some people do it on all fours, others try to take it at a run and a leap, while some also slide in on a air mattress. My knees and elbows feel very exposed, not to mention any other part of my body containing bones. When my dad first talked about his experience here, I couldn’t quite imagine what he meant. Now I know and I have no further questions whatsoever.
We’re on a public beach, which means that getting into the water is entirely up to us. I propose setting off to where I think the descent looks more level and wonder whether I should wiggle in on my butt, though crouching down on those stones doesn’t look appealing. I bend down to tighten the elastic on my right shoe and it breaks apart in my hand.
A few minutes of determined walking seamlessly brings us to a private beach – everyone is concentrating so hard on careful steps or guarding their seat, there is practically no interaction between people. Finally, we see a short, low wooden pier with no bars on the sides. It wobbles very slightly above the waves, but there’s a ladder! Jumping off the pier is forbidden, and with good reason, because a) the water is not deep here; b) rocky bottom, see above; c) I wouldn’t want to do it anyway.
The ladder requires turning my back to the sea, stepping on the first rung with one foot, gripping the (slightly slippery) handles with both hands, and then proceeding down. Honestly, I don’t know what I was more afraid of, falling on the stones, or falling off that ladder. But I make it! Did I mention it wobbled as well? What an adventure.
I’m in that water, which I’ve been dreaming of ever since we got here. I can’t see the bottom and I’m swimming in azure. There are no buoys in sight. I’m hoping my right shoe stays on my foot, because this is one situation where I don’t fancy being Cinderella. It’s a magical blue sea and I barely have to move as the water carries me on its own. We forget about the journey back to shore (which we successfully master) for a while. I can sea it all now.
Cannes is lovely. It’s a beautiful coastal city with a lot of flair and plenty of history, and despite its often mentioned connection to the rich and famous of the world, it feels approachable.
This morning we stepped out of our hotel into the brilliant sunshine to see a typical British hen do group clearly having just checked out. Thankfully, they were both sober and well-behaved. The bride was wearing a white jumpsuit and a pink newsboy cap covered in sequins of the same color (I’d say that’s pretty classic), while her posse, at least ten of them, were all dressed in black shirts and jeans, accompanied by enormous suitcases. Perhaps we’re in a different kind of district, but there has been no wild partying here thus far and I’m liking the vibe in our “residence”. In fact, we successfully moved to our intended apartment and we’re loving it. Everyone staying here seems intent on pursuing their own vacation plans, and we’re just the same.
Swimming distances at our beautiful beach have increased day after day. A woman passes me in the water and says something in French with a smile, of which I only understand the first half, but it seems to be approval of the water. I couldn’t agree more myself. And she just spoke to me in French! Do I look French? Do I swim French? We’ve also theorized that the underwater platform further out from the shore that we’ve stood on might be for setting up the fireworks display that takes place here at the beach. Actually, it’s the Festival International D’Art Pyrotechnique, lasting until August 24. We’ve even heard it already from our balcony and it’s also broadcast live. Those fireworks are actually some of the best memories from my stay in Cannes nine years ago. It’s nice that the festival still happens.
After a few days here we feel confident enough to swim out to the yellow buoys bobbing on the surface, because it doesn’t look that far. I lose my sense of time in the water and seem to get to my goal faster than anticipated, but when I turn around to look back at the shore, suddenly it’s very far away indeed. We swim back, with a stop on the platform other people are standing on. I stop swimming and bend my legs, even crouch, to stand just in time – this part is much closer to the knees. It’s fun to find even footing after swimming in deep turquoise water, swaying only slightly with the gentle wave, then slide off to once again not feel the sand underneath before reaching the shoreline.
We’ve quickly frenchified ourselves as much as it’s possible to while being visitors here and with beginner level French. Mornings start with automatic bonjours to other guests and staff. The day is peppered with mercis and bonne journées. In fact, I’ve been approached in French in different situations like it’s the most natural thing in the world (mais oui), and I realized that I’m not afraid of that happening anymore. Bring it on! Interactions are still very short and simple, plus I do more listening than speaking, but hey, that’s the start of good communication.
The housekeeper in charge gets in the elevator with us one day and asks whether everything is working in our apartment. “Oui, ça va bien, Madame, merci”, I respond. Wait, what? I speak FRENCH? She continues the conversation, but I don’t understand what she says at first, so I look at her intently (without getting nervous!). She doesn’t switch to English, which I find quite respectful, but gestures actively with her hands and repeats the sentence. It seems to be about the weather, so I nod and smile. Another time a polite older man hesitates before joining us, not being sure if “c’est possible” to fit in, but “Oui, monsieur, c’est possible”, I reassure him, because that’s what I do now. I speak FRENCH! And the secret to my newfound confidence is probably that, while the locals are generally absolutely fine with speaking English, they also don’t expect you to not speak French at all. You just might. Again, mais oui!
I got a bit carried away with tales of my baby steps en français. Beyond that I’ve found myself nonchalantly crossing streets at red lights (but only after checking twice that no cars are coming), regularly buying baguettes (sometimes the bag they come in is too short, so we carefully fold the baguette in two for hygiene – nobody caught us so far), and mostly relaxing about time (“Tomorrow let’s…” – “Don’t make a plan.” – “Why not? I make plans in Germany.” – “We’re not in Germany now.” – “Oh, right!”). I did print a ticket from the machine in the (English-French) pharmacy before I even realized what I was doing, because the sign told me to, but then I quietly threw it away because the line of people had a (very relaxed) life of its own.
On the way back from the beach we, as usual (mais oui), pass the Cartier boutique and I stop to look at the window. A beautiful ring with a square-cut emerald immediately catches my eye. There is no price tag. A quick search on the Cartier website (I love the internet) produces the aforementioned item and it is indeed gorgeous. It’s not surprising, just slightly intimidating, that the price is not available here either, but you can click on “Request” and fill out a form with your information. And that’s as close as I’ll ever get to such luxury. Today I saw a woman exit the Dior shop with a bag, just like it was an everyday thing to do, and only a few minutes walk after that I happily bought a baguette for one euro, so I guess that’s just how life works.
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