The ins and outs of my life in Paris
Ah, Paris. Land of great wine, amazing cheese, and even better bread. If the chance presents itself to you I highly recommend jumping at the opportunity to come here, be it for a weekend, week, or a whole semester. It is a city of tremendous subtlety beneath a relatively hard exterior. The people of Paris come off as cold at first, but it simply takes a little bit of time and confidence to get beyond the stern facade. Have faith and don’t stop trying...they will warm up and it is definitely worth it.
So some pre-departure advice:
First, I would recommend brushing up on your french or learning some essential phrases. In a great eating city, it helps to know how to order from non-english speakers. While many do speak english, many speak practically none and I promise they appreciate your effort to speak their language. Don’t be intimidated, there is no shame in being new to a language. If you are new to the language, you will not be able to do with it what you do with english...accept that. Accept that you may speaking at a child’s level because its the truth and, to be honest, it’s kind of funny. Enjoy it while you can.
Second piece of pre-departure advice: plan ahead. You will definitely want to travel around France and Europe; flights and trains are far cheaper if you book well ahead of time. If you know someone else going, even better, plan with them and save a lot of money. Paris is a great hub to travel from in Europe. I could recommend cities to go, but you likely have an idea of where you want to go already. Don’t hesitate, you have no idea how great it is to arrive in Paris with pre-booked trips waiting for you throughout the semester.
So you’re in Paris...what should you do?
Paris is a great walking city. Walk until you can’t anymore and eat all the while. Stop in boulangeries and cafes, try the bread, the croque monsieur, the wine, and the cheese. Talk to everyone you can. When you can’t walk anymore, jump on the metro. It is remarkably reliable most of the time despite what Parisians say about it. Always buy a ticket. Always. Its anywhere from thirty to forty euros if you get caught without one and the only time I ever jumped the turnstile I got caught. Buy a Navigo, the metro pass to make life even easier. Or use one of the abundant Velib bicycles, Paris’s bike sharing system. It’s cheap and a great way to see the city.
Smile a lot. People don’t really smile at strangers here so it may highlight you as a foreigner, but I feel like Parisians find it refreshing. If not, at least it may disarm a little bit of their coldness. If someone gets snippy with you, let it roll off your back...its only a matter of time before someone gets short with you and it will likely happen again. Rise above it.
In terms of places to go, if you like to eat, head to rue des Martyrs and walk up the butte Montmartre. Stop in anywhere along your way and eat. Its all amazing. Supposedly three of the best croissants are on this street. At the top, stop into People’s Drugstore if you like beer. They have an amazing international selection of beer, a super friendly owner/operator, as well as chess & jenga.
Whether you are here for a weekend or a year, you must, must, go to one of the many marchés that are scattered throughout Paris. They offer the best value on produce, cheese, and meats, as well as an amazing view into the lives of Parisians. This is how a Parisian shops. Talk to the vendors and ask a lot of questions, many of them are very friendly and knowledgeable. What I have done is found my favorite vendors at different markets and buy staples from them and then look for one item I have never tried before. Put yourself out there and try something new.
Beyond that, just explore. Explore your neighborhood. Take the time to find the best baguettes in the area, the best pastries, the best happy hour deals at the best cafes. It is great to develop relationships with people in your new home. It helps make life feel more settled. But never forget to branch out, talk to people, be adventurous, and live in the moment. It goes by remarkably quickly, so enjoy it while you can.
PHOTO: A friend of mine took this photo a few days ago while we were exploring the Seine. One of many amazing places you will only find if you maintain an adventurous mindset.