How Paris Changed Me
Last month, I went back to Paris on business for only one day and it hit me: I can see all the “residual” Parisian effects from living there for a year. Paris hasn’t necessarily changed my life, but it certainly has enriched it. It has significantly contributed to transforming the way I see the world.
I was: The girl who daydreamed while walking along the Seine. I am: The woman that knows what she wants and works hard to get it.
I could go on, and on, and on about how Paris has changed my life, but actually, it didn’t, it only upgraded it. When I moved there I was unemployed and my only source of income was coming from my boyfriend. Hence, the only thing I could do is to look for free experiences, like walking around the beautiful streets.
I got to experience quite a lot, but for sure the ones with more impact are:
You might imagine that I am talking about the fancy foie gras or caviar that you can get in many French restaurants in Paris, but no, I am talking about discovering the bakeries, the famous boulageries, with the crusty baguettes, the great Croque-Madame and of course nevertheless escargot and a lot of fresh, local delicious markets. Let’s not forget the rainbow of macarons available at every corner, but as well the crepes that come in many varieties, sweet or salty, and of course let’s not skip the French onion soup, a délicatesse that everyone needs to try at least once in their life time. On top of this, I noticed the way my boyfriend and I started enjoying our meals, it takes twice as much time to eat out while enjoying every bite. I stopped eating French fries and started enjoying pomme frites, just because I can call the same dish differently. Nowadays, I live in Netherlands, and my famous snacks for friends coming over are the French plates I prepare, with aged cheese and fruits.
Have you tried the crème fraiche? The big French discovery for me. (I wouldn’t call myself a gourmand, but I am not far from there either.) I disregarded McDonald’s and microwaves in favour of French cuisine. When surrounded by so many artisans in everything, not only food, I started to buy less but better quality. Of course, living in Paris influenced my consumption habits and I would have preferred (which I still do, now that I moved) to go food shopping daily rather than fill up a supermarket trolley. Buying fresh food, like the aroma of hot, straight from the oven bread changed my mentality about what freshness means.
You see, dear reader, nowadays I refuse to buy any cheap white wine and beer is for sure out of my vocabulary. Call me a snob, but I am the only person in a pub, that will order a glass of wine instead of the famous pint of beer as everyone around me. This year for my birthday, I went to an introduction into wine tasting and history course which, unfortunately, was not in Paris. I learnt a lot and not only about French wines or European wines, but international ones. Did you know that in Bali there is a small local production of wine? Due to the high taxes on imported alcohol, this winery was created in the northern part of Bali. Or that one red grape can make red, rosé, and white wine? The factor that separates them is the absence of contact with the grape skin during the fermentation process.
All these and many more interesting stuff I found out during this course. I realized then how unacquainted I was with regards to the wine industry. I learnt how to make the difference between Chardonnay and Sauvignon or between Merlot and Bordeaux. I will always accompany the wine by some sort of food, most likely cheese and I will always choose quality over quantity. But no worries, the quantity is important as well, French people are the second biggest consumers of alcohol per capita in the Western world – after Luxembourg.
The first thing I learned in Paris was how to travel. You see, I was coming from driving a car for as little as two blocks to go buy bread and I became the connoisseur of the Parisian public transportation. RER, Metro, tram, bus, you named it, I was the proud carrier of Navigo pass, which allowed me to go everywhere. I learned how to give directions to any major touristic gem, but only in metro lines or stations. I developed an extra sense, to hear the metro approaching the station in order to start running down the stairs (and oh, boy, Paris has a lot of stairs!) and jump inside the metro before the closing doors. Why is awesome to live in Paris? Because Paris is more or less, 3 hours from everything! London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Barcelona, you name it! Paris is the centre of Europe.
Let’s not also forget why French people prefer to spend their holidays in France? Montblanc and Chamonix are perfect locations for winter sports. “Summer is served”, therefore every Parisian will pack for a month and spend the summer vacation in the south from Nice, Toulouse or Loire Valley to Monaco depending on the budget.
Along the Seine, during the summer, you can always listen to someone playing the guitar, violin or accordion and good or bad, he is there enjoying his Parisian je ne sais quoi song served with some wine aside. In the metro, the gypsies are becoming more and more creative in order to make the extra coin. But the best of all, are the real players, the students from the Conservatorium, practicing, around Place des Vorges or in some obscure place with a great echo. (Louvre or near Palais Royal)
Parlez-vous français? French people are very proud of their language as it used to be the official language across all Europe for many centuries until English replaced it in the mid-20th century. Hence, living in France without knowing the basics it will be a great challenge but I found that constantly listening to the radio helps. For example, 40% the music on the radio stations must be in French, based on a French law since 1996. The government has aimed to preserve the French language – by attempting to forbid, unsuccessfully, foreign words such as hashtag, parking, email and weekend.
For me, this hasn’t been a big struggle as my native language together with French are part of the five Latin languages and French was a mandatory course in primary school. I could understand most of the conversations, but the words were not coming back to me when I had to speak. The funny part was having a 15 minutes discussion half French-half English until you realise how nationalists French people are. You will be shocked that few people are able to speak a foreign language fluently. The constant need to google words I didn’t know in French, just because the French can’t speak any other language constantly surprised me. Still, you can get a lot of help if you are willing to learn, there are free or very cheap French courses offered by the City Hall or several Public Organisations.
The STREETS & BUILDINGS
The history behind every building is impressive. I used to stop at every corner and to google the significance of the place. Of course, that will have come with a picture posted on Instagram. I was clueless with regards to French history, but I remembered how much I enjoyed reading all the books of Alexander Dumas. Reading his books, I used to imagine the palaces and the castles and how grandiose the country looks like, which seeing it with my own eyes, I knew that my imagination was not even close to the amazing reality.
And these are some of the stories that influenced me after one year of living in Paris. I left with no regrets, but it’s good to know that Paris is not all chic and bohème, there are also some mixed feelings I have about it, read about them HERE.