Living in Paris

For some time the staff at GSP have asked me to write about living in Paris.  This article hopefully not just accedes to their request but teaches you a few things as well, which is always our mission here at Get Smarter.

1.  It’s not true that everyone here speaks English and they just don’t want to speak it with you, disgusting American!

There are a large number of people in France in general who don’t speak English beyond saying “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you.”  (Indeed, there are a large number of people who don’t speak English who live in America!)  The French are proud of their language, which predates English and had a massive influence – via the Norman invasion of England – on what would eventually became English.

Learn – before you get here – how to say “hello,” “goodbye,” “where is the bathroom?” and the ever simple, “parlez-vous anglais, s’il vous plait?”  The French are like many people all around the world: meet them on their terms, in their language, and they will do their best to meet you halfway.

2.  It’s not true that the Parisians are rude.  But it is true that Paris is full of city folk.

Any big city has “city manners.”  People move quickly, brusquely.  Transactions with vendors are hurried and functional.  People always seem in a rush.  You’ll observe this in the American cities of San Francisco, Chicago, and New York just as readily as here in the City of Light.  So, that part of it is no different.

Are the French more formal and reserved?  Absolument.  Remember that even within their language, unlike ours, there is a separate form of “you,” based on your relationship to that person.  But if they get to know vous they are just as friendly and loving as many other people can be.  Americans, with our big hearts and big laughs, who call people “buddy” five minutes after we’ve met them, can perceive the formality and initial distance here as rudeness.  But it’s not.

3.  Everything you’ve heard that is good about French food is true.  Remember that the English word “cuisine” is a French word.

So I love French food.  I’ve also lost 14 pounds since moving here in December.  How to reconcile those two sentences?  Well, apart from the loads of walking that city living affords me, portion size, a lack of snacking, and meal elements are a major part of that weight loss.

The French eat very well, but they don’t necessarily eat a lot.  They have foods for all occasions and regions.  They’re intensely interested in whatever you’re eating.  And they take it for granted that meals together are to be slow, coursed affairs that last well into the night.  An American, like myself, that expects a typical Tuesday night dinner to be a fairly efficient affair (so we can get on to more important things, like Netflix or facebook) will have to adjust to the Thanksgiving-esque length of an any-night dinner here in La France.

4.  Paris isn’t the most beautiful city in the world because of its age or the language spoken.  It’s the parks and green space that complete this city.

I’ve had the good fortune and blessing to have visited many beautiful cities around the world, including most of the capitals of Europe, but I believe the best testimony that any human city can give is the harmony between the structures that we alone can build and the unduplicable beauties of nature that surround us.

Think of the beaver dam in the river in the forest.  Harmony surrounds an artificial, unique construct.  So too Paris, with her balance of river, canals, parks, apartments, and monuments – all of them old and new – not only pays testimony to a shared unique human history that dates back before the time of Caesar, but also never takes nature for granted.

5.  Remember that Americans who refer to our “bailing out the French in WWI and WWII” might have forgotten that without French military and naval assistance, we would have lost the Revolutionary War.

America is a young country still, and sometimes her citizens lack a sense of history.  France was the very first country to sign a treaty with us, the first to salute our naval vessels at sea, and the park across the street from the White House is named after a French general: Lafayette.

Paris features a statue of George Washington, street names like “Avenue de President Wilson” and metro stops like “Franklin Roosevelt.”  If recent (read: over the last 20 years) French opposition to American foreign policy has clouded our view of what, over centuries, has been a relationship of great cooperation and amity, we can only hope that this time in our shared history will pass.

Beyond what many French may say about America’s actions on the world stage, many of them really do enjoy the company of Americans.  Or they’ve been really good at faking me out for almost six months now. :-)

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.


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