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Une Vie Parisienne in New York City

Paris (Oncle Tom)

Returning home to New York hit me with the biggest culture shock I’ve ever felt. Now, I’m no stranger to culture shock. My first notable quake occurred when I moved to Paris at the age of 18 with just a handful of French words at my disposal (croissant, café, cigarette…).

Paris (Lost In Cheeseland) & (Making Magique)

The move hit pretty high on the Richter scale, but eventually I assimilated as best I could, and my American friends who came to visit told me I seemed “French.” (For the record, the French always said I seemed “Swedish.”)

Paris rooftops (oropeza)

Years later, with an expired visa and packed boxes, I sat in my beautiful 6eme étage Montparnasse apartment that looked out over some of the best rooftops Paris has to offer. I told myself that I would surely find a way to return to Paris within three to six months. It never occurred to me to prepare for re-assimilation into New York culture. I never once imagined that eight years later, I’d still be in New York, shocked and shaken, fighting passionately to maintain une vie parisienne in New York City.

New York (roeyahram)

As a native New Yorker, I possess certain habits that I can’t quite shake, even when living abroad. I tend to speed walk everywhere, and I consider jaywalking to be the right-of-way, no matter what. I strike up a conversation at every checkout counter, and I can’t help but leave a fifteen percent tip for bad service. When I hop into a cab, I make sure the meter is running before telling the driver we’re heading to Brooklyn. And in the subway I scream, “Hold the doors!” as I fly down the stairs, but of course I scream at others when they do the same.

Paris (TOF alias christophe hue)

Yet, despite my innate New Yorkness, I found it challenging to re-integrate with family and old friends when I first moved back. I was still me, but now had an inner Parisienne who only allowed me to frequent cafés that have a no-laptop policy, and who made me cringe at the idea of ordering a coffee to go.

New York (Carin Olsson)

She still considers the occasional cigarette to be healthy and is offended by aggressive no-smoking bans (even though they’ve only helped her kick the habit). She believes in bike paths, small cars, and a public transportation system that does not run 24/7 so that it can be cleaned and maintained.

New York (craigCloutier)

At times, my inner Parisienne has been so dominant she made me do silly things, like not thinking twice about moving into a five-story walk-up with no elevator. She even tricked me into thinking I could survive another New York heat wave without an air conditioner; she has since learned to love her new air conditioner.

Paris (Annelie Willemijn)

Even at work, while I was negotiating with a former employer, my inner Parisienne took charge by claiming that her “quality of life” was in jeopardy and insisting that she take a full hour-long lunch break each workday. She also explained that two weeks really wasn’t enough vacation time to go anywhere worthwhile. Surely, I must be entitled to more in life than just work, n’est-ce pas?

Paris (Olof Grind)

It was shortly after my boss refused to meet my requests that it occurred to me that I was no longer culturally shocked, but actually culturally transformed. I can’t help being a New Yorker just as much as I can’t seem to let go of my inner Parisienne. I’ve been living in New York seven years and six months longer than I ever anticipated, and it might be a while longer before I have the chance to live in Paris again. Until then, no matter where in the world I may be, I will happily embrace ma vie parisienne.

  • If Paris were New York and New York were Paris, would it look like this?
  • … for more, you can buy the full Paris vs. New York book here
  • Even Paris in Four Months falls for New York once in a while

Written by Elise Marafioti for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

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Written by Elise Marafioti

Elise MarafiotiElise was born and raised in New York where she pursued a career in classical and modern dance. During a hiatus from performing, she moved to Paris and attended the American University of Paris. After living in more than six different arrondissements over the years, soaking up as much of Paris as possible, she returned to New York. Throughout the years, Elise has taken every opportunity to return to Paris and has also traveled extensively throughout Europe.

Website: Haven in Paris

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Posted in Parisian Living | 20 Comments »

20 Responses to “Une Vie Parisienne in New York City”

  • Damon and Jo says:

    We lived in Paris and NYC and we would most definitely recommend Le Moulin à Café in the Upper East Side – more like Yorkville actually. It’s a cute little French café you can sit at and read French magazines and buy French products!

  • alexa says:

    Elise –I enjoyed your post so much. I also went to Paris as a teenager, but in my case that was almost 50 years ago! I felt at home the minute I arrived (despite being a New Yorker, with all the native quirks you describe so well) and stayed for 4 years before returning to NYC. Marriage and family (and poverty) kept me from my beloved Paris for too long, but I finally returned with my own teenage daughters—who fell in love at first sight just as I had. I understand your dilemma very well, but am coming reluctantly to the conclusion that New York and Paris are mutually exclusive—and working on a way to spend lots more time in Paris. Is it possible to be a flaneur if you’re incapable of walking at a pace any slower than 4 m.p.h.?

  • thefrancofly says:

    You capture this beautifully. I’ve been between NYC and Paris for several years now. Although I still miss a chopped salad on the go, I’m finally feeling more like a slightly out-of-place Parisienne with an accent now. In New York, everyone was always declaring how FAH-RENCH I was sipping my short coffees and always asking if Pellegrino was an option. But now I suppose I another entitled American missing Hale & Hearty in Paris.

  • Monika says:

    Do you miss your inner New Yorker when you are in Paris?

    Great post!

  • Jessie says:

    I do love living the vie Parisienne but for god’s sakes can we PLEASE get these metros in Paris to run 24 hours, or at least past 1am?? And for the record I find the Paris metro dirtier than the NY subway, as was made clear me me once again when I had to ride in a RER B all the way from Denfert to Gare de Nord with a huge pile of vomit next to me that everyone kept accidentally stepping in!

  • Great post! You captured the spirit of Paris and Parisiennes beautifully. I hope you’ll make it back soon!

  • Géraldine says:

    It’s great if your family and friends are travelers: you can understand each other 100%. And can advise and support. :) Have a great time in Paris whenever this is!

    Let us know.

  • Dee Dee says:

    After reading all of these comments, I feel like we have a great networking group in the making. Anyone else seeing get-togethers forming in our respective cities? :)

  • Sweet Freak says:

    My sentiments exactly. :)
    I wonder how many of us there are here in NYC??

  • We will be returning to NY to live after almost 6 years of living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. ( The Paris of South America ) ha!
    Actually, it is French in architecture, Italian in cafe life and men and Spanish in most everything else. But the people here learn to speak English, usually from English people, so they have British words and ways of speaking. Now I don’t speak Spanish well and my English now has words like “lift” and ” telly” …
    While I cannot wait to be back in NY, I am so sad to be leaving the people here, behind.
    Tell me the people in NY are warm and friendly and kiss upon meeting you ! por favor :)

  • […] could go on and on, but I would rather you read this and hopefully you’ll see what I feel about the New York City to Paris love affair I am in the […]

  • Peter-Paul Essers says:

    Inspiring story, if I find the talent to compose music, I would compose a symphony called “A parisienne in New York”. Too bad Gershwin can’t here this spinn-off.

  • Katiti says:

    Upon reading this, “As a native New Yorker, I possess certain habits that I can’t quite shake, even when living abroad. I tend to speed walk everywhere, and I consider jaywalking to be the right-of-way, no matter what. I strike up a conversation at every checkout counter, and I can’t help but leave a fifteen percent tip for bad service. When I hop into a cab, I make sure the meter is running before telling the driver we’re heading to Brooklyn. And in the subway I scream, “Hold the doors!” as I fly down the stairs, but of course I scream at others when they do the same.” I realized I am not alone! I’m a native New Yorker living in SF and I do all of the above even after six years. Phew! I’m not alone. :)

  • Christine says:

    Love this! I’m from California but I’ve spent a lot of time in France and Australia–and I’m moving to New York next month! Not sure how much I’ll be able to let go of the work-life balance I’ve picked up in those places :)

  • Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments! NYC and Paris are equally wonderful cities, and I feel so fortunate to be able to carry them both with me always. Of course, whenever I’m in one, I desperately want to be in the other!

    @Géraldine: I was definitely teased by some of my American friends when I first moved back to NYC due to the strange accent I had acquired. While living in Paris, I had grown accustomed to speaking English with mostly non-native English speakers and appropriated many incorrect idioms and pronunciations into my speech. :) I think it’s interesting that my family and most of my closest friends are frequent international travelers or former expats as well. I suspect this commonality does create a special kind of bond!

    @Milsters & @parisbreakfast: Good luck with your moves!
    @parisbreakfast: I can guarantee you will feel endless nostalgia for NYC. Be sure to come back and visit!
    @Milsters: Fear not – Paris will be stay with you always! And I guarantee you will find every excuse to return.

  • Géraldine says:

    Thanks Elise for your post. :)

    When you are expat once, there is no way back. You have to live with your difference.

    To so many French women, New York sounds like THE place to be. So I hope it is not as far from the French way of life as other might be.

    I’m a big fan of your “inner Parisienne” influencing your American life. :)

    How did your family and friends react, do they see you changed as well? Have they traveled too?

  • Milsters says:

    This was a beautiful post. I feel like it is recounting a story that I will myself encounter in the future: sitting on that pile of boxes in my apartment in the 11e, as my visa expires… It gives me hope and courage to know that the inner Parisienne always lives in inside of us, and that when we take the leap of faith like living in a golden city like Paris, we walk away always taking the *good* of it all with us.

    With much love


  • Love this very honest and evocative post.
    As one about to make the move the other way, I wonder if I’ll have nostalgia for NYC..?
    merci carolg

  • Dee Dee says:

    What a most fantastic post!

    I am a native San Diegan, who has lived 20 years in San Diego and now 20 in New York and now am looking forward to a way to get at least 20 in Paris!

    There was nothing that I haven’t loved about my time in Paris, and I love that Amelia mentions the Monoprix because it has become a favorite of mine.

    New York and Paris do seem like quite the match made in true romance fashion. Of course, Chicagoans remind me that they are technically the sister city to Paris. I’ll just keep believing it’s NYC. :)

  • Amelia says:

    Dear Elise,
    I loved your post today and understand your challenge. I am a native New Yorker and love my city, but I totally agree with your desire to create une vie parisienne in here. While I have never lived in Paris, I do make sure that I travel there as often as possible and this last time I actually rented an apartment with friends and had the added joy of purchasing food at the marché, bread at the boulangerie, cheese at a recommended fromagerie and Monoprix is my favorite place for almond soap and other little goodies.
    In my attempt to create une vie parisienne in my hometown, I guess I’ve started at home – creating a little French haven of my own that I invite family and friends to, my closets and cabinets are on the way to housing only those things that I love, are beautiful and needed. I’ve learned how to look around me and take my time getting places – being a flâneur – and it’s amazing what little goodies I’ve found when I’m not whizzing by store fronts and people. And on and on.
    Keep embracing votre vie parisienne. In some ways it goes very well with une vie New Yorker.
    (Love the photos.)

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