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…).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.