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This piece is by Tory Henwood Hoen who was an early team member at HiP Paris. Back in the day, she wrote about her misadventures as an expat in Paris, and now she’s written her first novel, The Arc, which came out recently. This article was originally published in 2010 about an American’s first weeks in Paris and the mishaps that come with it. Let us know about your memorable experiences dealing with the French in the comments below, and enjoy!
I live in Paris now. I know this because every morning when I wake up, I experience a brief moment of panicky, delighted confusion… I have no idea where I am!
I remain disoriented until I ask myself the following questions:
Question: What are these sharp things in my bed?
Answer: Baguette crumbs. They were probably stuck to my face when I fell asleep.
Question: Are there alien babies in my room?
Answer: No, just French babies in the courtyard, their voices glittering in the morning light.
Question: Is this butter-infused air I’m breathing?
Answer: Actually, yes. There’s a patisserie next door.
Ahhh, and it all starts to make sense. Once I’ve determined where I am, the day begins; and because this is Paris, every second of every day is poetic and beautiful, obviously.
First, I put my contact lentils in my eyes. I’ve started calling them this because that’s what the French call them—lentilles optiques—and I’m going with it. Then, I am almost tempted to eat Corn Flakes simply because they are so beautifully labeled here: Pétales de Maïs Dorés au Four. Corn Petals made Golden in the Oven. Seriously? Leave it to the French to make Corn Flakes sound like something that might rain down on you in heaven if you’re lucky (as opposed to say, something that falls off a mangy dog that’s been digging around in the dumpster… Corn Flakes, indeed).
But, beautiful name or not, Corn Petals are not appropriate. It’s a lot more fun to go to a café where I can drink coffee for a mere 8€ and try to look pensive and mysterious. And so on and so forth throughout the day. You get the idea…
Basically, I’m an idiot who is, little by little, living my way through the romance and stereotypes of Parisian life because I know that… sometime very soon… Paris is going to become real to me.
In fact, it sort of already has. Somehow—don’t ask me how— the wily French have figured out that I’m not Parisian. No matter how many berets I don, or baguettes I eat, or accordions I play, or little dogs I put in the basket of my Vélib, somehow they know.
For instance, the other day, I was struggling to open a very tricky door that involved a button and, well, it’s far too complicated to explain. Two French guys were watching me from the other side of the glass, amused and incredibly unhelpful. Five minutes later when I finally figured it out, I proudly burst through the door to hear them snarl “Bravo, l’Américaine” in between long, blasé drags of their Gauloises. Wait a minute… how did they… you mean to say… just looking like a door-confused idiot gives me away?!?! And I’m half-Canadian, goddamn it! But fair enough. This is all George Bush’s fault.
Don’t worry. I’m not discouraged. I’ve navigated most of the doors here with great success. And I’ve learned that some French people are actually nice, like the cheese man at the local market who, upon seeing me for the first time, ordered me to “Mangez!” And I did. I’ve always been good at taking direction. And he let me eat as much morbier as I could (which was way too much).
Or the other nice guy in the Jardin de Luxembourg who told me I looked like a statue and asked me if I was Swedish. OK, he was a little too nice, and now that I think about it, he didn’t have teeth.
Clearly, I’m still figuring things out, very slowly. I’ve only been here for three weeks, and I think it will take me at least three more to perfect my F*ck-You-I’m-Parisian glare. But I will succeed. That’s why I’m here.
- More anecdotes of life in France by Tory Hoen and how the French can be feisty!
- Practising Parisienne: decoding the seemingly nebulous je ne sais quoi.
- Shop some French goodies at the HiP Paris Marketplace!
Written by Tory Hoen for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person (when possible)? Check out new marketplace shop and experiences.