Archive | November, 2015

Toujours

14 Nov

I am just so in shock right now.

I am hurt, sad, angry, but most of all I am mourning. It doesn’t feel real, it feels like a terrible nightmare that an Atlantic ocean’s distance could allow me to ignore. Because I’m here in Boston, & it’s sunny & I have to start getting ready for work soon, like any other day. But I can’t pretend it didn’t happen–because it did. It’s all over the news, it’s all over the internet, it’s all over social media. And my heart keeps breaking over & over again.

Paris, I have no words, only tears for you right now.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will have noticed that I have a bit of an “obsession” with the city. Yes, while I love to speak French, own anything Eiffel Tower related & reminisce about that enchanting place–this obsession is much deeper. It’s love. Love I actually cannot describe because I have never felt it before. Love for a place, a technically inanimate object, but for me, I am always able to personify.

Love that is built around experience & atmosphere.An atmosphere that you will never be able to understand unless you’ve been there too.

(First visit: a school trip in 2007 with EF Tours, which is actually the company I currently work for!)

It’s funny, because people always have such polarized opinions about the city. They truly either love it or hate it. They either come back saying the French are rude, the streets are dirty, & they just don’t understand what all the fuss is about or they come back feeling exactly like me. 

Personally, I believe that there are only two types of people: those who love Paris & those who haven’t fallen in love with her yet. 

Like in most literature, Paris has been referred to in feminine pronouns, which is something I have always believed myself. She is undeniably beautiful, but at the same time, she has a sense of pride & sharp wit that can take some time to warm up to.

Parisians themselves, can be a bit like this. They can be “rude” or “rash” but I have always really admired them; they’re proud. They don’t suck up or kiss ass & defend themselves when they’re right. On top of this their culture is centered around so much passion. Passion for good food, passion for quality clothing, passion for fine perfumes, passion for love-making. They truly believe in quality over quantity. This is something I feel can be lost in my own culture at times. Indulgence is for the rich & presentation is not always important. In Paris, I feel that these are things that can be available to anyone. 

Of course, I only realized these things after experiencing some culture shock.

(Second ‘visit’: Spring semester 2012 I studied abroad in Paris)

I have been learning French since I was 8-years-old & after my first trip abroad to the city it was clear where I wanted to go when the time came to study abroad. People asked me, why don’t you go somewhere else? And I considered that, of course, but at the same time, in 2007, I had only gotten a mere taste of Parisian culture, I wanted more.

Paris has a funny way of seducing you like that.

Of course after a few months of the initial “honey moon stage” of culture shock wore off, we were soon at each other’s throats.
“Why doesn’t anyone smile?”

Why do people stare at me all the time/why am I the only blonde here?”

“Why do people glare at me when I speak on the metro?”

“Why do shop employees follow me around in stores?”

“Why do they just let their kids do WHATEVER they want?!”

“Why do people want to debate politics with me?! & Attack me for being American?”

“Why do men feel it’s okay to grab my butt casually on the streets?”

“Why is customer service so obviously NOT a thing here?”

“Why do the Scammers near Eiffel/Sacre Coeur always target me?”

“Does my host mom hate me?! She keeps scolding me!”

Oh yes, this love story was definitely not perfect. There were so many ups & downs & I felt a lot of disconnect. Luckily with 3 of my 5 classes being completely en Francais & my host mom speaking virtually no English, my French was rapidly improving.

*Pro tip: in Paris (& also MANY other cities) simply just attempting the language will get you a drastically different experience*

Parisians are proud, they love their language & culture, they also have to deal with being the TOP tourist destination in the world. Millions of demanding, rude, loud, dirty tourists who sometimes have no respect to their culture or language visit them in droves year round. So if someone has been rude to you on your trip to Paris, please think about what it might have been that you were doing. 

(Third visit: In 2013 there was no other place I would rather celebrate my 23rd birthday. I was living in Prague at this point)

Another great class I was taking while studying abroad was an Anthropology class that compared French & American culture. Soon class by class, each of my previously culture shock questions were slowly answered. I learned to distance myself from my American perspective & instead tried to understand things from a French viewpoint. It’s not easy to do but it certainly helps when you have an awesome host brother & friends to explain along the way.

And slowly but surely, my generalizations turned into understanding & acceptance. 

And this is truly only something that could happen after spending a significant amount of time in another country & also being actively open to walking in someone else’s shoes. It’s not easy, it’s not always comfortable, it maybe feels strange, but I promise at the end you realize just how much we all have in common.

Which is hard because Americans & Parisians are so different, maybe even opposites. Which CAN lead to miscommunication & disagreements. The best analogy I heard in my class in regards to how Americans & the French generally form relationships:

Americans: like a peach, soft & easy to confide with. Makes vague future plans (oh we should totally hang out!) & asks how you’re doing (Good! And you?), but has a hard, hard pit for a core. Very difficult to get in the inner circle of trust.

French (& a lot of other European countries I’ve noticed): like a coconut, hard shell & tough to approach at times (How’s it going? Everything is shit, piss off!). But once you get past the shell, the center is soft & not mention extremely loyal. Every time I travel, I have been amazed again & again of the hospitality of my international friends–even if they’re not my ‘best’ friends! They feed me, let me stay with them, etc. …American friends on the other hand, not exactly the same.

(Fourth visit: stopping by my old school 2 years later in 2014)

Once I got to really know Paris past all the infatuation, it truly did become a deep love. A love that was so strong that it actually began to cloud future relationships.

Upon moving to Prague, I actually really didn’t like it for the first few months. It wasn’t what I expected. Most people had no style, cuisine was so much different & a fun night out was not in some swanky cafe but in a smokey pub. & It wasn’t even Prague’s fault! It’s just that deep down I knew I felt like this because Prague wasn’t Paris. 

I even wrote a post on here “breaking up” with Paris because I felt that it was making me so miserable in Prague. It was like an unhealthy relationship with an ex that was ruining it for me with all future romances.

It sounds cute how I’m wording this but I am 100% serious. This is truly how I felt about this city. So much that when I was beyond broke living in Prague, with limited opportunities for travel, I chose to visit Paris not once but twice. I literally could NOT stay away!

It’s because I don’t just love the city & everything about it–I love who I am when I am there.

I have a level of confidence & courage that I don’t feel anywhere else. I feel comfortable with my body, my directness & sass–things that I don’t always feel at home. I feel a bit invincible.

An example of this would be while studying abroad whenever me & my friends would go out, guys would make a beeline for me (it’s the hair) & I would ask them to buy me a shot (guys don’t even really do that in France!), they would agree & then I would say Non, est pour mes filles aussi (No, & for my girls too). The guy would give me a bit of a wide eyed look, glance at my friends Meaghan & Sam & nod.

Like WHO did I even think I was?!

I am a whole other person in that city, & Paris, it’s all your fault.

(Fifth visit: It was my mom’s second time in the city, but on 10/8/2015, during our Euro Trip, I purposely made us have a 23hr layover here)

Paris has shaped me as a person, & is ingrained in my character. My room is decorated in all mementos & I have literally made a point to travel there once the past four years in a row. And every time I’m there, the feeling comes back. The nostalgia & familiarity of the streets, the beautiful phonetics of the language rolling off my tongue, the scowls & groans on a late metro, the beautiful well-dressed men walking the streets, the delicious food nourishing my palette & I feel home. 

It’s a different home than Prague, a different home then Boston & a different home than my original town of Sutton. But it is definitely a home. 

It is the toughest act to follow, the day dream that is always in my head, the city that strengthened my bond with some of my best friends. Paris is the city where I first found myself & to that I have a fierce loyalty. A loyalty that will always have me sharply defend the stereotypes & plan lengthy itineraries for anyone wishing to travel there.

There is a French word that has always resonated with me: toujours. It means “always” or “every time”. It conveys an idea of permanency; something that never changes.

It’s a difficult & scary concept for me to understand, because I feel I am always changing & have especially changed the most after being in Prague. The idea of staying in one place, making long term binding plans, makes me nervous because after you fly away once, you never want to clip your wings. I have no idea where I will be in 10 years, 5 years, even 1. And I feel foolish or trapped when I’m forced to predict such things. 

Especially with love.

I know that someday I would like to be married, but the fear of permanency makes me apprehensive. But then I realize, I already am in a permanent state of love…with Paris.

And that’s what gives me hope, I say “Paris, je t’aime toujours” (Paris, I love you always) & I know down into the core of my heart that I always will feel this way. And if I can ever hope to find someone else who I feel this type of love for–then they are the one. 

Today I mourn for those lost, those affected & those who love the city just like me. But Paris is proud & Paris is strong. Je suis une americaine, mais aujourd’hui je suis une parisienne. Nous sommes tous parisians.

& I will never stop thinking of you ❤

JG

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