They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. And maybe this is true. It happened for Paris and me, even when I least expected it.
I won’t lie to you; Paris isn’t all roses and butterflies. It’s a tough, cold city and it’s not hard to feel like an outsider there. Sure, when you visit for a weekend or a whirlwind vacation, it seems like a beautiful place, filled with history, romance and cute cafés. And maybe it is, but there is so much more to this incredibly confusing, wonderfully stressful part of the world.
Arriving in Paris, I was that starry-eyed study abroad student that you all hear about: entranced by every bakery I passed and ready to cover every inch of the city before my return flight. The first few weeks were golden and I would leave my apartment everyday with that giddy feeling you get when you go on a first date or ace a test. Then, slowly, faced with all the Parisian adversities, it lost its glamour and became a thorn in my side.
First, let’s talk French administration. Or let’s not, because does it even exist? I am so used to having a 24/7 customer service number to call, a person to contact, a place to go to and people that genuinely want to help me out. There, the hours for help are sorely limited and it’s a miracle if you actually get what you came for the first (or second) time around. I have been thoroughly unimpressed with the system, and it is a shame because it ruined part of my time there. But it’s also been a tremendous learning experience. Patience is a virtue, right?
Next, French education. The presentation-centric, toughly-graded system makes classes both desperately mundane and demeaning. Even knowing that French teachers consistently grade low, it still took a toll on my motivation to finish the semester. I was blind-sided with the ambiguity of expectations and the inability for me to truly work up to my potential. I guess I was made for a small, liberal arts school where professors know my name. But it was a crash course in how post-grad life could be for me, and knowing that I made it through – even with saltiness – has made me that much more certain that I won’t fail life.
Lastly, the streets. It is not uncommon to find yourself on a street the width of a bar of chocolate. And do people want to move when they see you coming? No. You must lance yourself onto the pavement and risk collision with oncoming traffic just to get where you’re going. And when it rains? Expect to be splashed like Carrie Bradshaw on the curb (it really did happen to me, and no, I’m not over it). You’ll also get cat-called on a regular basis, which is highly uncomfortable if you happen to be fluent in the language + slang. But it made me tougher. I learned to navigate, to ignore, to scoff and to do the which-way-are-you-going dance like an expert. They may not be skills I can put on a resume, but if I ever get lost in a strange city, I have no doubt I will find my way without anyone bothering me.
There was a long while where I just muddled through the days because I knew I had to. It was stressful and exhausting to deal with. And then, gradually, I began to find little things that I loved. The 10-minute hike uphill to my apartment became a nice time to think about my day. Getting a fresh, warm baguette had the power to change my day from horrid to great. Having an afternoon off from school meant being able to hop on the metro to a different quartier and play tourist. I got to know the handful of people I had met through class, welcome week activities, and my roommates. I may not have been Parisian by the end of my stay, but if there’s one thing I learned from the French, it’s that they don’t even think Parisians are true Parisians!
Sometimes, I look back and wonder what it would have been like had I studied somewhere else, like Turkey, which I knew enough to love but it would have still been foreign. And then I think about how much I take for granted the fact that I can understand everything people say in France (unless they’re speaking a foreign tongue) and also be understood; I can appreciate the culture because I already know it fairly well. Sure, I complain about little things. But on the grand scale? This place is pretty darn cool. And the frustrating, bureaucratic moments seem like little ants on a mound when you stroll along the Seine, wandering into shops that used to be frequented by famous people and uncorking a bottle of 4 euro wine with friends.
It’s like that saying, I came to love it like the way you fall asleep; slowly and then all at once.