Paris Newsletter: Month One

Dear Paris,

The first month is always the hardest, this is what they say, and I am apt to believe them. On the eve of the first month spent here, the gods of technology smiled upon us and we are the proud new owners of an Internet and landline. This undoubtedly means that exactly zero work will get done this week, as we catch up on everything we’ve been missing (downloaded season premieres, google searches, weather.com) and call everyone we’ve ever met.

This first month has been especially hard for my family, which in turn became hard for me. Standing on a street corner at 11pm calling my mom on a phone card is not the most comfortable way to have a conversation and yet we found a way to manage. In many ways, Paris is like New York; they're both big cities and so the culture shock isn't as severe, at least in a certain sense.

On the other hand, the mental shift has been difficult at times. I never feel more American than when I am in a foreign country and over the past month I have never felt closer to George Bush. There have been moments when I’ve thought “wow, these guys just don’t get it like America does.” This attitude isn’t excusable, and certainly not when you’re living with and having a relationship with an example of French culture. As a result, complaining about French bureaucracy become insulting and I’m guilty for having insulted the essence of Aurel to his face more than a few times over the past month. It’s hard not to get personal when the same blank look that the guy at the post office gave you is replicated in your kitchen with regard to doing the dishes, but I’m trying my best to keep things in perspective.

I must have learned something in my history classes from Kindergarten through 12th grade, but to be honest, the entire body of information from those 12 years pale in comparison with what I’ve learned over the past month. I have never been so intrigued about the past; every damn place I visit has a story and is part of an atmosphere that has animated this city for hundreds of years. I can’t get enough of the sights and the smells that Hemingway and Gertrude Stein lived through, or the architecture designed specifically for Louis XIV. Many writers and intellectuals (especially during the 20th century) spent at least a little time in Paris and I feel overwhelmed and lucky to be experiencing such a tradition.

To be honest, there is a key connection between the “unwillingness” of the French people to change (in a foreigner’s eyes) and the fact that every senator passes through such historical halls of the Luxembourg Palace on his or her way to vote everyday. Because their history is ever-present, because it looks them in the face in the name of a subway station or the fa├žade of an apartment building, it connects these citizens to the past. I won’t say that it holds them back, for who am I to define progress in such a menial way?

To be French means to remember the history of a country that has existed for over a thousand years and keep that history alive, in the artwork through the halls of governmental buildings or the reluctance to alter a system because of a fear of change. I have no intention of becoming French, but I have a much less stressful day when I stop resisting and instead try to understand the people I’m living with.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

send me your phone number AS SOON AS YOU CAN !!!!!!!!!!! let's chat !!

yay for internet (and a thoughtful perspective on french, um... 'inefficacity'. i've gotta be careful too!)