Paris: je t’aime… moi non plus1
I was born and raised in Paris. I speak Paris slang called “verlan”, which consists of putting word syllables upside down. I have a Parisian accent. I swear and grumble a lot. I am an intellectual; I can talk about politics and films all night long. I could find my way in the underground blindfolded. Yet I have trouble doing so outside. I am a feminine feminist. I’ve never really gotten rid of my bad smoking habit. In short, I am a true Parisian, genuine produce of the city of lights.
As any Parisian, I have a love and hate relationship with my city. I left when I was 22 because I couldn’t take it anymore. Paris was too much for me. Now every time I come back I feel like a tourist in my own city. The beauty of it amazes me.
I live in Brussels in the expat community. When you meet someone there, the first question you are asked is always: “Where do you come from?” I used to respond: “from France.” But as this answer is always followed by “Where in France?” now I’m taking a short cut and respond directly to the first question: “From Paris.” The mention of Paris always has the same effect on the person I’m talking to. Shiny stars appear in their eyes and they ask me filled with wonder: “Don’t you miss it? Paris is such a great city!” With a typical “been there, done that” Parisian look on my face I usually say: “No. Actually I’m not really fond of Paris”. And each time, it makes me feel as if I was telling a child that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
But I’ve evolved over the years. There are things I love about Paris and things I dislike. So I thought I would make a list.
Things I love about Paris:
- Shops that open late
- Butcher’s shops, bakeries and cheese sellers at every street corner
- The old Parisians known as “titis parisiens”
- The markets you find every 5 minute-walk
- Food is a religion
- Asian restaurants that are both good and cheap
- Waiters. I know they have a bad reputation. But they don’t behave the same with tourists as they do with Parisians. Being a waiter in Paris is more than a job; it’s a career. Their professionalism always astounds me. Besides they always make funny jokes. I love them.
- Parisian waiters calling me Mademoiselle
- Politico-philosophical discussions until the end of the night
- The city’s harmony, the beauty of its architecture, illuminations
- Cultural diversity
- Department stores’ windows at Christmas time (see video below)
- Public bikes
- The Eiffel tower by day
- The Eiffel tower by night
Things I dislike about Paris:
- The snobbery of some Parisians who think Paris is the best city in the world although they have never lived in another city
- How very French every conversation is, the ignorance of anything that takes place outside of Paris, be it in the rest of France or in the rest of the world
- Sky-high housing costs
- The underground. I don’t know why but it seems it’s always pick hour in the Parisian underground.
- Hours lost commuting
- Cars and their constant traffic
- The underlying violence in the air. As soon as I get out of the Thalys at Gare du Nord I can feel it. It’s ineffable. Something is in the air. People are frustrated and unhappy. As a woman I don’t feel safe walking around on my own at night in Paris.
- Going out is expensive. I remember a night out in a trendy club a few years ago. Entrance was 12 Euros. Nothing outrageous. Then I ordered two bottles of Heineken: 14 Euros. Ouch. In these conditions, what do young Parisians do to have fun? They throw dinners and parties in their own apartments. As a result, they only meet people like them and Parisians function in tribes.
- The noise, the shops at every building, the crowd, the lights everywhere. Too much of it all.
But I like Paris. I even like the Parisians. Yet sometimes I dislike Paris… and especially the Parisians. A friend sent me a test on Facebook: “Test your relationship with Paris. Paris and you, where do you stand? According to the test, it’s perfect love between Paris and me. Who would have thought?
Here’s a piece of Paris wonders, the animated Christmas windows of the most emblematic Parisian department stores:
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