August 2013


On Living Alone

Posted on Thursday, August 29, 2013

I never really imagined that I'd enjoy living alone.  During my years at Villanova, having a roommate was one of the most enjoyable parts of The College Experience for me - someone to procrastinate with, to eat late night mac n cheese with, to comiserate with after a late night out.  
Particularly during senior year, the year before leaving for France, living with my roommates was something that I couldn't imagine life without. Our apartment was a constant stream of friends coming in and out, dinners or drinks on the rooftop porch, impromptu sleepovers on the big orange couch... there was never a dull moment, and alone time was rare - something that I loved.

Bryn Mawr - I also had real roommates, not just cardboard ones.
So when I decided to move here, and to live alone, it was a big change.  And while picking my outfits without a second and third opinion took some getting used to (just kidding, kind of), the solitude is something that I've grown to value about my first year abroad.  Moving abroad was never the scary part of my decision, it was moving abroad alone that made me nervous.  Now though, twelve months later (okay, eleven months and three weeks - but who's counting??), I'm preparing to move into a shared apartment and to leave my little shoebox sized room behind.  It's a big change, and like any big change it's cause for a bit of reflection and introspection.

I never thought I'd say it, but I'll miss living by myself.  There are so many positive aspects to life toute seule, and I think I've enjoyed almost all of them.   When there are no roommates, you can eat dinner at whatever time you want - and you can eat whatever you want.  There are no kitchen collisions, there's no rush to do the dishes, there's no pressure.  You're entitled to a solo glasses of wine or two with as much stinky cheese as you like, without so much as an unsolicited sideways glance.  You can get into your pajamas right after work on weekdays, and you can stay in them all day on weekends if you feel like it.  You can go to bed at eight pm if you're tired, or you can come home at six in the morning without worrying about waking anyone up - because sometimes the last métro home is the best idea.

(You will also likely call into question your individual hummus intake)
You learn to develop a sense of independence when you live alone that I can't imagine can be done while living with others. I know it might sound silly, but for most of my life I was too shy to imagine eating a meal or getting a drink alone.  Maybe it was immaturity, or fear, or pride, but I just couldn't see myself ever going in somewhere all by myself.  Now, though, I'm all about it.  If I feel like I want to see a movie, I go and see one.  I sit alone, I buy some snacks for one, and I enjoy every minute of it.  If I feel like I want a nice meal out or (more budget friendly-ly) a glass of wine on my way home from work, I seat myself on the nearest terrasse and get ready for some good people watching.  It's probably one of my favorite things to do, these days.  Maybe I was the last to realize, but hanging out with yourself can really be the best company of all, sometimes.

It's inevitable that when you live with somebody, you learn a lot about them.  And, not too get too reflective or too "deep," but it's fair to say I've learned a lot about myself during the past year, too.  Though there are lots of great perks, it hasn't always easy to live alone.  Beyond confirming my suspicions that I'll never be a neat person, there have certainly been moments during my time in the little apartment that I've made a tough realization about myself, or needed a shoulder to cry on, or my solo dinner or drink felt just a bit tragic.  And while Skype is great, and I know I've got a big great group of people I could call, curing loneliness in a big foreign city often requires a bit more than a blurry video chat.

But c'est la vie, I've survived the tearful moments of loneliness just as well as the triumphant moments, and now I'm on the other side of it all.  My new apartment feels like an upgrade all around, and I'll be sure to post photos on my Instagram and here, once I'm all set up.
I'm a bit nervous, but mostly I feel excited and enthusiastic and ready to turn a page.  This past year has been a whirlwind and has gone by so quickly, but I'm ready for the next and hopeful that it will only get better from here.  The little apartment will always be the first place I called home in Paris and I'm unlikely to forget that. For the remaining days in my first little home, I'm going to enjoy all the good things that living alone can offer - like listening to embarrassing music at top volume and singing along with reckless abandon.

Hope the neighbors won't mind. xo


Les Vacances

Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The French have a lot of funny particularities.  Like any culture, there are habits so pervasive in their way of life that I can't help but notice them. Some, like the adament refusal to step aside on the narrow sidewalks as I struggle home with bags of groceries, are less endearing than others.  The French habit of carrying flowers upside down, with blossoms toward the ground, is as amusing to see as its "scientific" explanation is to hear ("They retain their smell better this way!" I was told by an incredulous Frenchman upon inquiring).  On an even more irritating note, it's probable that the stubborn French phrase ce n'est pas possible, a favorite with customer service  will haunt me long after I've moved from Paris.  I could write a long list of French behavior that is amusing, frustrating, incomprehensible, or endearing... But that wouldn't be very interesting, would it?

I'd rather focus on one French cultural institution that is revered above all others: Les Vacances.

Among the many benefits of working here, free health care aside, les vacances is by far the most highy valued.   For the French, vacation is not optional - and with an average of 5-6 weeks' vacation time allotted per year, why should it be?  This city has shut down over the past few weeks, as the Parisians - from the company heads to the least of secretaries - head to la campagne to stay in their holiday houses, or go abroad.  The streets are far more quiet during this time of year, if you're out of the way of the hundreds of tourists that do crowd some areas.  The bus isn't as packed, there are more bikes ready available for the vélib shared bike program... The city, on the whole, is a more pleasant place to live.  The list of Things The French Do Well might well exceed the distance between Paris and Philadelphia, in my opinion, but vacation nears the top of that list... Well, after wine, cheese, baguette...

I was lucky enough to take part in the mass exodus to the countryside a few weeks ago, when a friend invited me and a few others to spend the weekend at his family's beach house.  We went down on the train, and after a dodgy incident involving hitchiking from a truck driver, we arrived at the charming little house.  Dubbed La Maison Bleue, the cottage could have been in the center of wine country for its appearances.  Though that would've been just as agréable, the beach was a five minute walk from the front door.  We had lovely weather, delicious food, and the company was wonderful.  I learned the three Ps of a French holiday: pastis, pétanque, et poisson.  Though my weekend away was short, I realized quickly why the French generally take the whole month for their holidays.

Now, though, in the last week of August, things are slowly becoming animated once more around here.  The Christian Loubouton boutique on my street has reopened for business (much to the tourists' delight and to my crowd-battling chagrin), the smell of fresh bread is once again on every street corner, and my vélib luck is beginning to run out.  There's a feeling in the air that cooler weather is just around the corner, and some leaves have even begun to turn.  The summer has flown by, like every other season seems to, and I'm not quite ready for it to be over yet.  Though autumn in Paris is beautiful, the advent of the crisp weather and golden-dappled leaves means that another long winter is not far off.

Rather than settling into some old fashioned Parisian gloom with the rentrée, as seems to be the modus operandi around here, I'm determined to focus on exciting things coming my way.  For now, the weather is still beautiful and life is still good.  The next couple of weeks mean as many sunset bike rides as possible, wine filled picnics with some new friends, and walks home from work along the Seine.  Though the days are getting shorter, my heart is still so full of love for this place I'm so happy to call home - though, for now, I'll carry my flowers the normal way.  xo

PS: Check out this NYTimes article: A Quest to Make Gruff Service in France More Gracious.  It's an interesting read.