(All photos by Alexa)
It’s official. I’ve fallen in love with Paris. And being in Paris no longer feels like a vacation, but more like an actual life. For the first month, I was echoing the sentiment that many people who visit Paris have: that Parisians aren’t the friendliest and it’s really hard to meet them. Other than waiters and shopkeepers, I found that I wasn’t really interacting with many French people. It’s very frustrating to realize that you’re only talking to Americans while living in France. I started going to a church in Paris and saw a whole other side to the Parisians I was encountering on the streets. The frozen frowning faces and occasional shoves in the metro never would have led me to believe Parisians could be so welcoming, friendly, and passionate about life. But joining a Parisian church community has torn apart every stereotype I’ve ever heard about the French. Now, I can say that I regularly do les bisous and am regularly meeting new locals. One of my proudest accomplishments in Paris, thus far, is getting a French person’s phone number. In any culture, you won’t feel fully immersed until you’re actually meeting the locals. So if I had to give one piece of advice to someone studying abroad in France, it would be this: find some sort of French community (a church, an art studio, workout class, etc.) that you can go to regularly and connect with the natives in.
The language is still difficult as I’m not quite used to how fast and quietly the French speak, but what’s more difficult is the temptation to speak English. Knowing that so many people here in Paris usually have a basic understanding of English, it’s so easy to just ask, “Vous parlez anglais?” and not practice the language. It’s a bad habit that I’m hoping to drop by the end of the semester. For now, I’ll keep trying to stick to French, and drop the Franglais.
I had a cool opportunity to photograph a concert for a teenage American artist this past weekend. Though I’d done this before, it was a little bit different to do concert press in France, as opposed to in the States. I have to say, the security and the crowd of teenage girls were much tamer than their American counterparts. A couple of high school-aged girls found out that I had “une passe de presse” and started asking me, excitedly, if I was going to meet the artist after the show and hinting that they wanted to come with me. My “passe de presse” also served as an unexpected networking tool that led to a cool conversation with a French blogger at the show. I’m learning that in Paris, there’s always an opportunity for serendipitous opportunities. I’m hopefully looking forward to more of those, as Paris Fashion Week is upon us and anything could happen.
(all photos by Alexa)
Up until the day I left, Paris had been a beautiful dream for a girl who grew up reading fairy tales and watching Passport to Paris. But the day I left, it became, all at once, a terrifying and beautiful dream. Paris wasn’t real to me until the moment I had to say goodbye to my mother at the airport security checkpoint. It was in that moment that I was all at once terrified, where before I had been excited, for this seemingly far-off fairytale adventure that was Paris, France to me. After saying goodbye to my mother for the third time (because I was too afraid to go to my gate without her), I held back tears as I walked to my terminal and went to board my plane. When it was my turn to hand over my ticket and board, the flight agent informed me that I couldn’t take my carry-on item because the plane was full. The tears came. It was embarrassing. But those tears prompted another flight agent to escort me onto the plane and have a flight attendant find a place for my carry-on. When the flight attendant found out that I was going to Paris to study, I told her I was scared. I couldn’t help it. She had a motherly face and again more tears came. I’m 21, but I’ve never felt more like a child than I did on that connecting flight. I turned to face the window so I could cry for reasons I didn’t even know. The flight staff checked on me periodically throughout my flight, much to my embarrassment and comfort. And at the end of the flight, out of pity or kindness or a mix of both, the flight attendants brought me a gift bag filled with candy and snacks (shout out to American Airlines!). My fear was melting away because of the kindness of others.
After landing in Paris, the tears were gone, but my string of embarrassing moments continued. One of my first encounters with a Parisian involved me accidentally dropping my oversized suitcase on a middle school boy on the sidewalk. The suitcase was almost bigger than he was. On my first night, I got lost trying to find the Eiffel Tower in the rain with my friends, Katie and Abigail. It was exhilarating and we weren’t sure if we’d make it back to the dorm. We could either learn the metro system or sleep in a park. We chose the former. But I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as Paris on that rainy night. And these moments and the sometimes awkward mishaps in language are teaching me not just about how to live in Paris, but about humbling myself. Paris is still a terrifying and beautiful dream. But it’s also a great teacher and I can’t wait to learn as much as I can from it.
(Photo by momentummoonlight.com)
Dating a Frenchman
A question that many have asked out of curiosity, yet one that few non-French speaking people can answer. As an English native speaker, I can assure you that never did I ever expect to be dating someone who didn’t speak English as their first language.
Our romance started when I embarked on a French Exchange with my college. From a few awkward meals together with his family, we eventually had a few hours alone (in a nightclub of all places!) where the conversation was awkward at best. Aside from the obvious noise issues due to being in the nightclub, there were some problems with language. We spent the evening speaking about music and other things that we liked but the language barrier made it difficult to clearly communicate, because I was nervous and my French was limping, and his English as broken and a little “maladroit”. After I left France, we stayed in contact and the spark was still there.
The first few months were quite difficult because we were so far apart. Obviously with most relationships, the couple are together most of the time. It’s as simple as taking a bus and meeting them less than an hour later. But with Flo and I, it wasn’t as easy as that. We had to suffice with Facebook messages and Skype video chats. My sister and I went over to visit during Easter 2014, and I also went over and did some work experience with Flo’s mum in a primary school. These trips made it easier, but it was still tough sometimes.
(Emily & Flo)
A year and a half down the line and things are going strong. In August 2014 Flo moved over to England, got a job and found some accommodation. We’ve been on holiday together, we’ve been on lots of days out together and we plan to move in together next year in Paris, as I will be going to university in the city centre. I’m really excited to live with him, and I think it will be full of challenges and exciting adventures.
But, the relationship has had its pitfalls. There have been numerous instances where English idioms, sarcasm and tongue in cheek humour has failed Flo. There’ve also been some occasions where Flo hasn’t communicated his ideas properly, which meant that I completely misinterpreted what he wanted to say, which has caused several arguments.
However it’s not all been terrible and full of arguments. Many people say that French is the language of love, and they are absolutely correct. Flo has said some beautiful things to me in French which would not have had the same effect in English, and both of our second languages have improved to a near fluent level.
(Emily & Flo)
Moreover, since he moved to England, we have obviously been on several dates, which has been so much fun because we’ve been able to speak in French whilst surrounded by people who speak English. It’s been fun to giggle about things together and have nobody understand what we’re speaking about. I would definitely say that it has brought us closer together as a couple. It reminds me of when young siblings make up a secret language to speak so that their parents can’t understand them. Flo and I’s next challenge together will be learning ‘esperanto’, which is a language spoken by few (in comparison to French or English let’s say), meaning that we have another language in our arsenal with which we can communicate.
I have obviously had an advantage with this relationship because I speak French, but dating someone foreign has not been as daunting as it first seemed. Flo’s circumstances have evidently facilitated things, as he was able to move house and come to England. To anybody with concerns about dating someone who doesn’t speak your first language, I’d say 100% go for it, because it opens you up to another culture and the fun you’ll have learning about each other and learning about yourself too.