Bus 86

Every morning I look forward to my commute to class....

My bus circles around the Bastille [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastille] and passes a park with children playing against the backdrop of the river Seine before going down to St. Germain des Pres [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boulevard_Saint-Germain], one of the most well-known areas in Paris.

Every day while driving over that bridge with the view of the Notre Dame cathedral in the distance, I am in silent awe. I of course show no outwardly reaction to this "commonplace" sight so as to keep up my parisian appearance ;-P but inside, I am bursting with excitement to be living in this city....

I am certain of one thing that will not change during my 6 months: no matter how many times I walk this city, explore its cobblestone treasures, become familiar with its customs, or see the Eiffel Tower lighting up the night sky, it will never lose its novelty.

Paris, toujours Paris....



C'est ca, la vie Parisienne....

Every day I encounter a myriad of things that strike me in some way and which I try to take a mental picture, but often forget....I wish I could share it all with you.

Today I started off my day at the local cafe two seconds from my front door...it is not marked and from the outside looks like a "members only" type place because everyone knows each other. It has a lot of personality from the furniture to the people who frequent it. I ordered tea which was brewed from real leaves stored in big bins (not a tea bag) and chatted with the server about the neighborhood and what I was doing in Paris etc. Then an older gentleman came in, shook hands with the server, and joined our conversation. His name was Pierre (hehe I know what you're thinking) and he had lived in the "quartier" (pronounced car-tee-ay) for a very long time. We talked about the differences between American and French culture and of course...politics. It was nice to meet two more people in my neighborhood and I know that I will hang out in that cafe again soon....

What I like about Parisian life is the preservation of a community/neighborhood feel that I believe dates back to the medieval times. "Mom 'n Pop" shops line the streets, each one specializing in something and has its own charm. For example, every day going to my class on the bus, I pass a shop that ONLY sells mirrors....bathroom mirror, full-length mirrors, decorative mirrors, vanity mirrors...you name it. That's all it sells. Another store nearby only sells rods for curtains etc. My neighborhood was traditionally the furniture district so there are many artisans and high-end modern boutiques. The result of this preserved aspect of the past is the importance of the customer/vendor relationship. Relationships in France are very different than the U.S. They are not superficial (as in "Hello and welcome to McDonalds, How may i help you?!!! *biiig smile* type way) but are based on consistent patronage which results in a personal relationship with the vendor. Visitors complain that there is no customer service concept in France....which is true in many ways, however, in the small shops you find in a neighborhood, it exists but in a different way. When you get to know the people you see on a daily basis, they know you and are willing to help you out, even go very out of their way to do so. Stores suddenly become very personal to the owner....demanding a refund and expecting that the "customer is always right" is an insult to their craft.

A good example that made me happy today: every day during break in class, we (students) go to this little sandwich/pastry shop nearby to eat. The first couple of times we went, the woman behind the counter (the owner) would ask us what we wanted with a straight face and that was that. Little by little, she started to recognize us and come to expect our patronage during lunchtime. Today, she smiled when we ordered and when my friend asked her where she could buy chocolate chips (because she couldn't find them in the grocery store), the woman answered and then gave her a cookie for free! At the end of the day, I was leaving class and saw the woman outside cleaning up...I said "au revoir, madame" and waved and she said smiled and did the same.

If there was a "theme" for today, I would say that it was breaking through the Parisian hard outter shells and getting to know more people in my neighborhood and figuring out the way to LIVE in Paris rather than be a tourist. The transition took me three weeks but I think I finally have it.....



I arrived! .....3 weeks ago....

First rule to being a successful blogger.....update as often as you can. I arrived in Paris almost three weeks ago and just now have I sat down to write a post. This then, I suppose, is my formal introduction and where I state my purpose for writing this blog....if not for the sake of you, my dear readers (mostly family and friends), then for myself so that I can look back and see how things evolved over time.

I came to France with three notebooks (of all sizes and types) and a formal diary as well as an intention to write a blog for family and friends. This will not do....I am just too lazy. Therefore, I have made the decision that I will use this blog so that I can write my intimate thoughts and observations down in addition to sharing them with others...thus saving myself a lot of time and energy.

Let me finish this post (I'm starting to get sleepy...) with a list. Before I left the U.S., when I would tell people where I was studying abroad, their reaction was often something to the effect of "Ohhh, Parisss...not too shabby, eh? you're really roughing it!" And I would smile and nod....HOWEVER, I have had to deal with some things that I never anticipated from a Western European country.....Here is a list of just some of the things that I have been working on getting used to:

--> Personal Space : having space is the ultimate luxury here...even as simple as seats, room on a bus, or sidewalks...I could go on

--> Smoke : I don't smoke so this has been a challenge...I hate the smell and it burns my eyes...there is no escaping it so I've had to try my best to ignore it. It gets to a point where you just want to give in and join everyone else in the national race for lung cancer...I figure I've got good chances, what with all the second-hand smoke I've had in just these three weeks! (sorry for the sarcasm...the smoke really is horrible though)

--> Parisians : I could write a book on this topic, however, there are already a lot of them out there...understanding the Parisians really is an art that is honed in time. One needs to study the language and history of France...also, one must step outside of one's upbringing to truly understand that they do things very differently here--not necessarily worse or better than how we do it--just different. If you has this attitude, it becomes a great deal easier and you don't get angry at people. Of course, there are always rude people anywhere you go. The thing that I have had to deal with, however, is not rudeness.....actually, people are quite friendly when you need help etc. Parisians are just indifferent. Something like a shrug of a shoulder, staring and looking away unapologetically, or answering curtly when you try your very best to communicate and smile is what gets to you over time. I think it is very similar to city life in New York City except that people are more indifferent than in NYC. I will write more about this later.

--> Hygiene : I never realized how sterile we are in the U.S. We take for granted the fact that we have hundreds of variations of cleaning and disinfectant products, all with heavy-duty antibacterial chemicals....here, I had to comb the stores and pharmacies for a "Purell" alternative....I use public transportation every day afterall! Also, there aren't the same health laws that we have in the states for restaurants and food stands, but what I figure doesn't kill me will make my immune system and intestines stronger! ...I've also been in bathrooms that have run out of soap and people don't wash their hands after! I try not to think about it. So yes, me and my fellow Americans agree that yes we are wasteful in the U.S. with our endless supply of Lysol antibacterial wipes but it is with our health at heart! (note: talking about dog poop on sidewalks will be discussed in length later).

--> Size Does Matter : Everything here is a lot smaller...even the plastic bags they give you at the grocery store...WHICH, by the way, you have to PAY for.... They are very environmentally/energy conscious here and I like it, it just takes adjusting because we are very wasteful in the U.S. Everything is based on comfort whereas here things are based on utility.

--> The Law Prevails (?) : The question mark is key. This is a cultural issue which I will address more in another post but one of the biggest differences I've noticed is that in the U.S. we are very law-abiding in the sense that even if there is nobody visably around, we will follow the laws. Crosswalks, for example versus jaywalking. Laws in France are only followed if there are concrete consequences, from what I've observed. It's just a different way of doing things. The french phrase "C'est pas possible" (it's not possible) is actually code for "Technically it's not possible but if you are polite to me and demand one more time, I will do it for you." Basically, there is an exception to every rule, you just have to be bold enough to make a fuss about it.

--> Walking : You have no idea. I am used to big city living and public transportation, often walking a great distance to get to a bus stop etc. In Paris, however, the U.S. idea of distance can be thrown out the window. It's great! I'm walking around literally all day and climbing up and down steps...if I am not in excellent shape by the end of this 6 months and 20 pounds lighter, I will be very surprised. So this is the secret to why French women are so thin....this and smoking. After the first week of intense all-day walking, my body started to feel the effects....the soles of my feet, even though I would wear flats and puma sneakers, would hurt badly along with my leg muscles and lower back. On the other hand, it makes me feel less guilty when I eat the delicious french food cooked with lots of cream and butter.

Well, I think I've written enough for my first post...don't you think? I've touched on many things that I will talk about more in detail later. I love my life here more and more every day...I am adjusting to the differences and learning a great deal about myself and American culture at the same time. Now THAT'S not too shabby, eh?

Bonne nuit et a bientot! (good night and until the next time!)