I’m sitting on the outdoor terrace of my 5th floor Parisian apartment overlooking the locals flow in and out of the Volontaires metro station entrance, an older woman hanging up fresh white-linen sheets over her balcony, a couple cuddling close together sipping their noisettes at the local boulangerie, and children playing in the courtyard of the daycare nextdoor. The description sounds annoyingly perfect; it’s the romantic Paris conveyed through the rosey lens of romantic cinema for decades. This notion, the City of Love and Lights, is the Paris the entire world knows and loves, but in reality, Paris is… a city, and with any metropolitan city, it’s not going to be the flawless representation seen on the silver screen.
Let me be clear, Paris is a beautiful city with a relaxed cafe culture and breathtaking views, but it is also a city that is more than just romance, champagne, escargot, conversations that sound like they’re sung in flowing melodic verse, and fashionable women wearing Hermes scarves sipping their espresso at a cafe alongside the Eiffel Tower. If you choose to visit Paris, or even go to the lengths of studying abroad among the Parisians, you need to let go of this dreamy facade of Paris and instead, become excited to meet the real and authentic Paris. Within my first month of living here, these are some of the most unanticipated things I’d come to discover about the real Paris.
Oh mon Dieu . . . Il fait CHAUD!
I am from the midwest of the United-States and in Kansas City, let me tell you, it gets toasty! Our summers are so hot and humid; it’s not entirely dreadful because you can always find refuge in the pool or our air-conditioned restaurants, stores, shops, houses, classrooms, etc.… basically everywhere. In fact, if a place is not air-conditioned, it’s generally considered outdated and in need of some renovation! If there isn’t air-conditioning available, say when you’re outdoors, you can always cool yourself down with an ice cold drink. I came to Paris a couple of weeks after the record European heat wave; it reached up to 108 degrees F ( 42 degrees C…by the way, get used to using Celsius, Americans)! And, while it wasn’t as scorching as those record high temperatures during my orientation week, it averaged around 96 degrees everyday. Of course I was expecting warmer weather, as it was summer, however what totally slipped my mind was the COMPLETE lack of air-conditioning throughout Europe. In Paris especially, I’ve never felt more sweaty and hot in my life! Our classrooms have no air-conditioning, and if one is lucky, there will be a small standing fan in the corner. During these weeks, you’ll see people fanning themselves, heavily sweating, and relying on the small electric fan in the room (if there is one) to cool themselves off. In addition, don’t expect to be served a cold drink with ice at a restaurant. Ice isn’t customary here; they drink their soda and water without it, so if you’re an ice-fanatic like me, just ask your server for ice, or simply say, “beaucoup de glacons,” and they’ll usually accommodate you! So, be prepared to be hot during the summer, but don’t worry you’ll adjust and come to realize just how much Americans prioritize comfort and convenience!
Paris Fashion Week . . . Every Single Day!
Paris is the fashion capital of the world, so for a girl who wore nikes, black leggings, and some variation of a top touting her university’s name every day to class, I was really intimidated! I thought I’d have to dress in haute couture in order to even look like I fit in. But, again, I found myself reconsidering my conception of Paris and its residents. Parisians are fashionable, but most are, in a way, just extremely minimalistic. They stick to the basics; jeans, blouses, sneakers, etc. But, the twist is that they tend not to wear loud patterns or colors, or if they do, the rest of the pieces they’re wearing are neutral. Similarly, their jeans are one color and it’s not extremely common to see large rips or holes in them. They only wear a couple of jewelry pieces or only one statement piece. I’ve only ever seen a handful of girls dress in athleisure (sorry, you may want to reconsider bringing your lululemon leggings), and I’m almost positive they were on their way to the actual gym. It is common though to see a woman wearing some type of pant, adidas sneakers (like Stan Smiths), and a comfy blouse. Note: a comfy blouse does not mean a comfort colors t-shirt with your sorority’s name on it (greek life is pretty non-existent outside of the US). If fashion and assimilating is something you’re worried about, don’t be! Just take a minimalist approach, stick to neutral colors, avoid wearing stilettos and high heels because of the cobblestones, and when in doubt, stick to black. Black always looks fashionable.
The Cuisine, Oh So Appetizing! The Prices, however . . . not so Much!
The French take great pride in their culinary culture– as they should because their food and the quality of the fresh ingredients they use in their dishes is amazing! Around every corner you will find some sort of boulangerie, patisserie, fromagerie, etc. They usually have their baked goods and pastries lined along the window with everything from a variety of decadent chocolates, macaroons, freshly baked croissants, pistachio eclairs, sandwiches, and everything in between to tempt you. The problem isn’t with the food, but rather the prices! Learn how to budget before you come to Paris and set a limit on how much you want to spend on food every single day. It’s hard not to find a new cafe everynight to eat at with your friends, but try eating in a couple of days every week and make it fun! Have at-home dinner nights with your roommates. You will be able to find good quality wine and cheap ingredients (like pasta, cheese, vegetables) at the local markets or stores like Monoprix! Trust me, this will help you save some money and maybe even apply it to taking weekend trips to other places, like Italy, Spain, London, Austria, etc. where the price of a plane ticket can be a mere 30 euro! Don’t worry about missing out on the cuisine. If there’s something you really want to try, or an expensive cafe you’ve always wanted to visit (I highly recommend Angelina!) do it! Just remember not to spend frivolously every single day. It’s entirely possible to experience and enjoy French cuisine without breaking the bank.
Maddie is a fall 2019 Paris student from the University of Missouri.