It took me two Sunday afternoons to learn to like Paris. A nationwide day of rest, many of the stores and restaurants are closed on Sundays, but the city pulses with an ineffable melange of vibrancy and calm. At the entrance to my metro stop, a Pakistani man grills bright yellow corn, the ripe husks peeled carefully back, the smell of autumn and barbecue smoke wafting through the neighborhood. A woman sells jewelry and sneakers inside the parking garage and a man with a blanket full of ACE bandages demonstrates to a curious tourist how to apply one to his wrist. Children glide through puddles on roller blades, tracing water in faded paths behind them.
I left for Paris in a rush, without time for ample forethought. A few days before my departure I darted madly around, doing the things people do when they move to a foreign country: I purchased traveler's checks and power adapters, I ate at my favorite restaurant one last time and bought sweaters and said goodbye to friends. None of these preemptive activities seemed to trigger in me the reality that I was moving to France for four months. I contently pushed it out of my mind, because I knew that if I thought about it too much, my anxiety would tip over into regret for even attempting something so adventurous, and then where would I be? I have my pride, that boisterous thing, and as scared as I was I couldn't return to New York with my head limply hanging off my shoulders in defeat. So I refused to think about it. I would just pick up and go.
Upon landing in Paris I promptly realized that everything was different; even small things, like strange-tasting toothpaste and a startling lack of tofu. My French skills weren't as good as I had thought: normal French people don't speak painfully slowly and enunciate every syllable like your high school world languages teacher. As a vegetarian and someone allergic to most dairy, eating food other than carbs was almost certainly out of the question. So baguettes and Nutella and lettuce heads it was. A few days in I started crying in the dairy aisle of my local grocery store when I realized I didn't know the words for "soy milk" and was too embarrassed to ask.
It has also become quite obvious that living in New York City has spoiled me to the point where I find an existence without delivery.com and all night subway service frustrating. But I've found that the most difficult part of being here is the nagging inability to communicate my feelings to others in a sophisticated manner. I can understand most of the things that people say to me, but when it comes time to respond, my brain completely freezes and my responses are relegated to elementary school vocabulary and sentence formation: ideas on feminism and culture I've spent years crafting literally become the sentence "J'aime écrire" -- I like to write.
I've always derived a particular amount of pleasure from engaging conversation and simple human interaction; in France, with limited language skills, I sometimes feel like I've been automatically robbed of that. This problem is compounded by my inherent awkwardness: not only do I have to come up with something charming or witty to add to the conversation, but I also have to translate it? Fuck that.
The language barrier does leave me with a lot of time to think, and I've learned to rely much more on my visual observational skills than my eavesdropping ones. But the struggle between my anglophone head and my francophone world can be a lonely one, so come keep me company while I'm in Paris. You can read here about trips to museums and run-ins with aggressive French catcallers and $11 beers (why couldn't I have gone some place with a favorable exchange rate like my friends who are all in Eastern European former communist countries?). I figure if we do this thing together I might not cry in the grocery store anymore, though that might simply be wishful thinking.