Paris – for better and for worse

The City of Light, Paris, is not always easy to handle. You may fall in love with it in an instant but it takes you a good while to learn loving it. It is like any relationship, after the ecstatic first weeks comes the everyday life and its cons.

City of Light ParisThe first seven days in Paris are a feast for all senses: baguettes, garçons, boulevards, Notre Dame, Tour Eiffel, Palais Royal, croissants, cinéma, hôtels particuliers, crêpes, Camembert, jardins, Renoir, bateaux-mouches, Edith Piaf. And all this crusted with the posh French nasal sounds which makes you think you are in heaven.

After the honeymoon

It is like a fairytale till the moment you start to live here. Then you have to get serious, to settle down as they say. You start getting attached: you open a bank account, you get all those cards for metro, libraries and museums, you find your favourite supermarket and the staff start to recognise you. Now you discover all those small things that drive you crazy: The thing is, in Paris you don’t just go and buy a monthly metro ticket or open a bank account. You honestly need at least half a dozen of certificates about your identity, logging, student status etc. Then you fill out a form and post it to some excluded office with a zip code you cannot locate in the outskirts of Ile de France. Then you wait for a month because nothing is as long and wearing as French bureaucracy, well, except for the Italian.

French bureaucracy

On the second stage you realise your habits are not at all like those of your newly-wedded metropolis. It does not understand the sanctity of rye bread and keeps providing you with baguettes naively believing that there is nothing better. It provides you with baguettes not only for breakfast but also for lunch and for dinner which makes you seriously doubt the supposed variety of French cuisine.

The fine art of Paris-isation

After the first two months it gets easier. Finally, you have all the cards and you can enjoy the privileges of a VIP museum guest by passing the tourists queuing up in never-ending lines. You also forget the existence of rye bread just like your former life is something left behind in the past, long ago. You no longer go mad because of the insurmountable complexity of your university library system or because of the two and half computers with Windows 95 available at your faculty. All in all, you have long ago accepted the immobility of French institutions and do as everyone else does – shrugging you shoulders, you blame the system.

French language

Most importantly you learn the French language and with that the delicate art of using meaningless expressions like “Bon ben voilà quoi” and the inexhaustible vocabulary of the verlan, the French slang in reverse. You also learn to be pardonably late, that is at least 15 minutes which is unforgivable in the North of Europe. Thirdly, after getting some French friends you are finally cured from the special malady of big cities: loneliness. The paradox of having millions of people around you, but always changing without establishing anything lasting, can be difficult.

Love for life

However, despite all the Paris-isation and assimilation, you never grow bored of the city. There is something infinitely inspiring in the Parisian masses of people, the stream of life on the streets, the faces of all colours and of all ages. You know this city never stops, apart from when the metro staff is on strike which seems to kill all its creative initiative.

Otherwise, Paris occupies your whole existence. It takes up your mind and body and it never leaves you indifferent. It is in the early hours of Sunday mornings when you are returning home on a city bike, the Velib, that you realise the calm beauty of Paris and the thousands of lights reflecting from the Seine. Then you feel it is love for life: Paris is to have and to hold till death do us part. Or till the end of the Erasmus year.