Five weeks in Paris. Where did the time go? I’m not sure. It’s like going to see one of those long Linklater movies in the afternoon then emerging in the evening not sure where you parked the car. Like maybe you were in there since last Tuesday and now it’s a Thursday. You know what I mean. It feels like we’ve lived in Paris forever. And we didn’t even bring a car.
It’s pretty prosaic to say, but the weeks have involved a fair amount of shopping and figuring out where to shop and devising plans and lists to shop.
Shopping for the daily meals. Shopping for all the stuff we couldn’t bring over in 3 small suitcases while we wait for our sea shipment (where IS our sea shipment??) shopping for stuff like pouches for the girls filled with their own maps, bus tickets, a few euros, phone numbers and lipgloss. Shopping for the French equivalent of American lunch boxes. Shopping for lined notebooks and dog poo bags, pencil cases and pyjamas again (someone is growing!), jog bras and all-natural deodorant. It’s a long list. I won’t bore you with more details.
I will say, in these 5 weeks, the daily shopping has been my entry into native Paris (as opposed to expat Paris, which is another post), along with walking the dog, sheparding the kids down the rues to school and lessons and cafe-ing it at the bar side with the morning workers. So, I’ve nabbed these moments of regular chores and looked at them as chances to get to know the people.
Paris can be intimidating for the feint of heart. It’s intimidating to walk into a ‘room’ of good looking people who sound really smart in clipped confident accents, but you have no idea what they are saying. Living smack dab in the heart of this sophisticated city that is so gorgeous in the milky afternoon light, that sometimes you think you’ve stepped into a dream, can make matters worse. It’s so pretty you can feel dwarfed by its magnificence. The avenues are filled with people in height of fashion clothes, swishing by in rich fabrics and leather. The buildings themselves are grand and elegant. And people smell really good here too. What is a regular person to do in the face of such grandeur?
My Paris approach can be summed up with a motto – “Chat em up.” To feel at home, you’ve got to start to know the people. And to know the people, you’ve got to start the conversation. When I’m shopping and walking and stopping by the cafe or boulangerie, I make conversations – simplistic ones, spur of the moment ones, investigative ones… And so, my newbie abilities to converse in French (not to mention, to mime) have grown by newbie leaps and tiny bounds.
Chatting makes the world go round. It connects us, inspires us, brings us back to our roots, takes us out to lunch, rings in hope, joins us like family. We could all use a daily dose of some kind of conversation.
It can be as simple as this American example: You’re standing in line at Target, and the person in line in front of you is buying the cutest baby clothes, and of course, you say, “Those are soooo cute, ow my gosh…. ” And they say, “I buy everything here.” And you say, “I loved buying baby clothes when the girls were little. It was so much fun to get them dressed and take them out.” And see, you’ve made a new friend. Or at least, shared a little moment.
Well, it’s the same in Paris. Only, it might go something like this:
You’re looking for a “sac a dos” (back pack) and go into Herve Chevalier near St. Sulpice and start to explain the situation and the next thing you know, you’re chatting about your kids and her kids and neighborhoods and sac fabrications in France. Or…
You’re waiting in line at the Monoprix and someone bumps into you from behind (this happens all the time) and you turn and say “pas problem” acknowledging that you don’t mind they bumped you and that it’s no big deal. Then you might say something more, like, “ou trouvez-vous votre parfum?” “where do you find your perfume” or something like that. I’ve found people really like to tell you about these small things.
In a world stressed out by fear of strangers, by long work hours, by political angst, it’s nice to make sheep jokes with the lady who is going to trim your dog because you describe your dog as a petite mouton (small sheep) and she laughs and says “c’est notre premiere mouton” “it’s our first sheep.” Little things can lighten the world’s load.
After all, we’re pretty much all suckers for cute kids, shaggy dogs, yummy food, flowery dresses, suspenseful novels, you know, the usual stuff, regardless of the accent.