I wonder what makes Paris romantic. It’s a city. Filled with millions of people, hurrying and jaywalking like they are perpetually late for an important meeting. They seem to be out at all times of day or night, walking briskly, sitting at cafes, or driving through chaotic swarms of people.
That much isn’t that different from New York City. And yet there is an allure to the city I don’t feel at home.
Perhaps it’s the fact that majority of the buildings in the city are less than 6 or 7 floors high, allowing you a sense of freedom and clear view of the sky. Or maybe the wider roads and the river that cuts across the center of the city.
Or even the dozens of gorgeous parks and public spaces peppered around the city where you can find Parisians resting or socializing with an espresso or a picnic as though it is not a midday on a work week in middle of one of the most populated cities in the world.
Perhaps it’s the lyrical songs of shopkeepers greeting guests walking into the bakery. “Bonjour, Madame!” sounds so much like a song and less like actual speaking when it whistles out of their lips. “Merci, Madame. Au revoir!” sang out as you leave with a freshly baked baguette or a flaky croissant in a brown paper bag.
Perhaps it’s the mysterious nature of it all. A large city, like my own, and yet so foreign and curious. With a language I don’t understand (it took me until arriving to the airport to realize I can’t even order food in French), customs I haven’t discovered yet (why are the drivers not incensed when they have to wait for pedestrians jaywalking on red?), incomprehensible shop hours (why are these restaurants only open for 4 hours a day?), and an even more incomprehensible transit system (why are there 2 different metro systems in one station and nothing explaining what you need to buy to get somewhere?).
There was delight in discovering or mastering one task or skill, like figuring out that the expensive RER is for specific trains you normally do not need to take, and that you can get around most places with the 1.90€ metro tickets, or getting through a whole “conversation” at a cafe without the cashier having to resort to English.
I learned that despite my usual sense of alienation from human social cues and interactions, where I often feel like I can’t understand what is being conveyed verbally or nonverbally, I am very well able to communicate without the use of language. With gestures and tones and facial expressions, I was able to understand the questions being posed to me and communicate responses back at cafes and restaurants when neither of us spoke a word of each other’s language.
I also felt like I had a glimpse into the life my parents had when they moved to the United States as adults, only few years older than I am now. While we had phones and Google translate and globalization at our disposal, my parents had unreliable dictionaries (and who walks around with those?) and utter incomprehension until they began to pick up the language, slowly and excruciatingly.
While I was experiencing linguistic helplessness by choice, and for less than 2 weeks, they had eternity to grapple with. I can’t even imagine what they must have gone through those years ago, but if the daily frustration that mounts from not being able to do simple tasks like reading the menu or asking for directions is of any indication, I am at awe of their grit and tenacity.
I wonder if the difference has little to do with the actual city itself, but rather my interaction with it. After all, New York City is also a city very often romanticized, where people around the world dream of coming. And from all accounts, they seem to have similar reactions to their visits as I did to Paris.
Maybe by slicing my life down to the essentials of what gives me joy and excitement, I can reap the psychological the benefits of traveling to a foreign city with just a backpack and half of a carry-on suitcase.
Follow My Journey
I visited Paris, Versailles, and Marseilles during the trip to France. The country is GORGEOUS. You can check out some of the photos I took and follow my 2 week trip on my Instagram!
We really enjoyed the atmosphere of Paris, so we look forward to going back… If not even make it an annual thing. Who knows! It definitely felt like a livable city where we enjoyed and appreciated the ambience.