I’ve only been in Paris for just over half a month now, but I think I may be well on my way towards morphing into a fully-fledged Parisian. The changes were subtle enough at first: The need to begin each day by sipping un café crème and savouring a croissant while watching the crowds of morning commuters march by, the inability to leave the apartment without first knotting a scarf of some sort around my neck, and a strange desire to walk around with a baguette tucked under my arm. And then it started to become more obvious. My response to daily conundrums has begun to involve a dramatic shrugging of my shoulders, and I’ve discovered a sudden, newfound ability to make my way through the Métro’s underground labyrinth of confusion without getting lost or realizing ten minutes too late that I’m on the right line, but headed in the wrong direction. I’ve even mastered the art of riding a bike down an impossibly narrow, cobblestone-encrusted street while wearing a fluttery silk skirt – and if that doesn’t signal some degree of comfort with the French culture, then I don’t know what does.
Life in Paris, as it turns out, is simultaneously exactly as I expected it to be, and yet completely different. More surprising. On one hand, I’ve slipped easily into the rhythm of the days here. A glass of wine to wrap up the work day? Mais oui, bien sur! Dinner at nine o’clock rather than six o’clock? Pas de problème – at least with a little help from my mid-afternoon pastry break. Life here feels oddly natural, despite being thousands of kilometres away – physically and culturally – from my hometown. Paris has all the fast-paced energy I love about large cities, but with a healthy appreciation for relaxation and leisure time mixed in. It’s a city where striding down the sidewalk in an all-black outfit and stiletto heels feels just as comfortable as lounging for hours in an arty café with a notebook and a steaming cup of coffee. And as long as I don’t open my mouth – because my choppy, likely mangled-sounding French instantly blows my cover – it’s possible for me to feel like I am a real Parisian.
Of course, that’s not to say that every moment has been smooth and picture-perfect. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that trip me up and send me into a moment of complete cultural confusion: Misunderstanding the waiter at a restaurant and ending up with an entire bottle of wine at my little table for one instead of the single glass I was hoping for, incurring the wrath of a boutique’s sales associate for not remembering to greet her the second I’ve stepped into the store, and meeting nearly every question and comment with a wide-eyed stare while my brain frantically attempts to make sense of the French and come up with something remotely understandable to say in reply. I remember more of the French that I learned in school than I expected I would, but less than I’d secretly hoped for – in other words, enough to eavesdrop on the conversations of people around me in cafés or on the Métro, but not enough to have a complete discussion that doesn’t revolve around something simple like food or directions. And when the language alone isn’t enough to throw me off balance, I’ll almost certainly end up being surprised by something like those double-cheeked air kisses (which seem so natural for Europeans yet utterly terrifying for me) or confused over how to handle the French men, who are simultaneously incredibly charming and startlingly bold in their approaches.
The outcome of all of this is that every day in Paris ends up feeling slightly, wonderfully, surreal. Whether I’m working from the terrace of a historic café, shopping for dinner ingredients at an outdoor market, or biking through the twisting streets while looking up at centuries-old buildings, the city never fails to surprise me. And every time it surprises me, I fall a little bit more in love with it.