cultureshocked

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Paris from the roof of the Galeries Lafayette (click through to view)

As of today, I've been in France for 56 days. That's longer than the amount of time I spent in Tajikistan, longer than any stretch of time I've been home in New Jersey since graduating high schoolstrange to consider.

Paris is now my new home, in an apartment in the 16th arrondissement with a 68 year old widow who loves to cook. Perfect for me. There's a shelf in the kitchen cabinets exclusively for bread, a part of the fridge for the seven different kinds of the cheese we have (so French, I can't even), and a spice cabinet filled to the brim. I only eat with Jacqueline half the time because she has more of a life than I do, but the days when we do get to sit down and eat together are some of my favorites. I usually stumble through recounting my day to her, and she gently corrects my grammar and pronunciation as we go. Dinners usually just end up being me repeating back phonemes to her, making ridiculous faces the entire time, before I dissolve into giggles from how absurd the scene is.

Outside the doors of the apartment lies an entire world to discover; Paris is truly a universe unto itself.  

There's something new to discover around every corner this history-permeated city. Follow the cobblestone streets and there's another new neighborhood, another new cafe to try, another person to talk to. This city is a veritable goldmine of all things food, art, and fashionthree of my favorite things. At first, I was so overwhelmed by the prospect of Paris and the infinite options that I sat down and made a list of everything that I wanted to see, eat, do. (This was a mistake, but more on that later.) Finally armed with my Carte Imaginairea student metro card that offers unlimited access within Paris and weekend access to the surrounding areasI feel so invincible. There's not an inch of this city that's out of my reach.

The first couple weeks were difficult, yes, I'll admit it. The perfectly chic denizens, the sickeningly beautiful couples, the tiny cobblestone streets, the picturesque white facades of the buildingswith their wrought iron balconies, flower pots, and intricate stoneworkeverything frustrated me so much. Everywhere I turned was another scene that I've seen a million times before in a postcard, and I couldn't shake the feeling of being trapped inside this shadow of a life. More than anything, I missed New York City where things are gritty and dirty, honest and real. I was lacking authenticity and wanted more than anything to be a part of the other side of Paris. I refused to believe that this was all there was.

There was a moment during my first week, when culture shock hit me hard for the first time in my life. I was trying to buy a carnet of Metro tickets when I realized that the machine didn't take bills, I was a few euro short of being able to pay with coins, and on top of it all, my credit card wasn't working. A bit stunned, I just took a step back and let others go ahead of me. It took me a full ten minutes of standing there, feeling really lost and trapped in the station, before I realized that I was being completely unreasonable. There was no need to buy a full carnet; I could just use the coins I had and buy a couple tickets. Duh.

Angry at my own stupidity, I put 8 euro into the machine, got my tickets, and went through the turnstiles. It wasn't until I got onto the platform that I realized that I forgot to print the receipt that I would need to get refunded. I was only losing 8 stupid euros, but for some reason, a huge wave of emotion slammed into me and frustrated tears started to well up as the crowds rushed past me.

Everything just hit me all at once: my utter lack of language skills, the postcard I had received that morning, the lack of a Carte Imaginaire. I couldn't figure out why I wasn't absolutely thrilled to be in Paris for the year. "I made a fucking list," I wanted to scream. But the list made me feel like I was merely survivingjust going through the motions that I thought I should be doingrather than living. I was doing things just to get them done, more out of obligation than anything else. I blinked back angry tears as the 9 train arrived, trying my hardest not to lose it right there on the platform. The last thing I needed was to be that hysterical American girl sobbing on the Metro. 

Thankfully, the old adage of "it gets worse before it gets better" rang true. I just needed a shift and a bit of time.

Reminding myself that I was going to be here for a year, I let the list go as something to get to eventually. That method works well for some people, but that just wasn't the way I worked. I went back to the way things were in Taipei last summer and just set out after classes to a random neighborhood with my camera. I'm happiest like this, when I'm just wandering aimlessly, feeling like I'm discovering things myself and making this city mine. I wander the city, go to art museums, buy sandwiches for the homeless when I can, write postcards to my friends, and little by little, piece back together a facsimile of my life at Hamilton. It's not the same, and I wouldn't want it to be either, but the art and service are things I have to do to feel more like myself.

For all the unexpected struggles and momentary doubts, I wouldn't trade a second of this for anything. There have been such incredible and weird experiences since coming to France that I would have never been able to experience otherwise. (Stay tuned for the hippo story, folks. That one's a doozy.) Right now, I'm so content and happy to be here, which is all I can really ask for after everything.

More pictures to come in a later post (because, let's be honest, that's the only reason why any of you bitches look at this thing). But for now, a couple songs. There haven't been enough on this blog.


Wailin' Jennys - Long Time Traveler
A gorgeous song from a Canadian group that was a part of an incredible megamix that Katie made for me. Exactly what I needed after the week I had. Thank you. <3 


The Head and the Heart - Down in the Valley
Their new album just came out this week, but somehow I missed this track from their first album in favor of Rivers and Roads. Don't know what the hell I was thinking, because this is just so beautiful. I've been listening to this on repeat for a month now. Obsessed. 

Franz Ferdinand - Love Illumination
A different sound than the others. The single from the new Franz album that I love. If I get my shit together in time, I'll be seeing him live in Paris in the spring. Thanks to Eunice for showing me this one.