I arrive in Paris on a hot summer’s day, fresh off the Eurostar from London. Instantly I feel like the daughter of Liam Neeson in the film Taken, a naive girl travelling all alone, trying to understand the handsome French man who is urging me to hop into his car. Perhaps I’m paranoid and over reacting, but I stand in the long line for the ‘official taxis’ instead. I feel like I’ve broken this man’s heart, as he signals his disappointment, but for all I know he could have been saying that he will take me back to his house and lock me away for good. I’m not taking any chances.
I wait 20 minutes in the taxi line instead, sweating in the Parisian heat along with all the other tourists. If there ever was the personification of the angriest man in the world, then I’ve found him, and he’s driving my taxi cab. Somehow the pronunciation of my hotel’s name confuses him and I can’t scroll quickly enough through the screen shots in my phone to show him the name. He shakes his head in frustration, jerks the car away and heads in the wrong direction. Silly little Australian girl can pay the extra fare for her own stupidity of not knowing how to say Terrass” Hotel correctly. If I knew how close the hotel was to the station, I probably would have walked.
Quickly I realise that Paris is a city of fearless contradiction. In one breath there’s the perfectly dressed French men with their scarves in summer and then in the next there’s my taxi driver, the angriest man in the world. There’s the French women in all their fabulousness and then there’s the bare footed gypsy’s on the street heckling me for money. But it’s what makes Paris so interesting – like a beautiful woman with character and charm, not just pretty looks. She has another layer and I want to get to know her.
The thing that I find most ironic is that I’m all alone in the city of love and yet somehow I feel a sense of togetherness. Perhaps it’s a mutual understanding that with all the beauty in this place, how could one ever feel alone? We’re all speaking the same language in many ways, even with my lack of understanding of the French language and my inability to converse. I may not be having conversations, but I’m taking my time to enjoy the finer things in life and indulge at every opportunity, and this is exactly what Parisians are doing too. The only difference is that I will return home to my exercise, budgets and clean eating, but they will carry on eating, drinking and wearing Chanel whilst riding bikes across town. And thus, the beauty of the people and their language of life.
My first experience with real Parisians is a couple that sit legs entwined in a café – he wearing a scarf in the middle of Summer, with his perfectly manicured head of grey hair and chiselled features – a total silver fox eyeing me suspiciously from the sidewalk. She, eating her chocolate and fruit sundae, with legs that go on forever, wrapped around his, a tiny waist and her red pout smirking in disdain as she notices my chipped nail polish. Within seconds I feel inferior, a confused foreigner that definitely should have reconsidered her outfit.
Within a couple of days, I realise, that no matter what I wear, I am no contest to the French. Even at my absolute best, I don’t come within an inch to a Parisian at their absolute worst. Try all I might, I can never recreate that illusion of effortlessness. It’s sexy but nonchalantly cool, mixed with a hint of bravado, a statement that says ‘I didn’t try too hard’. Everywhere I look there’s model lookalikes sitting in cafes devouring pain au chocolats, cigarette in one hand and hot man in the other.
It’s true that the French have no patience when it comes to foreigners – you don’t understand the language? Well sorry mademoiselle, we don’t care. Whilst this could be considered a total form of arrogance, I don’t think this is the case. I think the French are so incredibly proud and protective of who they are, they have no tolerance for someone who hasn’t tried to adapt to their way of life. Because why shouldn’t you? It certainly is an incredible way of life.
The French are famous for their insistence for wine at lunch and there isn’t any other alternative. Their love of gastronomy makes me confused as to how they became so utterly beautiful. How can it be that indulging in the finer things in life never seems to show in their physiques – there isn’t a roll or beer belly in sight. Surely a diet of wine, cheese, cigarettes and croissants should result in a less than flattering frame? Non Monsieur, that is not the case. Each and everyone of them carry their slender frames and pretty faces around the city as if they’re walking on the runway, only stopping for a break that consists of wine and cheese.
Paris sometimes has a way of making you feel like a stranger all alone at a party (and one that you weren’t invited to). Like an extra on a movie set, sipping coffee in the background whilst their whole fabulous world keeps rolling on around you. This is not intentional on their behalf – if you want to be a part of this scene then you better join in and participate. You better learn the language and you better dress like you were invited. Parisians expect you to settle in with unabashed confidence, forget your worries and just enjoy the good life. Eat, drink, be merry and fall in love. Don’t worry if you’re already in love or in Paris all alone, because it is quite possible to have a romance in this city with no other person involved. This romance will have you falling in love with the city itself, an all consuming love affair that will never leave your heart. It might be an unrequited love that’s destined for heart ache, and it will definitely have you constantly longing for a time and place in this wonderful city. Someone once said that if you just add three letters to Paris, then you have Paradise – and maybe they were right.