Parisians like to tell visitors that once you’ve lived in Paris, no other city will ever satisfy you. I would chalk this sentiment up to maybe 50 percent French snobbery and 50 percent pure adoration for this city.
When someone moves to Paris from another part of France, they say that they “monte à Paris.” Even moving from Lille (in the Northern point of the semi-star that is France) to Paris, you are still “going up” to Paris. One of my professors told us today that il a monté à Paris 11 years ago from Marseilles, and now could never imagine living anywhere else.
Paris to Parisians really is the “centre du monde” (center of the world), as tee shirts proclaim from every souvenir shop in the city. To them, everything they could possibly need is right here – and if it isn’t, there’s a ready substitute. Landlocked Paris has no beaches? Not a problem. A stroll along the part of the Seine that passes through the 8ème will demonstrate that city-dwellers are perfectly content to sunbathe right on its concrete banks. Bikini tops are optional for women, while teeny black speedos are the typical male uniform.
Like that bizarre breed of Manhattanites who are rumored never to have left the island, legend has it there are certain people who have never left Paris’s Île de la Cité. On foot it takes barely 15 minutes to walk the length of this tiny island in the Seine, but these Cité-dwellers say they have everything they need. Though my sentiments are not quite as drastic of those who live on Île de la Cité, it’s hard for me to imagine a person who could resist the charms of Paris. Indeed, after three weeks here, I find myself drifting dangerously close to overattached.
Everyone who comes here falls in love – whether it’s a fleeting affair or a long-term commitment, the city is irresistible. Even the Nazi general stationed in Paris during the last fight for its liberation could not set it ablaze as ordered. When his superiors asked him if Paris was burning, some fleeting (or perhaps lasting) love stayed his hand (and arsenal).
Like anything beloved, Paris has its faults. The traffic is terrifying, whether deadlocked or roaring around curves at 100 km/h. Some of its dwellers are liable to become obnoxious or violent when you deny them your extra change. Every day spent in Paris coats the body with that unmistakable layer of city grime that feels so much more disgusting than any other kind of dirt. The metro is dirty and overcrowded – so is the entire city, come to think of it. The cost of living is outrageous. Parisians are “snobs.” The city is completely overrun with tourists and the sidewalks are covered in unscooped dog poop. I could list a hundred more, but Paris’s flaws are not the point I’m trying to make. The point is that as a Parisian, these are the things you learn to accept, because this resigned acceptance is what makes Paris yours.
In Le Petit Prince, the fox says “…si tu m’apprivoises, nous aurons besoin l’un de l’autre. Tu seras pour moi unique au monde. Je serai pour toi unique au monde…” If you tame me, then we shall need one another. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…” This is how those who live in Paris feel about their city.
This pride, this arrogance, this sense of belonging of one to another is what it means to be Parisian. I think the city is taming me.
** And finally, a note from Paris to all of you tourists (I have an address here, I’m allowed to morph into a snooty Parisian for a minute): Wearing a souvenir tee shirt that proclaims your profound love for the city you and your guidebook are currently in is not cool. We all love Paris – give it time and you’ll learn to express your appreciation for the city with all the subtle snobbery of those of us who never want to leave.
*** This is my name, spelled phonetically in French. I don’t get it either. By the way, I was only at Starbucks in Paris because Anne (who is French by way of Marseilles) loves it. As she says “It’s so American!”