The unfamiliar and wonderful life we now lead

We’ve been here a week and not a peep about France beyond a quick peek at the view from our balcony. I realize the distress that this has been causing but I was waiting for the right inspiration to write our first Paris post. Maybe I’ve been waiting for the right amount of red wine….

But I digress. Let me tell you a little bit about this strange, wonderful, and very Parisian life we’ve made for ourselves here.

We live in the 9th arrondissement in an area known as Montmartre (or, as we learned from the owner’s son, “the Nine”).

Specifically, we live on Rue Fontaine with an enviable view of the Moulin Rouge from our balcony.

Given enough time and enough multi-mile walks, I’m sure we could come up with 10 different places that, given the opportunity, we’d rather reside but I think we really, really lucked out with the apartment we found. See, we’re less than a block from a Metro stop (France’s excellent subway system) and a short walk from a few different supermarkets which makes eating great food at home (for cheap) easier than we thought possible. We also have absolutely no shortage of entertainment viewed from our balcony at any time during the day. Sure, the screaming, whooping tourists taking their picture on the large subway vent at 3am gets a little old but the time I’ve spent just watching the drama unfold on the streets below is worth the interruption.

The apartment itself is small but quite comfortable and fits two amicable newlyweds very well. We both laugh at the silly fact that we now, for the first time living together, have both a dishwasher and a washing machine. Our shrunken life fits pretty well between these four walls leaving us very little to want.

This “petite vie” we’ve found ourselves in has left both of us in a very philosophical mindset, particularly since we just packed up an endless stack of boxes to store for when we return. It begs the question: what does one really need in this life, materially speaking? I came up with a short list of the things we really miss:

  • Aeron chair (you’ll notice this comes first… my back hurts)
  • Pillows (the ones we have are laughable… this is first on the shopping list when we find a “mall”)
  • 2 computer screens (multi-tasking is tough on just one screen but I might be willing to give it up once I get better at this whole Mac thing)
  • Oven (though the washing machine and dishwasher come very close to making up for this)
  • Netflix (this one comes from Anna… work will always be enough to keep me busy)
  • A fridge that doesn’t smell like stinky cheese even when there isn’t any stinky cheese in it
  • Outlets that charge our toothbrushes

At this point, we’re struggling for more items.

The reason why we’re struggling is because we’ve added so many other things that our life that, up until today, we never really thought we needed:

  • Fast, cheap, comprehensive mass transit (I love cars and all but, man, it’s easy to get from place to place here)
  • Something beautiful to look at everywhere you go

  • Quick, delicious, and quality street food (this isn’t a rule, by the way, you have to look for the good stuff)

  • Cafe lunches (they can last up to two hours and you’ll never get a sideways glance from a server)
  • Unparalleled coffee
  • Things (vague, I know) seem to be built to a much higher standard of quality… irons, washing machines, buildings

There is just a feeling here that is hard to explain (and I’ll try very, very hard not to wax too poetic or philosophical in trying to get to my point). What does it mean that Parisians eat with a knife and fork at every meal with very few exceptions? What does it mean that you don’t see Parisian men in shorts in 80 degree weathers? How do you explain the “bonjour monsieur, madame” you get in most storefronts when you walk in the door? The culture here appears to truly be centered around quality, experience, appearance, and sophistication. That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions abound but the norm is clear and reflected in much of what we’ve experienced.

This has been, easily, the hardest thing for me to live up to (and I do want to live up to it). I intentionally brought better clothes – much less T-shirts than I thought prudent and my finest silken underwear – and have found myself avoiding shorts as much as my perspiration will allow. I also find myself so nervous to speak the small amount of French that I know for fear I’ll mangle the language so poorly, France will never recover. This is much more a desire that I have than I pressure that I feel and I wonder if the warnings I received about the “snotty French” address this voluntary urge rather than a particular city-wide zeitgeist.

In just a week, I feel like my life has been enhanced and changed in a way I could have never imagined. To live like a Parisian does not, in fact, require Paris. It simply requires an ability to live your life in a way that acknowledges what makes life better. It means taking a Saturday to meander about, taking in the sights and sounds of where you live and spending longer than you thought was necessary enjoying good food and observing interesting people. It means demanding a higher standard of quality of what you enjoy, even if that means you enjoy it less frequently and in lesser amounts. It means eschewing the needless pressures that are placed on you by society and accepting your own view on how your life should be lived. Does this kind of life require a particular location or does it, in fact, just require a shift in how you see the things that already surround you?

So much for not waxing philosophical.

For now, I love where I am while I also miss my country of origin for a number of reasons (besides, of course, all the people I wish could come experience this with me). I’m not ready to leave but I’m ready to actually live how I’m forced to live now: more observant, more thankful, more relaxed. If there’s one thing I could say about this trip it’s that it came at exactly the right time in my life when I could truly appreciate what I’m experiencing and am able to let that appreciation sink deep into everything that I do. Brother Ali said it best: “when the student is prepared / the teacher appears.”

Wow, what was in that wine?