A Portrait of Paris

I’ve only been to Paris twice before moving here.  The first time we did a lot of sightseeing and it was all very touristy. The second time was a less touristy as we wandered around Université Paris 7 Diderot.  It’s in the 13th arrondissement which is mainly full of offices and flats. So now I’m here to study for a year, I’m noticing things about Paris and France that I’m not sure I fully appreciated or noticed until this point…

The Smells
I feel like at the moment I cannot get through a Skype conversation without talking about this.  I find the irony of the situation hilarious.  I love walking past all the bakeries in the morning and smelling freshly baked bread and pastries.  On a visit to the park you can smell the flowers.  I’m even impressed when I go to the supermarket and I can actually smell the fruit!  But once I’ve walked past the park and the bakeries to get to the metro station, everything changes.  The metro is just something else entirely.  I’m actually only on the metro for less than 10 minutes to get to uni, and every morning at 9h I contemplate seeing how long I can hold my breath for.  As I said, I’m hardly on the actual metro and the longest section of my half hour commute is probably changing platforms at Gare de Lyon.  This is where I sprint between lines 1 and 14 whilst trying desperately not to inhale the truly unique combination of sweat, urine and something I just cannot identify and have no desire to!

This will probably sound really weird, but I only brought one lined notebook with me and I wish I brought more.  I am truly baffled to report that all the notebooks have squares!  I spent half an hour in Monoprix opening every single notebook to try to find one with lines and I couldn’t.  The closest I found was in BHV, and it was a notebook to write music scores.  So I am now the owner of nine (they were on special offer) graph paper jotters.  If any mathematicians would like to propose a swap, I would be delighted!

The Clothes
I’ve learned that Parisians really don’t know how to dress for the weather.  Today, for example, it is 24 degrees Celsius.  To me, this weather does not call for jeans, leather jackets, boots and scarves but most Parisians are wearing a combination of these.  I can assure you that this choice of clothing in the heat does contribute to the aforementioned ‘eau du métro’.
Everyone also seems to be dressed in a capsule wardrobe that Gok Wan would be proud of.  Black is the new black.  Did I mention it’s still 25 degrees here?  At least it must be easy to get dressed in the morning!

But why does nobody smile?
We as a nation spend so much time apologizing for little things, and I personally am definitely guilty of this.  However, I feel this is preferable to the Parisian way of life in which you do not under any circumstances make eye contact with anyone.  So it doesn’t matter that I stepped off the pavement to walk round you and your friends having a leisurely chat and subsequently tripped over a pot hole and knocked over a bike.  No need to acknowledge it.  And you know how at home you sometimes do that funny wee dance as someone is walking towards you, as you both try to move out of each others way? That’s not a problem here, because you just keep walking in a straight line, then shout angrily at the person if you collide.  Only then can you make eye contact, and it must be a withering stare.  No alternatives.  And of course, you are not at fault, it was definitely the other person, so no need for an apology.

This is something I’m sure I could devote a whole post to.  I can report that it is as bad as everyone said it is.  I have never experienced anything like it before.  Just be prepared to wait a really long time for anything to get done and be prepared for a lot of seemingly unnecessary paperwork.  And no matter how many bits of paper you bring with you, you’ll always be sent back to get another.  C’est la vie!

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