Overpriced food and judgemental Parisians abound, but Charlie Robertson is, nevertheless, learning to love Paris.
I know what you’re thinking. Not another article showing off about the life changing experiences gained on one’s year aboard. God forbid that they start writing a blog about it or, even worse, a vlog. I completely agree with you, as I’ve found myself reading said articles or blogs and experiencing a full-bodied cringe or minor revulsion at the self-involved author. My aim here is to give you an insight into my study abroad in Paris in the most honest fashion possible, while also trying to make you laugh with my witty yet pithy observations. Now the parameters have been established – let’s get down to business.
I’m a French and History student at King’s and I’m in my third year, studying abroad in Paris. I’ve been here for two months now and have just finished my eighth week at Sciences Po; a (supposedly) prestigious school in France where elite students flock to become politicians or ambassadors. These French students are a very rare and exotic, if not a little square, breed. They even dress as if they’re going to work, suits and pencils skirts, rectangular glasses, hair up in perfect buns for the girls or slicked backed for the guys.
It’s safe to say that the first week felt like being stuck in a gladiator ring with 20 very polished and glamorous students all fighting to make the most eloquent and well phrased point while I sat there clueless. It was the first (and hopefully the only) time in my life that I understood how poor old Neville Longbottom must have felt in his classes at Hogwarts.
Outside of the alluring yet nerve-wrecking classes, I live in the Marais, which is the self-consciously ‘arty’ area of Paris. It’s a mixture of Soho, Covent Garden and Golders Green, with a very Parisian twist; a hotchpotch of gay, Jewish and artist communities. I thoroughly enjoy living here and get immense satisfaction from telling people that I do: “Oh yah, I live in the Marais you know, it really is the cultural hub.” It normally invokes a gasped “wow” or, alternatively, a slap for being so obnoxious (and I wonder why I have made little to no French friends?).
My street is awash with cafés and bars and reclining Parisians sprawled out looking upon the passersby. While this is a flâneur’s paradise, it can feel a bit like a catwalk when all I want to do is get my groceries done. I find myself planning what I am going to wear to do the most menial of tasks – would a vrai parisien wear this moth-bitten jumper to the laundry or this baggy t-shirt to go to pick up a baguette? Perhaps this is more a reflection of my vanity than Paris itself, but, for whatever reason, I feel far more conscious of other people’s gazes – especially when I’m on the Metro.
Everyone always complains about French bureaucracy so I won’t bore you with the Parisian administrative practicalities, but suffice to say that everything closes for two hours for lunch. And I mean everything, even sandwich shops. I guess Parisians just don’t get irony.
Food is one area that I am having issue with. “Why?” I hear you shout. “Paris is the gastronomic capital of Europe, nay the world!” Well yes, it is if you have a lot of cash to throw around. Supermarkets are invariably more expensive than in London and so I find myself living on a strict diet of baguette and pasta to try and keep costs down. It’s not exactly the dream that I had in mind: stuffing myself with pastry after pastry before feasting on a seven course dinner.
All in all, I am having a fun time. Yes it’s intimidating and yes my French language has some way to go, but I never imagined I would arrive and everything would be perfect. A lot of people start by despising their time abroad and bit by bit start to enjoy it. I feel that I am past the first phase and entering the phase of ‘YOPO’ (you only live in Paris once), which means I’m being more open minded and taking each experience as it comes.