I've now been in Paris for exactly 2 months, and just this past week, I've noticed a shift in my perception on being here. I feel like I've gone from wide eyed tourist to wide eyed resident. I'm certainly not proclaiming to now be an expert on well, anything really, but I feel an energy change from frenetic must see city tourer to a more grounded explorer of a place where I live.
There are a few things that help contribute to this feeling, outside of simply spending 8 weeks in a row here. Having an apartment in Paris is certainly a different perspective on a city vs. hotel living. While I don't have an oven, I do have a little kitchen where I always look forward to whipping up fabulous local fare. It's fun to go to the "marche" and dream up lunches and dinners after gaining inspiration from all the fresh produce. I also now have "guy's," and no ladies, not the ones you were hoping for, but I have a chicken guy, a lettuce guy, a nut guy, and I try not to pledge allegiance to any one specific cheese guy since there's too many to love. I no longer question why each of these guys has their own shop that just sells their one specialty. I just try not to stop into each of them everyday.
The Morton's Man
My supermarket is now a familiar place where I can automatically go to the yogurt section and grab my favorite without wondering if I actually grabbed the "dessert" yogurt. I've even mustered up the courage to interact with the Morton's fish guy who stands in an open counterless corner with his rubber boots on as if a large wave may come crashing in the store at any point with the fresh catch of the day. There's buckets of fish on both sides of him, most of whose names I have not heard of, but I take a stab and try a new one each week. Unfortunately last week, I failed to mention I needed my fish "preparer" so I learned how to fillet, and didn't end up eating too many bones.
I'm sure you're thinking, you've been there 2 months now, you must be fluent? Au contraire. Turns out French is pretty hard when you start digging in past the bonjours and mercis, and everyone talks like they're 45 minutes late for something, which chances are is pretty accurate in this tardy town. My teacher at Alliance Francais told me that I was very good at reading comprehension and writing, but I have to work on my listening comprehension and speaking, to which I give my best American duh, though I am trying to see if we can move the city to a more letter based passing of notes to interact with one another because that'd be much easier for me.
On the advice of my teacher, I switched into an all oral class twice a week where all you do is speak. There's no books - just you and your bad French. I enjoyed it like you might enjoy getting your legs waxed - painful while it's happening, but your happy with the results after. Unfortunately the class was full after my first week, so I'm classless, but I've made myself sign up for some conversation gatherings around town. I went to one today called Let Them Talk where I sat in a cafe with 4 other mono syllabic, quizzically, gesturing non-French speakers, while a Frenchman tried to put our words into coherent sentences with a little wipey board. It was actually pretty good practice as half the battle is just getting into the habit of spitting out the words. I'm going to a "Franglish" event this week where you spend 7 minutes speaking to a French person in French and then 7 minutes in English and you help each other not feel stupid with their non-native tongue.
This seat taken?
In my quest to just keep practicing (and to never miss a good meal), I was lined up at this Vietnamese restaurant over the week-end near closing time for lunch. I had heard good things about it, but wasn't sure I was going to be able to get in. I noticed the woman ahead of me and next in line was also alone so I asked in my best French if I could share her table, and next thing I know I'm eating Vietnamese food with a Chinese woman while speaking French and talking about Paris' Chinatown. It was a good meal all the way around.
Yes, I was going to give myself the rest of the year off, but I'm a doer, and have now started to write for some Parisian websites, en anglais of course (see above). I have become the poster child for the velib bike system in Paris, so I wrote a how-to guide and it's been published on the popular site, the Girl's Guide to Paris. I'm going to be writing regular articles for them and I just finished a review of some of the Mexican restaurants in town, so stay tuned for France meets Mexico. There's a few other sites I'm also in the process of writing some articles for, and I'm even discussing with someone the possibility of giving or creating food and wine tours in Paris. So yes, a lot can happen in 2 months.
With these 2 months also comes another reality on the subject of establishing roots. I hate to reveal my beauty secrets, but if I go more than 2 months without a trip to the hair dresser, the roots of my past come out to say hello. I put off this visit as long as humanly possible, but alas this week, it was go time.
All of my English speaking brethren in Paris go to the same English speaking salon that they don't like. The products aren't good, it's really far and the prices suck. Not much of a draw. I met someone at a dinner a little while ago with a really cute cut, but alas she doesn't have root issues, but she told me about a friend of hers who does, so she gave me her friend's hair info and I made an appointment at someones hair salon who I had never met or seen from a gal I just met over dinner.
I walked into the salon to find a dog and 2 women and none of the 3 spoke any English. I gave the colorist my hair details from home, pretty sure that this was an idle gesture that she would be laughing at in the back. She returned and put color on my roots and we spoke French for a while and all was well. Then she started to do something that I wasn't familiar with and I tried to confirm what was happening and she basically told me that she was going to do things differently and it will be better, and your hair sucked when you came in, or something like that. Then she leaves me with crap all over my hair for what seems like half the day and goes and hangs out with the dog who is sitting in the shampoo seat.
At some point later, she bumps the dog and starts rinsing my hair out in the sink. Eventually the dog comes back and sits in my lap. There's things uttered that I don't really understand for many reasons, most especially because there was water flowing through my ears, but I learn later that there's a charge for shampoo and conditioner, which doesn't feel like an option when you have mud stuck in your hair. She finished by wrapping my hair in a towel and walks away and I sit there for what seems like another half day wondering if I'm going to need to keep this towel on my head until Christmas.
Finally my cutter lady comes over and we try and play the get to know you game in French while I simultaneously attempt to explain that I don't want to be bald when I leave. Unable to tell the color of my hair yet, I watch inches of my hair fall to the ground. Eventually it's time to dry and the colorist sidles up behind us to check things out, and everyone appears quite pleased, including me. I'm actually pretty happy with it and the ladies were lovely, and even the little dog, so I have a new French hair salon in Paris.
I'm slowly laying a foundation in Paris and it feels good. I miss my family and friends terribly, but their support has gotten me this far. I've been very fortunate to have met some great people in Paris as well that have welcomed me, entertained me, given me too much to eat and drink (or was it vice versa) and made me feel at home in this great city.
I just told my landlady that I'd like to stay in this same place next year until at least the summer when I'll come home again for a few weeks and decide next steps once again. I will likely be applying for a student visa over Christmas to continue my French studies, while also allowing me to work 20 hours a week, and of course keeping me legal in Paris for a year. So start planning your Spring trips because I'll be here.