Sunday, July 29, 2012

LA Culture Shock and Awe

Arriving back in Los Angeles after almost a year now under my expanding Parisian belt, I found myself even more cognizant, and sometimes overwhelmed, at the differences between the two cities.

The first item that smacks you in the face is the traffic.  Ah yes, bumper to bumper traffic, grid lock, road rage, I have not missed you my friends.  I quickly jumped right back into yelling useless things at bad drivers, like "really, is your right hand asleep and unable to tap that turn signal."  It scared me how quickly it resurfaced.  It must have been stored up, or perhaps I was just anxious to string a full thought or sentiment together in a language I knew fluently.

Police sirens came blazing down the street my first day back behind the wheel, and of course I was just annoyed that I wouldn't make it across the incredibly long light at Lincoln and Venice.  They cut me off while crossing to the opposite side of 6 laned Lincoln, jumped out, and surrounded a liquor store with guns cocked over the hood.  It was right out of a movie, except I was in this one.  While I've seen my share of uniformed police with big guns in Paris at the many demonstrations, I've never seen a gun cocked there.  Maybe that just means I'm hanging out in the wrong places in LA, and Paris.

The first few days in LA were a shock of a very different life I was not so recently immersed in filled with random things like needing to park as close as possible to anything and everything even though I walk miles a day in Paris, then there are the bland strip malls and lack of flying gargoyles, and Spanish as the first option on every phone call.  It's an overload of sights and sounds on the polar opposite end of the spectrum as Paris.

Before you stop reading and quickly call me a French snob who is past the point of no return, attendez!  Let me tell you what happened on days 4, 5, and beyond.  Everywhere I went people were smiling at me.  I had to doublecheck I had the right scarf on, or rather that I didn't have a scarf on and wasn't dragging toilet paper around under my flip flops.  It was honestly a little strange, until the 4th day, when I was able to find and return the smiles.  The French don't smile at you and think foreigners are strange for doing so, so I've been walking around with my game face on.

The smiles go further with hugs, and not cheek air kisses as greetings.  I have to admit I've enjoyed the French double kiss greeting, but I forgot how nice the warm embrace of friends can be, as well as strangers.  It was a little alarming when I had hugs coming out of the woodwork from people like my facialist, as well as the boutique owner of a place I like to shop.  I know what you're thinking, but how can I possibly shop or get that many facials when I'm not home more than twice a year?

This warmth extends into the restaurant scene.  I've had waiters falling all over themselves to attend to my every whim, refill each sip of my water, iced tea, and bottomless chips and salsa.  I felt like I had to break up with them at the end of each meal saying it's not you, it's me.  You're too good for me.  I'm used to being ignored while eating and having to send a flare to get a check.  The French respect your privacy almost to a fault.

I haven't realized how I've been able to avoid eavesdropping, given my need to fully concentrate to pick up every other French word when someone is speaking.  Back in LA, I feel like I've got super sonic hearing and am listening to way too many, uninteresting conversations, but they do remind me that LA's warmth can extend to another dimension.  How can I explain, but recount, word for word, some of the choice phrases I've heard:
  • How do I know this is truly vegan?
  • Lizbeth loves her AA class.  They have a great spread of glutten free blueberry muffins, and a bunch of hotties there.  Trisha met Ringo Star there, and Steven Tyler supposedly goes.
  • He's just really present.
  • I LOVE your nail color  It really adds a great depth and complexity to your toes.
So I just need to admit it.  I've fallen in love with 2 completely different cities for completely different reasons, and I often feel like 2 different people in each place.  In Los Angeles, I'm at ease, and feel truly at home and relaxed.  I'm surrounded by family and friends who know my more or less decade long journey that landed me on France's fromage friendly banks.  The warmth of the beach and the people feed me and make life very easy.

In Paris, I'm a little on edge.  I'm out of my comfort zone, trying to speak and understand another language and culture, but my eyes are wide open.  I'm taking in sights that humble me and bring tears to my eyes.  I'm learning more than I thought was possible about myself, people, places, history, music, architecture, and things I can't even express in writing.  I push myself when sometimes I can't go anymore, and am always rewarded in ways I will remember for life.

How lucky I am to be able to live in these two worlds.  I don't know what the next day will bring, but for that, I'm grateful as well.



  1. Love this post Kelly. Very well said.

  2. KP - so perceptive and well said. Miss you already on the LA-side of things :). Travel, taste and explore - hopefully I will join you for a brief time soon!