Of all the expats I know, I was the only one who, as the expiration of her visa drew near, was not scrambling to find a way to stay longer. Don't get me wrong - I loved Paris, especially in the beginning, but after a while my feelings started to change.
"It's okay to be 'over' a city," a friend assured me over dinner when I met up with him and his girlfriend back in February.
"But what makes you say that?"
A lot of things, I guess. I previously confessed how upset I was after my phone was stolen, but what I omitted from that account was that I spent the next ten minutes crying on my friend's doorstep as I waited for her to return. As unabashedly attached as I am to my iPhone (0:28 and 0:49 if you're impatient; 0:40 is my dearest brother who tricked me into being on camera) that was just the final straw in an emotional breakdown that had been brewing since my family had departed a day earlier, leaving me with a stronger sense of homesickness than ever before, and since my Facebook newsfeed was starting to feel less like keeping in touch than being constantly reminded of everything I was missing out on at home. I was beginning to feel irrelevant, because no matter how many apps you have you can never be in two places at once.
As I sat there crying in the middle of the very residential 15ème, people kept passing me by with that uncomfortable side glance and quickened step normally reserved for panhandlers and public drunkards. In other words, no fucks were given. (My psychology-expert friend later told me that this is more of a human nature thing than a Parisian thing). Fortunately I had only been pickpocketed, but what if it had been worse? What if I had been assaulted? No one bothered to ask me if I was okay or needed to call the police, so instead I sat there stewing in my own self-pity until my friend came home and made me a cup of tea.
I suppose that marked the beginning of the end of the honeymoon period. In the weeks that followed two of my friends, on separate occasions, were mugged. (And, mind you, they were guys of a stature that doesn't really scream target). I traveled to the Loire Valley, Brittany and Normandy, and for the first time interacted with non-Parisian French people, discovering that they were so much kinder and more generous than their capital-dwelling countrymen. In other words Paris no longer felt as safe or welcoming.
Things that had previously seemed charming became frustrating, like the open-air markets that I admired because they so exceeded farmers markets back home. Yet as the weeks wore on I came to hate Sundays because grocery stores (and virtually all other businesses) were closed, and I was often too hungover to go to the market and shop before it shut down for the day. (Yes, it was my own goddamn fault, but recovering from an all-night bender has the unfortunate side effect of being irrationally angry with the world at large). The Metro, once so friendly and convenient, became less inviting when I began to notice all the men trying and failing to discreetly urinate in the tunnels connecting the platforms. (I'm told that the walls are slightly slanted such that the consequent splashing will deter this behavior, however the persistent stench indicates that the effort is unsuccessful). And the sidewalks dotted with dog poop shifted from a comical nuisance to an irrevocable scourge on the reputation of a city that, to me, was gradually eroding before my eyes.
Oh, Paris, in one year I've only just brushed the surface. If there's anything about living abroad that I might have remorse for later it's that I never really integrated with the local culture; in fact in a lot of ways I cheated. During my first few months I lived with a French girl who occasionally invited me out with her friends, which was a nice gesture but difficult for me because by the time I had thought of something to contribute to the conversation, it had already moved on. Twice. The international student body at LCB introduced me to friends from around the world, and my food truck coworkers, for the most part, likewise consisted of expats. Part of why I struggled so much with the social aspect of my internship was that it was the first time I had spent a significant amount of time around Francophones, and by that point I had become accustomed to living with one foot out the door, so to speak. I knew kitchen vocabulary but I was far from being conversant in the language, which is why during breaks I tended to pull out my phone and catch up on my Twitter feed because even making small talk was a challenge.
Were there things I would have done differently if I had the chance? Absolutely. But I don't really believe in regret, and besides, for all of the little setbacks and disappointments there were just as many - probably more - pleasant surprises and unexpected opportunities.
When I look back there are certain images that will likely forever be branded unto my memory, like watching fireworks light up the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day, opening the door of the food truck for dinner service and seeing a hundred hungry faces already lined up, or biking home in the silent hours of the early morning after a night out. But I think more than any particular thing I did while I was here, it's the people I met and befriended that really shaped the experience. I hope to see all of you again soon, but until then...we'll always have Paris.
À la prochaine, chers amis.