Lunch in Paris: A life unlived

standard April 4, 2011 8 responses
M on our tiny balcony.

Our apartment was tiny, at the top of our eight story building, with a door so narrow a real couch wouldn’t fit through it. The kitchen was odd — beyond narrow, but with counters so high that I needed a stepping stool to do the dishes or stir dinner. We did all of our living in the main room — at times bedroom, dining room, living room, or office, depending on which direction you faced — and not only were we perfectly delighted with our tiny love nest, we were grateful for it.

France is a place of magic and wonder, cheese and amazing bread, love and passion, and a million other things that make people’s eyes get all wistful when I mention that I grew up there. When I tell them I lived in Paris they usually sigh.

Yes, Paris. City of love. Home to perfect baguettes and croissants. Amazing architecture and everything else you’ve heard about it.

And Paris, home to hair-pulling bureaucracy, ancient rituals and systems, and societal norms mired in tradition.

That last line is the reason we don’t live there now, the reason — much to M’s chagrin — we will never live there.

Paris doesn’t have much room for a bi-cultural couple. Doesn’t have much place for bi-cultural children to thrive.Trust me. I lived there as a bi-cultural child. One with flawless French and perfect wardrobe, who still didn’t quite fit in.

In the US it’s possible to embrace what makes you different and unique, in France, it’s best to buy the dark wool coat, tame your frizz and accent, and do your best to blend in.

I could have met a French man and blended completely. It could have been a happy life — if one completely different than the one I know now. But the day I fell in love with an American man I knew I was making the decision to ultimately leave.

I’ve never been able to explain it to M, never been able to put it into words. He lived there with me for 13 months and loved every single moment of our magical life. We had the perfect apartment, lived half a block from the best boulangerie, spent our weekends walking around Paris, discovering new neighborhoods and secret alleys. We ate amazing food, had lively conversations with my friends, and lived up being in the heart of the most romantic city in the world. It was all amazing, even the evil neighbor who filled the elevator with fetid cigarette smoke every day.

Compared to that my feeble arguments fall pretty flat. 

Then I read Lunch in Paris, and now I’m making him read it too. I’ve read books before that outline the cultural differences between France and the US. Many have made me laugh and nod my head emphatically. But never before has one put into words the reasons why I’m reluctant to live there.

I am a working mom to two little girls. I spend morning freelancing and working on a novel and afternoons working part time at a job that I became good at through sheer determination and experience — not education. In my spare time I’m studying to become a Life Coach. Right there you’ve read four things that I most likely wouldn’t be doing if we lived in France. I can’t even find the words in French to explain that last one.

It’s hard in France to deviate from the norm. Hard and rarely rewarding. I don’t want to live somewhere where I have to teach my girls how to fit in rather than how to let their innermost selves sing.

Today I explained to C that I rarely get embarrassed because I simple don’t let other people’s judgmental thoughts get in the way of me being me. She looked dubious, but really, that’s OK. I have a lifetime to show her how that works. Something I could never do in the land of wine, cheese, and croissants.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes

This post, written as part of the From Left to Write book club, was loosely inspired by the book Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, brave American soul who moved to France, married a Frenchman, and embraced all the cultural quirks that caused me to flee. I didn’t take her path. I took my own. But I’m very grateful for this book that helped me put into words why I’m reluctant to go home.