Paris is a complicated, historic city. There are unwritten rules to just about everything, and if you want to be treated like a local, you better follow them all. Unlike in newer American cities and towns, quick convenience and individual happiness are subject second to the city’s collective needs and functionality. Say au revoir to “the customer’s always right” store policies and “build-your-own” choices on the menu. You’re in Paris now, kids, and what the past 100 years has said, well, still goes.
Here’s the thing, though: living in Paris is living in history. Rules aren’t just rules in Paris; they’re reasons. For example, when enjoying an outdoor market (which the city has plenty of), you can’t grab fruit and veggies directly off the stand to purchase. It’s extremely offensive to the merchant because you’re essentially saying that you know better than them about their products. In actuality, the people operating each stand at the markets are professionals in their produce and are trained to pick the very best of their selection for your needs.
These unwritten how-tos go beyond food, of course. As another example, you can’t take a long, hot shower in Parisian apartments or wash your dishes in a sudsy, boiling bath. Why? Well, most apartments share a small tank of hot water each day for the entire building. If you use it all up for your luxury or even practicality, you’ll have a sky-high electric bill…and some angry neighbors at your door (yes, they’ll know it’s you!). Moreover, some apartments in Paris are so old that it will wake up the whole building at night if you merely flush the toilet. Oh la la.
So, as a study abroad student, why am I jumping through all the hoops to vivre à Paris? Besides its beautiful language, winding streets, and oh-so-chic style, I’m jumping through the hoops to live here because I’m a part of a collective culture that is bigger than myself. I’m choosing a city for more than just my needs and convenience for the sake of a greater good. In Paris, every breath in the present is taken from its past and builds its future—together, as collective Parisians (or in my case, almost Parisian), and I want to be a part of that.
Though I still have a lot to learn when it comes to becoming Parisian, every time I make a mistake in this new culture, embarrass myself over the language barrier or am tired of everything being more difficult than I’m used to, I remember the history I’m breathing in and becoming. That, to me, is worth every fashion faux pas.