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Monday, 30 December 2013

An (Uncool) American in Paris

Written by Katherine Hildebrandt
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 “I’ll have a diet coke.”

  “One American Bourgogne” replied the waiter cheekily.  I was completely mortified.  So it was true, they really do hate Americans in Paris.

       Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration.  I was sixteen at the time (a year ago) and absolutely, utterly conscious of the fact that I was clumsy American in the most immaculate, intellectual, and stylish city on Earth. I thought I was well ahead of the game in my black dresses and minimalist accessories.  As usual, I was wrong.  France, in general, was defined by a cool effortlessness, and the fact that I had my hair, makeup, and clothes perfectly matched became my flashing neon sign – one that shouted “HI! I’M NOT FROM HERE.”

      Don’t believe me?  My very first day in the city of lights brought me to a Starbucks (expert tip: embrace the local French coffee shops instead) and I approached the counter with a “bonjour.”  “Hello miss” was the response I got, with no prior indication that I was from out of town.   From the start I was convinced it was my shoes.  The one thing that every single Parisian has is nice shoes, regardless of what they’re wearing.  Mine were stylish, but clearly cheap, and they just didn’t belong in the beautiful gray city, walking along the beautiful cobblestone street.

      French Pastries

      One of the few benefits of expanding your tastes beyond Starbucks...


      And God was it beautiful.  Even the architecture – intricate and romantic – was inescapable.  There is no “pretty part of town” in downtown Paris:  it’s the whole darn thing (although you can’t go wrong with the Tuileries Garden by the Louvre).  Like the clothing, the whole city was painted in grays, whites, and golds.  Believe it or not, this left me initially underwhelmed.  A veteran of the New York streets, I expected this world-class city to be warm, bright, and loud.  While gloriously ornate, it still carried an understated beauty, which I came to find is the best kind. 


Paris Architecture      

      It’s true – the entire city looks like this

      Paris does not shout at you.  Paris, as a person, would be the one who simply stands in all of her majesty and commands attention without saying a word.  It is the polar opposite of a flashy, crude New York City, and it knows that.  It does, however, have one very flashy trick up its sleeve.

      If ever you find yourself wandering the streets of Paris near midnight, you have to promise me one thing.  You must go to the Eiffel Tower.  This is why: every night at midnight there is a light show.   That is, the entire grand structure dances in flashing lights for minutes at a time.  This is the one thing in Paris that chooses to proclaim “look at me!” as the rest of the city watches in reverence.  After seeing this spectacle only once, it’s clear to me the French chose their one show of pride wisely.

      Eiffel Tower Lights

      Just before midnight - imagine this glittering with millions of flashing lights!

        Paris is a clever city.  Anticipation and expectation take hold of you, and you find yourself at first underwhelmed.  Then, as you begin to develop an unexpected admiration for its demure beauty, it goes and slaps you in the face with a handful of animation and excitement.  Yes, the waiters were curt, but I find I don’t harbor too much spite for those incidents.  In fact, I find myself longing again for the gray streets, the simple style, and those beautiful lights.  Well played Paris, well played. 

      The Seine

      ©Katherine Hildebrandt

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 January 2014

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