I live in France. I don’t live in Paris. I used to live in Paris.
People sometimes ask me about something going on in Paris. I can only answer with, “Um… I don’t really know the details about that. I don’t live in Paris.”
Occasionally, I’ll be asked, “So, how’re things in Paris?”
“Well, fine as far as I know. But, I can only guess because… I don’t live in Paris.”
A little over 6 years ago, I stepped off a plane at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Olivier was still my husband-to-be & I was not yet Madame Massoud. He fetched me & my Cat at the airport, along with all the possessions I could bring along with me.
He took us home, to his apartment in Montmartre. All of you who are either already familiar with the area, or who are Francophile Amelie geeks, know that Montmartre is located in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. For the rest of you, here’s a nice picture:
The three of us lived there, smooshed together in that tiny one bedroom 4th floor apartment, for just over 2 years. Somehow, we managed to get out of there without assaulting our rude & noisy neighbors with a lance. (Shut up. I could have a lance. You don’t know.) We survived the smog, the noise, daily treks across the city in the métro & being able to look directly into other people’s apartments.
Then, at the beginning of 2008, we moved. We stopped living in Paris.
Where we went: Sucy-en-Brie.
Okay, so it’s not too far from Paris. It’s about 10.5 miles away from Paris. 17 kilometers if you’re a metric speaker. Then again, you can’t get anywhere in France by moving in a straight line, so those 10 miles end up being a lot longer than one might think. After taking a bus to the train station for about 10 minutes or so, I then jumped on a train & after a total of 30-40 minutes, I was in Paris. Once I arrived in the city, I then needed to take the métro to reach my final destination.
So… for a little more than 3 years, we enjoyed our place in an apartment complex situated in the quieter, calmer suburbs of Paris. We still had smog, though a bit less of it. We still had noise, though it was different noise with less obnoxious sounds & fewer blaring car horns. We had better neighbors & a bit more space to move about in.
During our time in Sucy-en-Brie, when I’d mention that we were going out to eat, a common response was, “Wow, Paris has so many great restaurants.”
“Indeed. They do. But we’re not in Paris. We’re just eating somewhere nearby.”
“What? What’s the difference?”
While we lived close enough to get to Paris on a whim, we did not live in Paris.
The suburbs were pretty nice. We had everything we needed, but we began to outgrow our apartment. Our nicer, quieter neighbors eventually got just as irritating as the obnoxious & loud ones we had before. We wanted to get a dog, but had no yard, only a small balcony up on the 3rd floor.
We decided it was time to do that thing that grown ups sometimes do. We bought a house.
We ventured out of the suburbs & all the way to the French countryside. To put it in American terms, it’s sort of like we moved to another county. Lower prices. Different scenery & architecture. I had to get a new carte de séjour made, much like one would have to do with their driver’s license in the U.S. when they relocate to a new state or county.
True enough, Paris is close enough that we can get there easily by car or train.
But, this takes us a while. We have to REALLY want to go to Paris. No shit. We once sat in traffic for 3 fucking hours trying to get into the city on a Sunday afternoon.
Some things are consistent no matter where I live in this country. I have plenty of wine, the scent that wafts from the cheese in my kitchen reeks with the stench of a warm pile of sweaty socks. I have great health care. The natives shrug & make a fart sound with their mouths when I ask questions instead of providing a real answer. Everywhere I look around me, it’s as French as French can get.
But, it’s not Paris. That’s a place 50 miles away. A place where I lived 4 years ago. And in so many ways, another planet compared to where I now sit.
Gone are the noisy neighbors that are an expected part of apartment living in a big city. They’ve been replaced by the quiet countryside neighbors who smile, wave & invite us over for a coffee & a chat. The honking horns & smog are miles away. Now it’s all birds, squirrels & blue skies.
We definitely do not live in Paris.
Now, when we’re meeting the locals, they spot me as a foreigner as soon as I open my mouth & reveal my terrible accent. Like anyone would do, they ask me where I’m from.
“I’m American. From Colorado.”
“Eh? Colorado? Where is that?”
“The West,” I say. “The Rocky Mountains.”
“Oh. I have a cousin in San Francisco.”
“I’ve heard San Francisco is very nice. I’ve never been there.”
This is where they look at me like I’ve just barfed up a live toad.
“What? Well… what’s the difference?”
So, like the natives, I shrug & make a fart noise with my mouth. Because I live in France.