Throughout my childhood and teenage years in Canada, Paris was the ultimate symbol of style, romance, and good living. I bought into every stereotype in the book (or fashion magazine, where the French are heavily represented!): that French food was the best, that the women never got fat or aged, that their style was unparalleled, that their children never made a peep, that taking your beau to the Eiffel Tower was the utmost romantic gesture.
Living in Western Canada, where people are more prone to wearing plaid shirts and cowboy hats than Breton stripes and berets, Paris was a world away, a girlish dream world full of colourful macarons, passionate lovers’ spats, and bicycle rides.
When I finally visited Paris in June 2013 I still bought into the silly fantasy, and came fully prepared with my tube of red lipstick and vintage sundresses.
My bubble was promptly burst.
Every dreamy moment – visiting the Eiffel Tower, taking a nighttime boat ride, going into the metro for the very first time – was ruined by random men publicly urinating. I was mistaken for a prostitute because I was wearing jean shorts. The city was dirty. People always responded to me in English whenever I tried speaking French. Berets were not part of the average Parisian’s daily wardrobe.
Still, I had a smashing good time, so much that I came back for three additional visits over the years before finally moving permanently in early 2017. I became romanced not by the stereotypes I’d grown up on, but rather by the real city and people. I grew to love the Israeli joints in the Marais, the grimy vintage shops, stocking up on cheap fruits and vegetables every Sunday at Bastille Market, impromptu games of pétanque in the park, drinking with the locals by Canal Saint-Martin, and the fact that apparently everyone in the city owns an oversized jean jacket and a pair of Bensimon sneakers.
And you know what? That’s alright. It’s not the city that dreams are made of – but for me, it’s close enough to it.
All that said, the food really is tremendous. Anyone who disagrees with me on the absolute pleasure that is a flaky pain aux raisins or escargot de Bourgogne fresh from the oven is off their rocker.