In Search of a Concrete Bulldog: This Is My Paris

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re 1) a friend and you’re being nice (thank you) or 2) you want to know what it’s like to cut the cord on your life and start over halfway around the world without having to do it yourself.  Or maybe you came here to read about macarons and moonlit walks on the Seine and Loire Valley whites. Don’t worry; you can find all of that on here somewhere.

But today, it’s time to be honest about my time in Paris. Maybe I’ll be the first blogger-type person to say it out loud or maybe I’ll be the ten millionth, I don’t know. But here goes: I’m not sure I’m cut out for expat life; today it doesn’t feel like I am.

Because today I could smell myself as I sat on the Metro. Cigarette smoke. But I felt okay about that because all of Paris smells like cigarette smoke. I saw my reflection in the Metro window and it was bad. I was rocking a side braid—a side braid! How ridiculous is that?—because my hair looks like crap all the time thanks to the blustery Paris weather. The ridiculous side braid happened at 2 pm, and it was now 8 pm and 4 miles of walking later, and only about 30 percent of my hair was still actually in the braid, which means 70 percent of it was hanging down awkwardly on one side. Very bad.

Then a woman got on the Metro. And I could not stop staring at her. She was so beautiful and put together. Perfect skin. Hair that was neither side-braided nor hanging awkwardly. She was wearing pretty, open-toed heels (on the Metro!) and her toes were perfectly manicured. And she was wearing all white, which, considering the stench of cigarette smoke that was hanging like a nasty cloud in the line 7 Villejuif car I was in, somehow gave her a fresh, clean, healthy look.

I so wanted to be that woman. I wanted to go wherever she was going. I wanted to feel that put together again. I imagined that she was meeting her Friend Board of Directors, her band of Wise Women, for a post-Saturday-night-recap coffee or, more likely, a recap carton of cigarettes. And I was so jealous. I have an ingrown toenail and my lungs hurt. I haven’t felt pretty or healthy since before I landed in Paris. I feel like a hag here and I miss my friends. I even miss the act of being on the way to meet my friends.

Once off the Metro, I made my way into the Franprix to find dinner. And holy crap, it was like Armageddon in there. Packed. Empty shelves. People reaching for the last one of pretty much everything in the store. Because it’s one of the few places open on Sunday, everyone was scrounging the almost-empty shelves for dinner.

I’m in line to buy my three items when I notice the man behind me has a small dog that’s frantically turning in circles. Oh no. A certain golden retriever taught me what that move means, so I knew what was coming: the dog crouched and pooped. INSIDE the Franprix.  And—wait for it—a man passing by the cashier stand stepped right in it. He starts yelling at the owner of the pooper, the owner of the pooper yells back, the cashier is saying something to me in rapid-fire French about how to separate my plastic bag faster to bag my things because I’m holding up his line. It was a scene.  But I made my way out, got home, turned on a little French Law & Order, pulled my jeans out of the washer and hung them on the towel rack to dry, nice and crispy. As one does. Just another day.

I realize nothing horrible happened in this story. On Twitter, they’d probably call them #firstworldproblems, and they’d be right. Girl who moved to Paris feels tired, dirty, and lonely. No big deal. Except it sort of is to me.

When I planned this move, I thought about all the cool things that would happen. I’d visit the Louvre! I’d eat amazing food and drink French wine! I’d travel! What I didn’t think about was the other 90 percent of my life. The routine. Because I wanted to escape the routine, that’s why I came here. Except here’s something I now know: even if your routine is broken, everyone else’s routine continues without you. And there’s something kind of heartbreaking about that, at least to me. I’m in the middle of a beautiful French everday-ness that I really want to absorb, but it takes time for that to happen, and while the clock is ticking, the everyday-ness that I’m familiar with is moving on without me. It’s selfish. It’s stupid. But there it is. I want to experience and adapt to one place, but I also want to keep experiencing the other place too.

People keep telling me how brave it was to do this, and I didn’t get it. How is moving to Paris brave? It’s Paris. How hard can it be?

Now I get it.

In yoga, they call it going to the edge (of a posture); you’re supposed to push just past the place you know to get to a place you feel uncomfortable in to see real change.

So here I am, all alone at my edge. I’m pretty sure I’m way past it – 5,500 miles past, to be exact. I’m doing something most people dream about but never get to do, and in the process I’m learning a lot about myself, most of it not so pretty, so let’s hope the change is in progress. I’m impatient. I want things to be settled NOW, but doing that bypasses the fun and sometimes rocky part of getting settled. I don’t savor the moment enough. When I was sitting in my office in SF, my mind was in Paris. Now that I’m in Paris, roughly 180 seconds walking distance to the Louvre, I want to be sitting next to that concrete bulldog at Philz in the Castro, drinking coffee with my best friends and enjoying the absolutely ordinary. Yep, #firstworldproblems for sure.

So for now, I’m going to try and sit here and feel it all. Like Feist.  And tomorrow, I’ll wake up happy because I live in Paris and I’ll feel it all again – the good and the bad, the unknown and the sad. And someday soon, I’ll be in a concrete bulldog state of mind right here in Paris. I know it will happen, it’s just a matter of when.