ANECDOTES FROM LIVING ABROAD: FRANCE

requested by @Nicholas
  1. I lived alone in France when I was 19 & 20 years old during a period in my life when I was honestly unsure about what I was doing with my life and felt lost within myself.
    I recommend total isolation because it makes you fully realize you have nothing to lose in this life by taking risks.
  2. I took a couple months away from college, it was the dead of winter in Rhode Island but in France it was only rainy. This was my Paris metro card photo at the time. guess I couldn't be bothered to brush my hair.
    rain > snow that melts and refreezes into ice which melts into puddles which get snowed upon which freezes, etc etc
  3. I've always been a Francophile and can speak the language fairly fluently
  4. but I was still an outsider.
    and I had no way for people to reach me. no phone, no address. I sublet a studio apartment for which I was supposed to pretend I wasn't the renter. it was all super dangerous in retrospect but at the time, definitely felt safe and better than what I was doing before.
  5. I don't have a travelogue to revisit like @Nicholas does, but I do have a pretty good memory.
  6. here are some things I remember learning and experiencing:
  7. Paris is postcard-beautiful everywhere. it's ridiculous and unending. my favorite thing to do was to discover some new corner and sit there feeling part of old structures as I emptied my mind.
    sometimes I lament that my cel phone keeps me from truly disentangling now. it would be irresponsible to do something like this now.
  8. it took me at least a full week, maybe two, before I stopped being self conscious ordering a drink or buying groceries or asking for directions in French
    it's hard to explain, but ego and concern about not being embarrassed held me back from a lot of experiences (and needs) early on. even when I travel now, it takes me a day or two to remember that embarrassment is the anti-traveler, and to look to my surroundings and ask questions of people rather than research on my phone
  9. basically anyone will hang with or talk to you at that age
    I danced in clubs and went to punk shows at anarchist squats with stolen electricity, had meals in people's homes. I made a bunch of friends and ran into or met up with people I knew from the states. the world is so, so small, both harsher and kinder than you expect — and seeing another part of the world shows you this.
  10. I mostly spent a lot of time alone and those were usually the highlights.
  11. I had an aunt in Paris that I saw only once during this time. we had dinner together when I was going through a particularly hard time, and during it, she told me no one would ever love me because I was too difficult a person.
    I then realized that the concept of family is a construct, and you're INCREDIBLY lucky if you have someone in your life who worries about you.
  12. I reached out to people I thought seemed cool, like: graffiti artist Invader who at that point was something of a local prankster
    every time I saw his work around, it made me so, so happy. subtle mosaic graffiti imitating pixel art, it's genius really. we met up for hot cocoa and I still think that was such a cool and weird thing and wonder if he remembers me!
  13. got to know local artists through their artwork and passing notes at my favorite bookstore
    un regard moderne, 10 rue git-le-coeur. Art books only, curated by Jacques who was its insane, beloved proprietor.
  14. I went to a turkish bath house and had the best mint tea and a very necessary massage
    from the outside, it looked like a storage building. from the inside, it looked like this and there were hundreds of naked people there. it was very inexpensive & surreal.
  15. went to an overnight coen brothers movie marathon
    i remember very little of this, I think I only saw Barton fink and left
  16. I roller skated in the Paris roller
    alone with borrowed skates. tbh it was terrifying but I'm so glad I did it. I ended up rollerskating at my college graduation commemoratively
  17. my other favorite thing was to take the side streets
    down impossible-to-find-again corridors were often the best bookstores, boutiques, cafes, fountains.
  18. French radio is mandated to have a certain percentage of French music. I don't remember anything specific, but I came to know French radio really well.
    and PJ Harvey. pj Harvey was always on.
  19. crossing the Seine is never not breathtaking
    I cannot overstate how beautiful this city is
  20. pharmacies in France can prescribe. doctors come to your house on demand. their whole system of medicine was so much better.
    I had a severe asthma attack and walked into a pharmacy. they basically, wordlessly, handed me albuterol and I was out of there in less than a minute
  21. I went to private parties and readings upstairs at the only English bookstore
    it's a really charming space
  22. there were a lot of extremely specific themed bars and restaurants
    the vinyl record themed bar, the Jesus themed bar... every store is like the "two girls one shirt" portlandia sketch
  23. I had soup on every rainy day at a cafe called, appropriately, le bar à soupes
    it was tucked away, new and unknown. the owner now is well known and has a published cookbook I consult regularly
  24. I didn't want to leave but I did, because of money and family and school and life
    France is prohibitively expensive
  25. I remember writing a long letter to David Foster Wallace and coming back to the states to find a thoughtful reply
    rest in peace, David. this trip also taught me to tell people when they have a positive or meaningful impact on your life. why hold back?
  26. I ended up studying abroad the next year
    it wasn't the same - I agree with Nicholas. travel alone for an extended time if you can. you can't replicate that lonely, bewildering, magical experience.
  27. here's me (L) and my friend Anna (R) from the states eating flan in the street
    flan's great