Living in Paris as an American Francophile

There is something about Paris storefronts that this photographer finds very alluring and enchanting.

An Honest and Hilarious Memoir of What it’s Really Like to Live and Work in Paris

By Kristina Kulyabina

Paris I love you but you're bringing me down.Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin is a comic account of observing Paris, France from the eyes of a true Francophile. Ever since he was little, Baldwin always dreamed of living in the café-drinking and croissant-eating city of romance.

Although he barely spoke French, he instantly seized the opportunity to leave New York City with his wife when an advertising agency in Paris offered him a job in 2007.

Baldwin takes his readers on an eighteen-month journey through Paris, describing everyday life and discovering that the region in fact differs from his expectations. The old romantic facade of Paris embraced by Hemingway and later Julia Child has faded in the French culture and has remerged with modernization and globalization.

Baldwin paints a picture of the real up-to-date Paris, with its McDonalds-eating office workers, crowded metros, terrible coffee, and bistros owned by Australians.

Although his preconceived notion of Paris is discouraged, Baldwin maintains his American optimism with a sense of wit throughout his stay in the city. He provides an entertaining and honest look with his experience at work, at dinner parties, and at other daily activities immersed in French life.

Excerpt from Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing me Down: Chapter 19: Send in the Clouds

“You know, this is not an easy city if you are not rich,” Francoise said, chastising me. She said I needed to learn to be more sympathetic –people should make sacrifices to improve society’s lot, and let us not forget, she said, the Christmas spirit.

Of course, Francoise was right: Paris wasn’t easy without money. Paris wasn’t easy in the firs place. People were always cutting lines at the epicerie. And for every good-looking girl, there were a hundred old Frenchwomen shouting at people on the bus.

But modern forces had long ago shoveled out the poor beyond le peripherique, the highway that surrounded Paris like a moat, beyond which were les banlieues, “the suburbs.” Around Paris, the banlieues ranged from poor to rich, but its poor towns made the “suburbs” a far more sinister term in the public imagination than America’s bland commuting towns.

Rosecrans Baldwin's novel, You Lost Me There, was named one of NPR's Best Books of 2010.
Rosecrans Baldwin’s novel, You Lost Me There, was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2010.

The suburbs to the north and east of Paris were its anguished Bronx tenements. If you read the newspapers or listened to Sarkozy, they were bleak zones of neglect, full of immigrant scum, where society’s ills reproduced on the city’s doormat… Sarkozy tending not to mention, in my opinion, that central, decadent Paris was dead as fluff, and it took immigrants to give a city life, never mind friction –some tread as Apris tried to move its bulk forward into the twenty-first century.

The bigger world so valued by Julie, my colleague who’d endorsed Sarkozy’s policies over lunch, was a lot more likely to sleep five to a room in Clichy-sous-Bois than in a studio overlooking Montparnasse.

But in central Paris, the most visibly poor were street people. Drunks and punks with neck tattoos and dogs. Or Algerian and Moroccan beggars, and the Gypsies who pleaded for coins from the foot of ATMs. Olivier hated the drunks and punks the most; he railed against how they occupied the sidewalks in camps. Coworkers alleged the police couldn’t jail them because in Paris if a person had a dog he or she was considered a caretaker, and it was illegal to separate a caretaker overnight from his or her ward.

I never found out if that was true. For two weeks in December, though, an encampment of street kids took over Rue Beranger. I’d pass them on the way to and from work, and sometimes be jeered at. They were always drunk or high, on the brink of survival, but they kept their dogs in beautiful shape and fed them bones passed along by employees at Monoprix, the fancy supermarket around the corner.

The third week in December, I risked my life and rented a Velib to ride to work. Face-smacking loveliness of a day, and while I navigated around Place de la Concorde and began climbing up the Champs-Elysees, I heard a loud rushing RRRrrriiiiiiippppppp. Whence cometh hell.

It had sounded like a scooter revving its engine. In fact, my crotch was gone. I’d pedaled too hard, and the seat had been ripped out from my jeans. So I made a diaper of my trench coat, attended a meeting, and rode the Metro home to change my pants.

Around the same time, the president became enviable. “Bling-bling” Sarkozy had a new squeeze: Carla Bruni, ex-model, successful musician. And where did Sarko l’Amercain take his new girlfriend for the weekend? Disneyland Paris. Sarkozy was in love -same for the newspapers, with the spectacle. Especially because Bruni was the ex of Donald Trump and Mick Jagger, and she confirmed the papers’ worst suspicions about Sarkozy’s lust for celebrity, especially non-French celebrities, (never mind Bruni’s thing for powerful men.)

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