The Physics of Positivity (yes, even in Paris)

Yesterday I picked up my new carte de sejour. Ah, one more year of sweet legal residence is mine!

Drapeau Français / French Flag

I’m not sure what special juju I’ve got working for me, but Paris is just being so good to me right now.

The prefecture, for instance, has never been one of my favorite places. (It has, in fact, been the site of much pain).

But yesterday a smiling guard greeted me. Yes – smiling.

“You must smile, too, Madame. No smile, no pass,” he said in a jocular way that made my jaw drop. How wonderful to actually be instructed to smile in Paris! And in the Prefecture of Police no less.

Next I entered the courtyard. A massive construction site awaited. I couldn’t immediately see how to get around the barriers to my correct salle. A friendly construction worker came over of his own accord and pointed the way through the rubble. (I wasn’t wearing revealing clothing, in case anyone was wondering).

I picked up my card without a hitch.

I went to sit in this lovely little park next to Shakespeare & Co to bask in my good fortune

I’m not what you’d call New Agey, but I do believe that what you put out to the universe often comes back to you. It’s a matter of physics, too: energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed from one state into another.

Positive energy (at least in my interactions with Parisians) seems to be feeding on itself lately. I’m now receiving customer service. People smile back at me. I no longer receive (as many) reprimands for my fumbling foreigner ways. Same amount of energy, it just seems to have swung from negative to positive.

I don’t want to jinx this jovial run by talking about it too much, but I do have my theories.

When I first moved to Paris I was open and ready for adventure (who else buys a one-way ticket to a country where they don’t speak the language, has no job in sight, and moves in with someone they spent less than three weeks with? Yeah, me).

Ugh! Except don't look too close. This sculpture kind of scares me

I was soon disheartened, however. My smile was rebuffed, my loud laugh scorned, my efforts to speak French ridiculed. It wasn’t from lack of trying that the “positive thoughts” route didn’t seem to work. The confident, independent woman l had become in New York shriveled by the day.

So what changed? Somewhere in the past few months I’ve slipped into a full acceptance of where I am. While yes, before I was open to what was happening in Paris, I still held onto this yearning for New York. While yes, I was making every effort to build a life here – and I did, finding a “real” job, learning the language, even getting hitched! – I still wasn’t sure that this was really where I would stay.

And then, ’round about year three, it just sort of happened. Paris became home. I stopped constantly comparing the city to where I had come from. I didn’t take hurtful comments so much to heart. I put my sneakers back on, let loose my loud American laugh and stopped caring what people thought. Because this is who I am, and I live here, too, damn it.

I think the Parisians might have picked up on this. Somehow they know I’m no longer a temporary visitor, but someone who’s sticking around.

Of course, I’ve been on the expat rollercoaster long enough that I know this high might not last. But it serves as a nice reference point, and boy, will I hold onto these moments when I’m down.

It hardly felt like bureaucracy picking up my residency card yesterday, but we do still have another outstanding bureaucratic issue. The double taxation problem had finally seemed to reach resolution, but just this week it came roaring back into our lives. Jerome’s been dealing with this one (hey, I have enough paperwork to deal with, he’s in charge of the taxes for his own country!), but I almost felt tempted to step in. Maybe he just doesn’t have the same positive juju working for him right now.

But I decided against it. I mean, this juju probably has its limits. If there’s only so much energy in the world, there’s only so much to go around. No need to push my luck, right?

And then crowds of tourists came and disturbed the calm. I am so not a tourist anymore! Celebrate!

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24 Responses to “The Physics of Positivity (yes, even in Paris)”


  1. 1 Delana April 15, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    A Carte de Sejour without a hitch? Can this be possible? My last one took 11 1/2 months from start to finish. Just in time to start the next one. But you are so right about the positive energy. I feel it too. Finally. More smiles than not (it helps to take all government bureaucrats chocolate chips cookies). I guess people are starting to realize that I won’t be detoured….or devoured! Next step…figure out how to legally work and figure out some way to get French insurance!

    Good luck with the taxes!

    • 2 parisimperfect April 15, 2010 at 2:37 pm

      Hey Delana. I can assure you, it’s true! Who knows what next year’s process will bring, but right now I’m just going to bask in this triumph. And yay for you! Unstoppable. Bon courage for everything. (And you’ve also made me hungry for chocolate chip cookies).

  2. 3 Shane April 15, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Incredible.
    when read something like this it reinforces my desire to move to Paris. Its funny because even reading all the challenges you face it makes me want to move there.
    I am at a point in my life where a total change might be the best thing for me.

    Lets hope the wave of positive continues.

    • 4 parisimperfect April 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Shane. So glad I could share something positive with you today – and yes, let’s hope this wave continues!

      If total change is what you’re looking for, no doubt moving abroad will give that to you.

  3. 5 Lindsey April 15, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Congrats, positivity in Paris is hard-earned. You’re getting there!!

  4. 7 Tanya in Transition April 15, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Yes, positive energy helps… I admit I’m not looking forward to this part of the move but it must be done. Thanks for the tips and keep the positive energy flowing!

  5. 9 Linda D. April 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I was struck by your photo caption: I am so not a tourist. (or words to that effect). Got me thinking. I’ve lived in several European countries on very short assignments – anywhere from a month to six months, and always in a single place. I have never ‘felt’ like a tourist, even though I think it would be stretching things to call myself a resident. There really should be a word in English that distinguishes between an expat and the sort of tourist who rushes around a country, guidebook and checklist in hand. I know that whenever I visited the greengrocer or neighborhood baker in any country, I was recognized and accepted as a regular by my third visit. It’s still one of the rituals I look forward to most when I get to Europe. I think of it as my official ‘adoption’ – a subtle and much appreciated way to let me know the neighborhood has taken me in.

    • 10 parisimperfect April 15, 2010 at 3:53 pm

      Hi Linda. Great point. Even when I’m visiting other places where I’m not a resident, I hope I am more traveler than tourist. For longer stretches of time, I am like you – I much prefer getting into the local rhythm. I want to experience a place, really feel what it’s like to live there. I’m not that interested in checking off monuments or sites. Seeing the bands of people returning to Paris again (really, I was sitting in that garden and all of a sudden there was a horde of Japanese tourists walking in a straight line) really brings it home.

  6. 11 lupinssupins April 15, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    It’s been years, but I know that park! Isn’t it sweet? And as for your smiling guard and construction worker at the Préfecture, interesting your parenthetical protest that it wasn’t due to revealing clothing, b/c it hints at my first reaction (not abt your dress, but about les dragueurs). Call me a cynic, but I don’t think Frenchmen need revealing clothing to turn on zee French sharm. Back in grad school, my first 2 roommates were 2 tall, blonde Franco-American sisters who’d even gone brunette to try to deter advances. When approached by strange men offering to show them the sights, claiming to be fluent in any language they might need, they taught me (far less striking, but also w/ long blond hair) to launch into Scandinavian-accented gibberish. It was to stump the guys by claiming to be Icelandic! I never wore revealing clothes either, and don’t think I had “come hither eyes” or actions, but I was much younger and (sigh) much thinner then. During my year there, I found myself fending off passes from surprising sources, including 2 profs (one a duffer at least 3 times my age!), my almost as ancient landlord (beurk! Thankfully near the end of the lease & my dean’s secretary gave me refuge chez elle & struck him from the list of school recommended logements) and even 2 cops! The first flic was standing guard at the Palais du Luxembourg (le Senat). I was quite a political geek, so we started talking. I swear I’m not making this up– he soon said, “Ecoute, t’es très jolie et j’aimerais bien faire l’amour avec toi”!!! Jaw drop, sudden glance at my watch & scurry off, protesting I already had a copain. [Who, bless him, back en Amérique, fumed "French GOATS!"] When I put this experience (minus the goats) in the journal we were required to keep in French, the comp. prof exclaimed in the margin, “Tu étais dragué par un FLIC au Palais du Luxembourg???”

    • 12 parisimperfect April 15, 2010 at 4:01 pm

      Wow, what a story! Believe me, I do feel the difference between trying to be picked up and someone just being friendly (the smiling guard seemed equally nice with the guy behind me).

      I wrote about the sleazy type of pick-up here: http://parisimperfect.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/prescriptions/

      No, yesterday was really just…positive. Those were just two examples, but I’ve been feeling this a lot recently, when it has nothing to do with being picked up. Like I’ve even had women in the shops chat with me, just nice encounters around my neighborhood.

      But wow, fending off the police at the Palais du Luxembourg? I can understand your cynicism. Yikes!

  7. 13 res ipsa April 15, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    It’s so refreshing to hear a positive review of Paris that’s not related to food or fashion! Because yes, they do exist, and us Parisians do smile sometimes! (I’ve always thought that maybe we would smile more if we had those perfect American pearly whites to show off…)
    Anyways, an Australian friend of mine went through a similar cycle in her complex relationship to Paris, ended up being forced back to Melbourne and now (her words not mine) is dying to come “home”.

    Anyways, great to discover your blog, hope the juju keeps up.

    • 14 parisimperfect April 19, 2010 at 11:28 am

      Hi Res Ipsa,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I know I can’t compete with the many Paris food bloggers out there and I’m something of a fashion victim, so I choose to focus on other areas of my Paris experience :)

      Seriously, the concept of “home” is an interesting one to me. It’s somehow gratifying to feel as if I’ve carved out my own bit of home in a new culture/city/language.

      Really happy to discover your blog, too. I’ll be going back to finish my MFA in fiction this summer so you’ll probably see me talking about the trials and tribulations of writing a lot more on this blog, too. Good luck with your novel!
      -Sion

  8. 15 Karin (an alien parisienne) April 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    ““You must smile, too, Madame. No smile, no pass,” he said in a jocular way that made my jaw drop. How wonderful to actually be instructed to smile in Paris! And in the Prefecture of Police no less.”

    I am AGOG!! That’s fantastic. That’s, like, Midwestern USA friendly kind of stuff! :)

    I am so glad to read you’ve got good juju right now. It seems that a combination of a good attitude and perseverance has really paid of in your making Paris your home.

    • 16 parisimperfect April 19, 2010 at 11:29 am

      Hi Karin,

      Agog is a great word for it! I think you’re right: good attitude + perseverance works wonders. (I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop here, but I’ll try to keep positive…:) )

  9. 17 Alison April 19, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Congrats to you on surviving another paperwork hurdle! It was right about year 3 that I started to feel at home here in Belgium too. I just sort of woke up one morning and felt it. Strange. I hope you have a lovely vacation!

  10. 18 marya April 25, 2010 at 11:06 am

    yes! the expat roller-coaster! i know exactly what you mean! Like you, I never thought i’d find myself living in France, and Paris is a moody lady – making friends with her can be a bit of a challenge. Sometimes, we’re not even on speaking terms, while other days she’s docile as a kitten. It’s fantastic to know it’s not just me she treats this way . . .

    And yeah- let’s never stifle a beautiful, bold, American laugh!

    • 19 parisimperfect April 25, 2010 at 2:34 pm

      Hi Marya. You put it perfectly! I love your description of Paris, the moody lady :) It is so wonderful to hear that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Thanks so much for confirming it. And yep, I’m keeping my big American laugh intact.

  11. 20 franglaisreview July 13, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Hello,
    I adore your blog, I just found it.
    Love your writing, and you have some hilarious content – faux pas fridays are fantastic. Bon courage with the FB!


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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