This American Life

Palm trees in the city: a view from Governor's Island

The April I first vacationed in Paris – the one where I lived in a Sorbonne professor’s top-floor apartment near the Gare du Nord; the one where I met a Frenchman and experienced a coup de foudre; the month, that really, changed everything – I told a friend that I felt I had just lived an entirely different life.

You have, she said.

I feel kind of like that now.

It would be impossible to encapsulate over three weeks back on home soil, but I can tell you I feel different. There are reminders of who I used to be here, pieces of myself I’ve lost, aspects of my personality I want to regain.

As beautiful as Paris is, and as much as the (mostly invented) image of the bohemian writer may appeal, it is really here that I feel free.

Washington Square Park in bloom

I’ve appreciated having my loud laugh celebrated, rather than scorned, random smiles from strangers on the street. I saw a 70-year old man tattooed from head to toe, made friends in line at Trader Joe’s.

Paris has become home, but it wasn’t until I stepped back here that I realized I’ve actually been holding my breath, that the discreet city has quieted me. Sometimes you have to leave the country of “c’est pas possible” for the land of “yes we can.”

99 cents: the American dream?

Perhaps I’ll provide little snippets of my adventures over the coming weeks, because really, it’s hard to sum up. New York embraced me. Vermont invigorated me. From the buzzing city to a little hotbox of creativity, I am nearly full to bursting with inspiration.

Today New York celebrates its version of Bastille Day on 60th Street.

I think I’ll wait for the real deal on July 14 when I will just have arrived back to Paris.

Despite what I’ve been saying here, I’m looking forward to going back. I’m packing my smile and renewed strength with me, though. I prefer who I am in America. Can I be that American in Paris?

Belleville in Brooklyn

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13 Responses to “This American Life”

  1. 1 Lisa July 11, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Love it. Great introspection. We keep learning and growing and feeling. We never really know until will know it, I guess. Life is one long journey and I think it takes the whole time to find out whom we are. I guess trying to stay true to that person no matter where we are or whom we are with is the hardest part.

    Glad you had a great time. A time of YOU.

    Safe travels home.


    • 2 paris (im)perfect July 11, 2010 at 7:22 pm

      Oh yes, one long journey. It doesn’t stop here, just one more stop on the road. I needed the reminder, though. You’d think you’d always be you no matter where you go, right? Funny how you feel different, though. I’m going to try to keep in touch with what I’ve tapped into here, see if I can’t be me wherever I am.


  2. 3 Tara Bradford July 11, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    My daughter once said she felt like she needed to be an invisible mouse in Paris. And I certainly have felt the desire to be invisible many times here. In Paris it’s all about conformity, in terms of social mores. The individual isn’t celebrated as in America. I do find the Parisian attitude disconcerting; the refusal to smile and even worse, the suggestion that if an American smiles, he or she must be stupid or simple. This refusal to embrace what is different from the Napoleonic Code and attitude is one reason I am looking forward to moving. While I’ve enjoyed many things about living in Paris these past ten years, I will be happier living in Amsterdam, where the individual is accepted and embraced, rather than forced into a mode.


    • 4 paris (im)perfect July 11, 2010 at 7:20 pm

      Hi Tara. Very interesting. I agree – the sort of conformity you describe has been the hardest part for me about living in Paris. Before I came on this most recent trip back to the States, I thought I had finally found the way to be myself in Paris. But once back here, I realized, OHH YEAH, *this* is actually who I am. I smile, I laugh, I wear quirky clothes, I talk to strangers. It’s just not the same in Paris.

      I’ll look forward to hearing about life in Amsterdam. I really liked that city when I visited (and, in fact, am wearing a quirky dress I picked up at a flea market there right now! Sophisticated black be damned!)

      I’m going to continue the Paris experiment a bit longer, see if I can’t hold onto this renewed sense of self and bring it back over the ocean. It’s quite a ride, in any case. Thanks for stopping by.


  3. 5 Lindsey July 11, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    It’s important to recognize the different facets of our personalities in different environments and hope that we can find a happy medium where we truly feel like we’re the complete version of ourselves. And if it doesn’t happen, you know where your heart remains 🙂

    Safe travels and welcome back!


    • 6 paris (im)perfect July 11, 2010 at 7:25 pm

      Thanks! And yes, an ever-evolving balance. It’s just funny – I thought I had found the happy medium in Paris, but being back here makes me feel totally differently. We’ll see what happens when I’m back!


  4. 7 Linda July 11, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    I think every city has its own culture, let alone every country. Having been born and raised in New York City, I tend to see myself as a citizen of the world. It’s not just about customs, food and religion, although the tapestry of New York is glorious for its many colors of thread. Having grown up among so many co-existing and different points of view, I think New Yorkers are uniquely free. Don’t get me wrong. We’re far from perfect. But I think I have the best chance of ‘understanding’ right here…I have a freedom of exploration, an easier time finding my ‘tribe’, right here where there are so many different ways of being. I will always be an enthusiastic traveler, and I thoroughly enjoy my time abroad *because* it is different. And, being in a different context allows me to discover unknown parts of myself. But I will always come home to New York because for me it is the one place in the world that celebrates its diversity. There’s no way to isolate myself from it. Some might say one is assaulted or confused by its contradictions, its chaotic energy. Yet for me, it spells a freedom I’ve yet to find anywhere else.
    There’s an old saying, “Wherever I go, there I am.” While it’s certainly true, there’s something to be said for the way this city makes me feel – gloriously possible.


    • 8 paris (im)perfect July 11, 2010 at 9:56 pm

      Linda, I couldn’t have said it better. I feel that way about New York, too. The whole world really is here. I love the energy, the accents, the possibilities. There’s just no place like it; it must still be my existential home. Thanks for your perspective.


  5. 9 pariskarin July 12, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    What a lovely post and comments so far — I loved reading this:

    “New York embraced me. Vermont invigorated me. From the buzzing city to a little hotbox of creativity, I am nearly full to bursting with inspiration.” Yay! So wonderful to read.

    I have had a lot of the same questions — who am I in Paris and can I keep that which was the “me” in the US intact with the “me” that I am here… I loved Tara’s comments — I have felt this about Paris, too, and is one of the reasons I feel at odds with her. It does not feel to me a place I am entirely free to be me.

    I really like what you wrote here, too: “I’m going to try to keep in touch with what I’ve tapped into here, see if I can’t be me wherever I am.”

    It is very much how I feel, too — that there is a “me” somewhere “in here” that can be at home and find her tribe (as Linda put it) wherever she is.

    If you discover ways to do that (to be more of yourself wherever you are), please share about it here; I’d be curious to know how you approach it and keep yourself whole and intact in a place that challenges your ability to do so.

    Safe and comfortable travels to you as you return to Paris. And just so you know: I have been up to the Rosa Bonheur twice in the last week, finally, after two years of meaning to do it, and it does have a funky and fun atmosphere. So glad I got there at last. I’d love to meet up there and listen to the things you have learned in your time away, and all that you discovered about yourself on the journey. If you’re up for it, let me know. 🙂


  6. 10 PigletinFrance July 13, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Your post has summed up some of my recent feelings perfectly and has offered a philosophical insight into the nature of existing in a foreign country.

    I hope that you progress along your journey and that you are able to remain faithful to yourself whilst back in Paris.


  7. 11 Alison July 13, 2010 at 11:20 am

    I’m glad you found yourself again! Living in another country certainly does influence and often change you but it’s important not to lose sight of who you are and, maybe even more importantly, who you want to be. I think you can find a wonderful balance and embrace the wonderful things about both cultures and just ignore the bad stuff. Never feel pressured to change who you are because you’re wonderful!


  8. 12 paris (im)perfect July 15, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Karin, Piglet, Alison – thank you for the kind words. I know you all understand the struggles, questions, and delights of this expat life!


  1. 1 Summer’s Sunny Scowls « paris (im)perfect Trackback on July 15, 2010 at 8:51 pm

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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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