When I first heard the title Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, I felt an instant connection. Heck, that could be an alternate name for this blog. (If I weren’t so fond of my cute parentheses, that is).
After being offered the opportunity to work for an advertising agency in the City of Light, author Rosecrans Baldwin leapt at the chance – despite the fact that he had no previous experience in advertising and could barely speak French.
As you might imagine, hilarity ensued.
I was eager to get my hands on Baldwin’s memoir about the 18 months he and his wife spent here and am excited to welcome him to the blog today.
Rosecrans Baldwin is also the author of the novel You Lost Me There, named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2010, and is the cofounder of the online magazine The Morning News.
So many books have been written about Paris. What made you want to tackle one, too ? What do you feel you had to add?
The honest answer is I’ve never thought about my book as being one about Paris. That’s more a marketing category. I mean, it is about Paris, obviously. But it’s far more about Parisians: my co-workers, our friends. So hopefully it’s a different sort of beast. At one point, the cover had an Eiffel Tower on it, and both my editor and I realized how wrong it looked. And not that I have anything against the Eiffel Tower. I’ve read the Paris canon, admired so many of the books, especially the underdogs—Elaine Dundy’s Dud Avocado, Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories, The Invention of Paris by Eric Hazan. But you can’t spend a couple years writing a book, doing the work each morning, if you’re thinking about what the result should or should not be, what you’re going to add, whom you’re going to please. At least I can’t imagine doing that—it sounds awful!
Your book contains many humorous incidents, the inevitable misunderstandings and frustrations that come with confronting another culture and one with a language barrier to boot. Did you experience these as funny at the time or does it take hindsight to appreciate all that happens when living as a foreigner in Paris?
It was absolutely funny. Terrifically. But the kind of funny that makes you laugh afterward over dinner, rather than the gut-bubbling terror when the event’s actually occurring in a boardroom at 10am.
I particularly liked how much of an inside view we got of your French office and colleagues. Were there issues to consider in talking about your coworkers so openly?
We had to change people’s names, identifying characteristics, and try to cloak certain business dealings. But I was more worried about getting conversations recorded accurately, people’s mannerisms, people’s desires. Thankfully, I had a lot notes to rely on, things I’d been noting down at the time on my cell phone or in emails I’d send myself.
You loved Paris, but it brought you down, so ultimately you moved back to the States. I could read an affection for the city in your book, though, and I wonder what you miss about Paris now.
Well, I realize I’m fighting against my own title here, but Paris didn’t bring me down much at all. Working ludicrous hours, doing a job I disliked, not seeing my wife—those things brought me down. But not Paris. Paris will always be a terrific boost, which I think comes through clearly by the end of the book. I miss everything about Paris. I miss Paris itself. If I could visit Paris every week I would.
Personal interest because we both have the New York/Paris/Chapel Hill trifecta going on, but how was the adjustment moving from Paris to Chapel Hill, North Carolina? Was reverse culture shock a real phenomenon for you?
I’d say there actually wasn’t much that shocked us. We’d lived in big cities for 11 years and we were eager to live in the woods. It was a pretty easy switch because it was the switch we wanted.
You wrote a novel while living in Paris. Did you experience literary inspiration while here, or is that another fantasy that needs to be dispelled?
I don’t know if it needs dispelling. But no, the inspiration was internal—the book had nothing to do with France. I mean, I would have written the same novel if my day job had been working at a real-estate agency in Texas. Novel-writing is something a person does alone in a room. Where you go for walks afterward, where you eat and drink at night, probably comes down to temperament. I love doing those things in Paris, but I love doing them in Texas, too.
How did the process of writing this memoir differ from writing your novel?
Well, it’s a) completely different, and b) entirely the same. I get this question a lot and can’t really answer it accurately without going on for 2000 words or more, so I will ask your forgiveness and leave it at that.
To find out more about the author, feel free to visit his website.
To read an excerpt from Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, head on over here.