Monday, November 2, 2009

No longer a tourist

During my first month in Paris, I felt guilty every time I forgot to bring my camera somewhere, every time I stayed home with my host family rather than going out, every time I spent an hour doing homework rather than exploring a museum… I was constantly chastising myself, saying, “You’re in Paris! Make the most of every single moment you have here!” But after over a month of trying to pack “the most” into every second of every day (and being upset with myself when I felt like I didn’t succeed in doing so), I realized that I hadn't really made any progress in my quest to get to know the city.

I realized that the point of being abroad isn’t to visit every quartier, every monument, every bar within the first month just to be able to check them off my list and prove to myself that I’m taking advantage of my life in Paris. The most valuable experiences for me so far have been the 4-hour Sunday lunches with my host family, the afternoons spent in cafés reading my course material, the strolls through my neighborhood with my host dog… I’ve realized that every time I do something that some would consider mundane, or, if nothing else, simply ordinary, I feel much more connected to my life in Paris than I do when I snap a photo of the Sacre Coeur or the Obelisk. Paris is truly starting to feel like home to me, and that is not thanks to the number of monuments that I’ve visited.

My parents are visiting me this week, and my mom immediately wanted to know what museums to visit, what sites to see, where to get the best view of the Eiffel Tower. I let her consult any guidebook or tourism brochure to find all of the above, and instead I told her where to find the best crêpe in Paris, which movie theater has half-price admission on Tuesdays, the best day to visit my favorite open-air marché, where to find the best selection of used books, which restaurant has a breath-taking mural on the ceiling, and which contemporary art museums always have free admission. I’m finally starting to get to know Paris in the same way that I know Northampton or my hometown of Keene.

To me, “taking advantage” of living in Paris doesn’t involve visiting the Eiffel Tower every day—I’ve felt most connected to the city and the people in it when I simply allow myself to live life here, without the pressure of a list of “Paris must-sees” that disconnect me from my real life in Paris and make me feel like a tourist.

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