The Thing About Paris

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Hotel de Ville in Paris, France
Hotel de Ville in Paris, France

by Chloe Karaskiewicz

My first week in Paris has been a whirlwind adventure. The days blur together with long walks past buildings older than the United States, views of the Seine, shopping the famous February sales and enjoying a nice (legal!) glass of wine with dinner. In my meandering about the city and people watching from street side cafes, I’ve begun to take in the city and I’ve decided there’s no way to sum up the atmosphere, the attitude, the general feeling of this marvelous place.

Because, the thing about Paris is…

Everything is different. Every day it’s not so much that there’s another language lingering in the air, but that the very air is different. From their clothes to their general demeanor, the French are reserved—something we just don’t see to this extent in the U.S.

The people are different.

Largely independent, Parisians seem perfectly content to go through daily life mostly on their own. It’s not uncommon to see tables for one at cafes and I’ve rarely seen groups of over four eating together, and usually no more than pairs, whether couples or friends, walking down the street together. And that’s another thing: the whole city is paired up: there are couples absolutely everywhere. Paris is called the city of lovers for a reason, and it’s a surprisingly big leap from public affection in the US. There’s a young couple at a café, sitting for hours with one glass of wine and a pack of cigarettes, there’s a middle aged couple kissing on their balcony—or in the middle of the street, there’s just love everywhere. You might think this makes for a lot of PDA, but surprisingly not. Even in public an amorous embrace seems like a private affair—a little stolen moment away from the traffic, for just those two. Maybe it’s that it’s refreshing to see the world shrink down before your eyes, it reminds the world that maybe you can be in love forever. But I’m a romantic.

The fashion is different.

Parisian style has been studied, envied, coveted for centuries, and as an American in this city, I can tell you it’s all with good reason. While there’s no cookie cutter look I could tell you is strictly Parisian, you can always tell who is French and who is not. The look is à l’aise (at ease): they definitely care how they look because no one looks that good by chance, but it’s very much, “I have a fabulous closet, I just threw this on.” No one is striving for perfection, it doesn’t matter so much if a hair is out of place, and that ease of style and comfort in your own look is the essence of Parisian fashion. It also doesn’t hurt to have the designer-packed Galleries Lafayette at your fingertips.

The seasonal style is different.

It may be winter, but the locals don’t buy into it. There are a vast number of “open-coat” Parisians out there and I swear to you, no one believes that gloves or mittens are a thing. I’m huddled up in a parka and I see women on the street in short skirts and no, not tights, but black nylons. Girl, please put some clothes on, it’s cold outside. In Wisconsin we’re taught to bundle up when it’s cold outside. In Paris, you just take public transportation—it’s always warmer in the metro.

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