Even when I leave Paris for just a week, my heart sinks, knowing I’ll have to leave behind watching old men with plaid felt caps hoist themselves onto buses or the way my corner bakery lets me take baguettes home on credit when I’m short on change. I consider this city my home in the world now, and it’s hard to leave my life constantly filled with scheduled immigration meetings and spontaneous rendez-vous at the Christmas markets.
As I’m currently home in southern California for the holidays, here’s my list of the top 10 things I miss about Paris after each time I tearfully wave goodbye to the Eiffel Tower.
1. Eating bread every day. At every meal. For every snack.
I’m seriously suffering gluten withdrawals in southern California, the land of acai bowls and wheat shots. I miss having people not judge me as I walk down a Parisian street stuffing an entire baguette into my mouth. Why isn’t eating a loaf of bread in one meal normal outside of Europe?
2. Light in the City of Light.
And I’m not just talking about the electric ones that light up Paris so magically by night. I’m talking about the daylight, from watching the sun rise over the Haussmannian rooftops in the early morning to the beautiful sunsets that provide a pink backdrop for the Eiffel Tower. A girl in one of my classes once told me that her favorite thing about Paris was the way the light hits this city in particular, and take a look around to see what she’s talking about: you’re walking around on a perfectly-lit movie set, with soft light hitting the Seine to make it sparkle *~just so.~*
3. First-rate food at almost every restaurant in town.
There’s hardly ever a need to Yelp before choosing a restaurant in Paris. If you’re out on a romantic stroll with your sweetheart and decide to spontaneously sit down at the nearest café, you can rest assured that the food will be nothing but what you’re used to: excellent. Gastronomy is sacred to the French, and this is why you can sit down in pretty much any restaurant in town and expect an amazing meal.
4. Walking to get around.
There are three reasons I love walking in Paris: 1) It’s like walking through a 1920’s movie set, 2) I can get to most places I need to be in 30 minutes or less (maybe in combination with the metro for getting to the outer arrondissements, but Paris really is a walkable city), and 3) I hardly ever feel unsafe here.
5. Bouncing off of that, the metro.
One of the biggest things I loved about Paris the first time I visited was how every metro was beautifully decorated in its own style, whether it be with colored spotlights or mosaic walls. Besides the artwork, which is sometimes shrouded behind the mist of a homeless person’s piss, one of the best things about Paris is the tangible sense of a community. Even though the pearl-wearing grandmothers may eye you up and down when you step onto the metro, one of the biggest things I miss is being a part of that underground train car, watching my fellow Parisians interact or find ways to pass the time until their stop. This is something you don’t get in my hometown, where everyone drives in their own cars everywhere, isolating themselves from each other.
6. The manifestations.
You may blame my love for Parisian protests on my being a fairly new inhabitant of the city, but I think the Parisian fighting spirit is incredibly inspiring. The history of this city is ancient and charged, from the multitude of revolutions the French citizens ignited to today’s democracy that was truly built from the bottom up. When I see huge manifestations, or protests, I see this as a source of pride for the Parisians: a pride in the fact that peaceful demonstrations for political, economic, and social change usually works. This politically-active city is self-assured that when things don’t seem fair, the people’s voice usually prevails.
7. The style.
I’m floored by some of the women who confidently walk past me on the street, dressed head to toe in the perfect chic combination of clothes, while looking like they pieced everything together effortlessly at the last minute (***this is the most important part for those of you looking for Paris Chic style inspiration: be effortless***). And the men all look like they just stepped out of a Land’s End catalog during the winter. I have a feeling that part of the education in the French system is learning how to wrap your scarf perfectly over your cardigan or what colors and trends will always be in style (black, Converse). Plus, these people are always dressed classy: I think I’ve only spotted high-waisted shorts once while walking around Paris.
8. Graffiti and the artistic spirit.
Even if you’ve been living in Paris for years, the streets will never look the same: the face of Paris is continually changing because of its abundant street art. Graffiti and urban art adorn ancient apartment buildings, sometimes as political and social commentaries, and sometimes for purely artistic means. I take pride in a city where someone cared enough to create a beautiful mural of flowers over a historic city building, adding to the story of the structure. And the artsy spirit extends beyond the external graffiti—I love when I stumble upon an underground art gallery showing and how a large chunk of advertisements in Paris are for the many new and constantly shifting exhibits around Paris.
Because where else can you enjoy two bottles of wine, a loaf of bread, fresh fruits and vegetables (grown without hormones or additives), and cheese in a country that offers over 350 types, and sit for hours chatting away with friends as you become tipsier and tipsier and this is all publicly acceptable???
10. French children.
Because when they speak so effortlessly, we are reminded of our inability and constant struggle to speak this beautiful and complex language. Seeing French kids scooter and skateboard around the city in packs is also a part of the French charm: even though Paris is one of the largest international hubs of tourism in the world, the French still maintain their cultural values in this urban cityscape. The small-town mindset in a major city is what allows youth to roam freely, yet another reason why Paris is a city unlike any other.