Growing A Little Closer With Paris


Love for a place, especially when abroad, tends to grow slowly. (Courtesy of Instagram)

“Mon chéri, donne-moi le canard s’il te plaît.” Camille didn’t really have to ask Pierre to pass the duck, he was already reaching for the dish to refill her empty plate. All night they both seemed to be one step ahead of each other, communicating in codes like a delicate squeeze of the hand or a cheeky glance. At 28, they had the romantic spark of a doe-eyed high school couple. Camille sat at the head of the table, opposite of Pierre’s chic “maman,” leaving him and I sandwiched between the two powerhouses. Despite being the furthest apart, they carried the conversation all night, filling the living room with laughs, grand questions and small pokes that could’ve turned into an argument, but didn’t.

Reading back that paragraph, it sounds like I’m describing a scene from a cliché but still somehow entertaining show about a Parisian family. I can assure you, though, that this is real life (although I’m finding that hard to believe myself).

Like many things I’ve experienced in Paris thus far, I wasn’t supposed to be at this dinner. To explain, the chic “maman” is actually my host mother. She planned this night with the expectation that I would be at a ballet event hosted by my program. After the show was canceled last minute because of worker strikes — which I’ve been told is very French — she added a place setting to the table for me.

Throughout the two-hour long ordeal, past the language barrier and abundant questions about America, specifically why some houses have both dining rooms and kitchens, all I could focus on was Camille and Pierre. Despite the seemingly never-ending negative French stereotypes I’ve touched on in these articles, this was the first time I bore witness to perhaps a more positive one: how much they prioritize love and romance.

Of course, Paris is the city of love, but it seems that love is reserved for intimate spaces only. That might sound self-evident, but the softness I’ve seen between lovers in this city is not what they evoke in the streets, the metro, the stores, anywhere. I guess that makes sense, but being with Pierre and Camille was the first time I was allowed into this kind of space, to watch the fireworks that make this city famous.

Their love added a new dimension to my experience, but it also shifted something in my instinct to be pessimistic. After the main course was over, in the short break before dessert, Camille sat perched on the arm of Pierre’s chair. Still chatting with his mom, he passed her his glass containing the wine bottle’s last remnants. It was these innocuous moments that felt the loudest, the most representative of their relationship and affection. And I feel lucky to have been in the presence of something so pure. It clearly doesn’t happen often here.

I’ve been in Paris for just about a month, and I’ve already heard countless first-person accounts of people coming to the city for love, whether to chase it, secure it or search for it. My month-long timestamp means that I’ve had enough time to ease into the culture shocks and finally begin understanding why everyone is in such a trance when it comes to Paris. I guess this is all to say that Camille and Pierre reminded me of a sentiment Nadia shared with me a few weeks ago (check my last article if you don’t know Nadia). She basically told me that as hard as it is now, as foreign as it feels, once I scratch the surface I will have no choice but to love Paris. Having unlocked this new insight into what the city can truly offer, I feel like I’m ready to go past the surface.

I have just two and a half months left in Paris. It’s colder and raining more, but it’s not nearly as gloomy as New York this time of year. I can’t say I miss walking in the wind tunnels next to Walsh and getting splashed by rain puddles in the city when a car drives through them. But thinking of charms from life back home, how they appeared slowly with each new experience, makes me excited for what else I’m going to discover about Paris. So far, I’ve found that the baguette, cheese and jam trio is absolutely worth the hype and that as soon as it hits 5 p.m., you better not be caught saying “bonjour,” but “bonsoir” or “bonne soirée” instead. 

Each encounter I’ve written about so far (plus more that I’m keeping secret) have helped me peel back a layer or two of this city. I don’t know how many layers there will be, but I’m looking forward to uncovering a few more.