Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Not a real parisienne

Parisians, like most inhabitants of large cities, are geographical snobs.

It helps that the city is neatly divided up into 20 arrondissements, or independently-administered neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character and boundaries. It also helps that the Seine cuts the whole city neatly in two, giving each bank and its two islands very different personalities. The 7th and 8th arrondissements are both chic and expensive, but drop me blindfolded into one and I won't mistake it for the other, even if I'm not within sight of the Hôtel des Invalides or rue du Faubourg St. Honoré.

Parisians tend to sort themselves out into neighborhoods that match their aspirations and points of view. Bourgeois group together in the 8th and 16th, old money in the 7th, leftist intellectuals and bobos in the 11th and 12th. These are the stereotypes, of course; they are often less true in reality, which is ever-changing anyway.

Means are important in all this sorting out. Certain neighborhoods are poor, particularly those in the northeast of the city. Other neighborhoods are so expensive as so be pratically inaccessible to "real" Parisians. Often apartments with sky-high prices are snapped up by foreigners who find French real estate relatively cheap. I've been told that Ile Saint Louis is overrun with Americans. Oh, how I wish I could be one of them!

All that is Paris proper, Paris intra muros, or everyone who has 75 as the first two digits of their zip code. This snobbism is played out on a larger scale in the whole of greater Paris, the region Ile de France. Unlike in the US, where living in the suburbs is often considered more prestigious or at least safer and more comfortable than living downtown, in Europe downtown is chic and the suburbs are either frightening or boring. Many are those Parisians who'd never consider moving outside the former city walls.

There are others who like the suburbs just fine, who enjoy having a real house or a larger apartment, and don't understand why people would want to live stacked atop one another just to be in the center of things.

I was ready to be Parisian snob. I dreamt of a Haussmanian apartment on some busy avenue, a view over zinc rooftops, and my very own Métro station. I didn't much care which arrondissement I ended up in, but I thought living as a banlieusard, a common suburb-dweller, was singularly pathetic.

I was pretty obnoxious about it, and my husband had to put up with my whining for months. The truth was that Paris real estate is expensive, and we couldn't afford as nice an apartment as we wanted in a neighborhood we liked without me abandoning this ridiculous pretention. We currently live just outside Paris, in a very pleasant suburb along the Seine. I even have my own Métro station.

Thus the title of my blog, a play on words: Pa(s)risienne Mais Presque. Not a real Parisian, but almost.

Of course, it also applies to me as a foreigner. I love France, my country of adoption, but even if I live here the rest of my life I'll never be quite really and truly French. Just almost. Close enough for me.


Miz Modern Manners said...

Your blog is darling, especially this post. You have me wishing my husband was French and whisked me off to Paris instead of cold, windy Chicago.

nina b said...

Just came across your blog via Missadventures with Andi. Love your style, is there a way to subscribe to posts by email?

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Hi @nina b,

Sorry I didn't respond earlier! If I were more clever (or a bit less exhausted this week...) I could probably figure out how to subscribe by email, but I've poked around Blogger and the best I can figure out is to use the "follow" feature. Hope that helps...

(The good news is I happened across how to save the contents of the blog to my hard drive, which I hadn't yet figured out. Yeah, I'm a computer person. Pathetic, isn't it?)

Ohlala Maman said...

Happy to have found your blog, am enjoying looking around a bit! I also live on the outskirts of Paris, and am hankering to move back into the centre of things one day! Have a good holiday tomorrow, all the best,