Monday, December 2, 2013

investors in paris

Invest in Paris.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

Well, it just might to some dwellers in Paris, notably French citizens or citizens of former French colonies.  Virtually any Parisian would agree that is not uncommon to come across people who deplore Paris or reiterate their wish to flee to more attractive pastures, which in general refers to English-speaking countries like England or the United States.  Maybe it is the attitude, the expense, the bureaucracy, the aged mentalities, the systems that either seem backwards or simply do not work, or the absence of joyful people in the metro.  I wonder if I have heard it all.  In any case, I doubt that I can help to reduce the woes of these Parisians, given that I am an adult foreigner in Paris whose mother tongue is English.  Having moved to Paris only a couple of years ago, I cannot fully relate.

I do however relate with foreigners who seek to leave Paris because they are, as they might describe, fed up.  I have known a few in recent years and I cannot help but feel sad hearing their wishes to depart.  After all, many people move to the French capital excited about a new adventure, only to end up wanting to leave after a short period because "it is not working out" (whatever that means).  Aside from factors not related to Paris, I'm supposing that a good deal of these ideas of flight have to do with the people in Paris.  Granted, Parisians do not tend to welcome newcomers with open arms.  And while they may not offend you, they may just not recognize that you are there.  The widespread opinion that there is a lot of beauty and culture in Paris is great for someone relocating here, but, at some point, a frequent need for human connection takes over.  Foreigners might as well find this human connection within social groups that cater to them, thereby giving up on the French locals, who will naturally look to themselves when looking to fulfill the same need.  Given the obvious abundance of French people in Paris, the need is easily fulfilled and the sense of comfort is quickly restored.  After all, Paris remains a place built by the French for the French.  For the adult foreigner attached to a different way of life, this kind of situation can instill a pressure to conform or spark an identity crisis.  Or even nurture thoughts of leaving the city.

Yet there is great opportunity in Paris for the foreign resident to engage with the French-speaking local.  The city offers a rich culture and it is more often than not through its residents that one best discovers this culture.  Beyond Paris is France and many Parisians revel at the opportunity of presenting many things French to foreigners who may not have a clue.  Call it French pride if you will.  If you are open to learning new things, you can count on the French to enlighten you that regard.  Indeed, some Parisians come off as disagreeable and others have their quirks that rub people the wrong way.  If we accept that this is a part of life since we are all different (right?), then we can be more understanding.  Besides, an unpleasant behavior is only one side of the story; another side may include brighter things.  Also, there may be something interesting in the way Parisians express themselves (non-violently of course) when angry or annoying.  Sometimes, it's like theater that some of us may be incapable of either producing or producing as well.  We may not like it, but we will talk about it.

That said, the bulk of the opportunity to thrive in the Paris rests more in our hands than in those of the people with whom we share the city.  Each of us has something to offer, something that could enrich the lives of our fellow Parisians.  Yes, our numbers are much smaller when compared to those of the French-speaking locals.  But these low numbers makes us the rarity, the exception.  In other words, our difference makes us special.  We do not even have to strive to be special; we are so just by being in Paris.  And I think that we should embrace that.  Even better, if we can embrace that in beneficial ways that French-speaking Parisians can potentially identify with, then they can value us.  It's not a matter of trying to change French culture or of abiding by French culture.  It's rather about finding some middle ground, where we express our difference in favor of the people among whom we feel different.

It's like the popular saying "Leave a place better than you found it."  It's like the most famous words of former U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."  So what can you do for Paris and its residents?  What is it that your foreign eyes see since you have been in Paris?  What do your foreign eyes see lacking in Paris that, if provided, could  benefit Parisians, as well as yourself?  Indeed, it's not only about Paris; you are just as important.  It's about your own experience in Paris, not just that of the foreigner (or that of the local for that matter).  It's about the time that you invest in Paris.  Is the investment paying off for you right now?  Are you confident that it will yield a high return in the future, even in a life after Paris?

I believe that it is by this mutual consideration for Paris and for oneself that a foreigner can thrive in the city.  It's like a marriage where both sides must maintain a balance.  If the foreigner gives too much to Paris, he risks losing his sense of self.  If he gives too much to himself, he risks feeling isolated.

Some years ago, when I was having a passionate love affair with the French language in the United States, I decided to take a month off work — practically more than my annual leave allowance — to live in Paris.  One afternoon during my stay, I met Colette, a wonderful lady and French teacher that a Francophile friend had put me in contact with.  Between picnicking and strolling together in the park in the center of Place des Vosges, Colette sensed my enchantment with many things Parisian and French.  Consequently, she gathered that I was wondering about a future life in Paris that lasted longer than a month.  She promptly warned me: "Paris, c'est un mythe."  I got a similar reaction after returning to the States as some people pointed out to me the difficulties of living in Paris, perhaps owing to an impression of Parisians as unfriendly people.  In both cases, I thought to myself somewhat naively, "Oh, I'll charm them anyway."

Eight years after that stay in Paris, I finally feel that I am realizing the opportunity to do just that.

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