[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is something that has been in the back of my mind for ages now. Literally months – maybe even coming up to a year! Yes I lived in Paris for 10 months, and no I did not have the time of my life.
Except I did. I had the best year of my life. However, not for the reasons you’d expect from living the Parisian dream for a year. I had the time of my life because I met some incredible people, travelled to some beautiful places, and found a lot of strength within myself that I didn’t know I had. Notice how none of those things involve the Eiffel Tower?
I was incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to live and study in Paris for so long. I was incredibly lucky that Durham offered it to me as an Erasmus placement, and I was incredibly lucky to be in a position to accept it. Please don’t get me wrong when I say that Parisian living was awful. I appreciate just how lucky I was, and am.
But Paris was awful. Not sorry.
Like, it wasn’t awful in a bad way. It wasn’t awful in a scary way, or in any form of objective way.
Paris was awful because it was just so damn hard. It broke me, physically and mentally, and I’m pretty inclined to say that if we called the last 11 months The Great War of Imii v. Paris, Paris will be known forever as the victor. Paris gobbled me up, chewed me a bit, showed me the sights, then spat me back out.
I’m probably exaggerating. Truth is, I actually feel really awkward writing this. People can get really weird about Paris. It’s so built up as this perfect romantic city, full of French fun and love and beauty, and people really get into that. Back in October I wrote a pretty satirical article about Paris being awful and I got so much abuse, including a death threat (lol). Why are you all so obsessed with Paris? Copenhagen is stunning. Berlin is super cool. Rome has the most incredible food. Barcelona is full of incredible architecture. Why get so worked up over a city that is certainly beautiful, but also smells bad a lot of the time?
For me, Paris wasn’t a fun holiday. It wasn’t a mini-break with my boyfriend with fun trips to the Eiffel Tower and cheap wine on balconies (you all know that I don’t drink). Sure, I did all those things. I did the tourist stuff. I did the fun with friends stuff. I did the fun few days with Ollie doing cute things like walking and eating. My Parisian friends are the best friends I have ever had in my life. I did experience the Paris that you all love.
You know what else I experienced? Crippling loneliness. Anxiety. Stress. The inability to communicate for the most basic necessities. Depression. The French banking system (an ongoing issue…). Arguing with sales assistants about wifi, in my first week. Paying bills I couldn’t read. Always being the ‘English girl’. Brexit while abroad. Binge eating. Food poisoning alone, late at night. A trip to the dentist. Begging my parents/university to let me come home.
Whenever I post an insta, or tweet a tweet, or even blog a blog, I get a handful of people telling me how lucky I am. A handful of people telling me how much they love Paris. How jealous they are. My favourites from recently go along the lines of ‘hope you had a nice time.’
On the whole, I did have a nice time. But that’s such a weird question?! Like, I lived there. I lived there in the same way that you live in Wigan or Guildford or Blackpool or wherever you live. Did you have a nice time, living there?
I lived my life the same way I live my life at home, in London or in Durham. I bought loo roll, I cleaned my bathroom and kitchen, I put on washes and ate cornflakes before uni. I didn’t live my life any differently to any of you, except that I did it all in a language I didn’t speak, or at least didn’t speak well enough. It wasn’t a constant Woody Allen film or a walk through the Tuileries.
I’m making a fuss over nothing, I know.
People would give their right arm to live in Paris, I know.
In the words of one angry tweet a while ago: Life’s what you make it, bitch.
Would I go back? Would I do exactly the same thing again? Well, I think so. Now that I know I can get through to the end alive – something I wasn’t sure was possible back in November/December.
Would I do the same thing somewhere else? Would I move to Barcelona or Rome or anywhere else? No. I couldn’t put myself through it again. It would break me completely.
While building up my confidence immensely, my 10 months in Paris also smashed it into pieces. It made me nervous and anxious, depressed and stressed. I gained a stone in binge weight that I still can’t bring myself to get rid of because I’m not quite sure I’m worth the effort. Two months on I’m still tired and sad and worried.
According to my mother I looked ill when I came back – something she assures me is not the case now.
It’s weird because it really was the best year of my life. I’m so incredibly proud of myself and I’m so glad that I was able to take the opportunity.
I’d also say it was the worst year of my life. The lowest moments and the longest nights.
I think what I actually want is a little credit. For someone to really appreciate quite how hard it was for me. Quite how much it crushed me. Something more than just ‘ooo how lovely.’
So when it comes up I smile and nod, and say my thank yous and sing my praises for the year I’ve just had. In truth, I don’t really want to talk about it. Not yet. Not for a little while. Having promised I’d go back for a few days in September, I just can’t face booking my tickets yet.
I need to look after myself a bit first. I need to let myself get over it all. Let myself think it all through.
Then maybe I’ll remember Paris through the rose-tinted lens everyone else sees it through.
But not yet.