Life in Paris in incredibly different than I imagined. Life in Paris is not simply doing American things on a different continent with a slight French twist. “Paris time” operates in a universe all its own.
Firstly, things move slooowly. As soon as my mom and I had the apartment settled, we rushed off to open a bank account for my stay in Paris. After searching to find an English speaking consultant with the help of a kind French student, we dealt with the stressful process of banking with a grand language barrier. After all the calls to our American bank and translating with the sweet French banker, by the time we were ready to deposit funds, of course the bank had closed. And it was Friday. They graciously let us through the gentle barricade and down to the deposit counter. In America, banks close promptly at 4:30 and the world ceases to exist at that time. But these people were so warm and understanding, and let two exasperated foreigners continue our tiring journey after the close of business before the weekend. They were in no rush to open the bank, and they seemed in no rush to close it either.
My mom and I headed out to dinner late on Friday. Not venturing far, we opted for a quaint little bistro a few steps away from the apartment. As stunning as the meal was, my biggest memory was “Well, good thing we weren’t starving.” Our drinks came straight away but it was a good hour before we received our appetizers. And the restaurant wasn’t busy- they were simply taking their time, and allowing us to chat while lingering over a sumptuous meal. They have the luxury of time, not wanting to rush anyone along. The French also must really love who they choose to share their meals with, as there was probably a decent hour or two of just conversation, with no bread or meals to distract from the atmosphere.
Secondly, Sundays shouldn’t even be on the French calendar. The only shops open for a few hours and boulangeries and patisseries, and they all close unimaginable early. These people value their rest over an opportunity for profit in being the only shop open on Sunday. Everyone moves at a leisurely place, not the usual hustle and bustle one would expect from such a vivacious city. People sit in cafes for hours, just reading, talking or people watching. Waiters don’t throw the check at you as soon as they bring you your meal. In fact, I often find myself looking around for the waiter when I’m ready to leave.
When my mom returned home, leaving me to venture out on my own for the first time, I had a full list of things to accomplish. I needed to stop by the school to get a letter necessary for my bank account, find my mailbox number, go grocery shopping, etc. That Monday morning, I woke up early and made my way to the Student Affairs office at my university. I was transferred to several different people before I found someone who could help me. He agreed to draft a letter for my account, but told me I was “swimming upstream”, as they had planned to take care of this for all new students during the week of orientation. I got the feeling I was imposing on their plan of action, and jumping ahead when I should have waited for what I needed. I was also struck by the heavy amount of construction the building was undergoing. Five days before orientation activities were to begin, the building was short a few doors and looked every inch in the midst of a grand renovation. They were not rushed and anxious to finish before students arrived. They would take their time, and get it done when it got done.
The people here enjoy themselves, taking hours for lunch, and the last two weeks of August for a summer vacation. Parisians walk more slowly, taking time to admire window displays and people watch. They aren’t running from activity to activity, from stress to stress. It is a calm, inspiring mood around the streets of Paris. “Paris time” continues to weave me around the city, and slowly but surely, I am adjusting to life on Parisian time.