Le Diable Que Vous Savez Monday, Oct 26 2009 

London and Paris. Comparisons and rivalries date way before the Dickens novel and Napoleon and Joan of Arc. The differences seem to be to be far too vast to even put these two cities in the same sentence.

Paris- luxury fashion center of the world, French food, crepes, flowers, romance, violins, berets, baguettes, lapdogs, Louis Vuitton, wine, monuments.

London- tea, royal family, rain, pubs, fish & chips, beer, red tour buses, offbeat underground music scene, Buburry, Cockney accents, the Union Jack, Peter Pan.

La Tour Eiffel vs. Buckingham Palace. Les Champs-Elyees vs. Oxford Street. Sarkozy vs. Queen Elizabeth. Notre Dame vs. Westminster Abbey. French poodles vs Yorkshire terriers. Montmartre vs. Notting Hill. The Metro vs. the Tube. Gilles Marini vs. David Beckham.

There is simply no comparison between the two iconic cities- both steeped in history, and both abounding with flagrant disdain for the other.

On a recent trip to London, though, I discovered just how much of a difference a Chunnel ride makes. In two hours you leave the breathtaking city views of Paris for the dark, tiny winding avenues of London. You leave the sophisticated French women wrapped in a scarf, carrying a Hermes purse in one hand and a teacup Maltese puppy in the other for young, strung-out looking twenty-somethings dressed in neon tights that barely conceal their beer bellies.

While it was nice to hear a bit of English spoken for a change, my experience in London (completely disregarding my fabulous orgasmic Harrods pheonomenon) only made me more appreciative of what I have in Paris. The French language, Metro system, Euro currency, late meal times, and French living might all be drastically different from what I had back at home in the States, but it’s come to be what I know. And I have definitely learned to vote for the devil I know to the devil I didn’t know, and braving the London tube system was certainly a new devil.

Paris and London each have something great to offer, and I wonder if one would be the same city they are without the other. But when it comes to studying and living in a city for four months, Paris je t’aime.

Voyager Monday, Oct 26 2009 

J’aime voyager. In French, “I like to travel.” The verb voyager=to travel. The commonly used American expressions “I like travel” and “I like to travel”, emphasis on the infinitive in the latter phrase, are two drastically different statements that tell a great deal about the person uttering them.

There are those who like travel-they like the excitement of a new place, the idea of going to sleep somewhere different or far away from the place where they woke up. These people like getting lost, or reading maps, or learning new languages. These people usually enjoy discovering new little nuances in each place they visit and remark at the “newness” and “difference” of everything they encounter. They could maybe just walk around in a foreign city and sniff out their interests. There are people who travel to arrive at a destination, and explore and get the most from their “travel” experience.

Then there are people who like to travel. People who love packing, who love the act of getting from one place to another. People who seem to enjoy arriving at a destination more than they enjoy actually exploiting it. These people are more enamored with people watching and observing slight differences between places. They like traveling in style- first class upgrades, the best hotels. Upon arrival, they also might engage in the usual touristy- activities, and obviously depending upon locale, the time spent enjoying their new place varies. But their real adventure lies in the act of arriving on time, and checking in, and then securing reservations at the best local place.

Not to say that these are black and white, by-the-book definitions of travelers. Many people probably inhibit elements of each traveler- they enjoy certain things about certain parts of each journey. Each travel experience is unique. No two journeys are alike, whether two people have the exact identical itinerary or if the same person does the same trip thirteen times. Each experiences brings new elements of adventure into the mix.

For me, I have found that I most often enjoy the act of traveling more so than dealing with differences and new things that I find in a new place. Obviously, each scenario brings its own preferences and tastes as well. When traveling to Amsterdam recently, the first class car of the TGV was far superior to the experience of actually walking around the Tulip Museum and shopping along the canal. But when I’m driving from Baltimore to visit my boyfriend in Annapolis, I find the destination to be the highlight and reason for the trip, not the nice hour-long car ride.

Each journey brings out different features in each traveler- someone may love reading maps in Dutch, while their companion is just aching for fries and a Diet Coke. Another may love sitting on the Eurostar in silence, watching the Europeans moving about the train, while their fellow traveler searches for a computer outlet to watch a DVD.

Sometimes, you get in the car to get somewhere and end up having more fun on the road with your friends than you do once you arrive at the party you set out for. And sometimes, you have to sit through a horribly long and uncomfortable JetBlue flight just to see the Florida sunshine and sit on the beach.

Each is a different voyage.

Les Miserables Thursday, Oct 22 2009 

To quote Victor Hugo’s play about the poor, wretched lives of those living in Paris during the Revolution, I have a question to ponder: why do miserable people insist on making other people miserable?

The question was first brought to my attention in my favorite movie, Clueless. When D is talking to Cher about why her debate teacher gave her a C, she argues that “He’s a miserable little man who wants to make everyone else miserable too.” This launches into a fabulous montage and Cher spends a great deal of the film trying to make her teacher happy, which has positive consequences for all involved. But moving on.

Why do miserable people think that they can make everyone else miserable? Can downtrodden, unbearably unhappy people just not stand to see people enjoying their own time on the planet? Yes, when you’re alone, all you see are couples everywhere, and when your dog dies, all you see are happy people playing with their healthy canine friends. But why the need to share the sorrow? Where does that desire to bring everyone else down with you originate? The more important question, perhaps, is why is that somehow an excuse for people to behave like monsters?

My only encounter with a rude French person, during my whole two and a half months in Paris, has been with my neighbor across the hall. A late night knock on the door and subsequent broken French arguing with broken English led me to the conclusion that she thought we were making too much noise by vacuuming at 10:00 at night. Just to eradicate any chance of catastrophe, I decided to email our landlady and inform her of the issue, just in case it came up again the future and this girl made good on her threat to “call the police”. In my email, I documented a detailed account of the incident, and included assurances that we were being very quiet and respectful and that this was all her unsubstantiated issue. My landlady’s response? Something to the tune of “Maybe she has no man in her life, or perhaps hates her job” and how Americans really do talk too loudly and Europeans aren’t used to that noise. My landlady was making excuses for this evil woman sharing our hallway- did I mention that said neighbor is my exact age, or maybe even younger? She’s not some bitter old bat who hates loud noises and resents young people living their lives. She’s just a malicious and outwardly rude person.

It’s people that rationalize away the meanness and cruelty and spite of others that give “miserable” people carte blance to be complete heartless misers and just excuse themselves with some sob story about their pathetic life and how nothing they do is really their fault. It’s a vicious cycle that just breeds more and more misery.

Exclusive Thursday, Oct 22 2009 

Bluefly has my Beirn bag! This fabulous little-known designer that I discovered at a trunk show this past Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, in Henri Bendel in New York City. I was so excited to have something secret that I loved, and that no one else (except my sister) had. Sure, they showed me the pictures of Sarah Jessica Parker carrying the bag on an episode of Sex and the City, but that show was so fashion “out there” and not everyone picked up every single bag she carried. The only other time I have ever seen this bag anywhere but on my shoulder was during Paris Fashion Week. Having a cozy lunch on rue Rivoli near the Louvre, two models passed by, one carrying by bag in navy blue- I recognized it because it is identical to the one my sister chose. This is literally the only other encounter I have had with a Beirn bag, Not even a year after I discovered them, this bag is now one of the “It” bags being given away on Bluefly.com in their “Win-an-It-Bag” sweepstakes. How sad.

It all started with Longchamp. Yes, the brand everyone has now. Originally only available in Paris, my Aunt Jackie discovered this versatile brand when she was living here circa 1990. She fell in love with the variety of vibrant colors and convenient sizes available- she sent one as a gift to my mother, who used her navy blue Longchamp as a carry-all for her purse and other knickknacks while traveling. It’s the perfect carry-on size. When my sister and I became old enough, we each got a shoulder bag for carry-on luggage. They were perfect- mine was bright orange and hers was bright green. They were easy to spot, and the long leather shoulder straps made them so easy to carry. But now, it’s disgusting how cliché Longchamp bags are. I want to go back to Loyola, walk into Primo’s or Boulder and take a survey: “Raise your hand if you do NOT have a Longchamp bag.” It makes me so sad that something I discovered and I loved so much is now so horribly mainstream and seen every moment of every day.

Call me a snob, but I like some things to be mine and just mine. There’s that element of secrecy and exclusivity when your bag isn’t splashed with Louis Vuitton or Tory Burch logos- everyone that sees it knows exactly where you got it and how much it cost, because they have one too! Where’s the fashion fun in that? I love admiring people’s off-the-beaten-path fashion choices, and curiously pondering their non mainstream brand choices.

Especially with handbags. An investment piece that is never a cheap endeavor should be something that you love, and something that people associate with you. What’s so wrong about being the only one turned on to a certain brand? I love it when everyone complimented me on my unqiue accessory and fashion choices- “Ooooh, where’d you get that?” is so much better than “oooh, love your $2500 Louis Vuitton GM bag! Mine’s in the car!”

Yes, if a product is great quality and the brand is onto something, naturally you want them to do well, but when it gets so popular to the point that 11-year old girls are carrying around Longchamp and Tory Burch without the slightest appreciation for the aesthetic or functionality of the product, it gets a bit nauseating.

Yes, I still use my Longchamps- over the years, I’ve accumulated several colors and sizes, and they’re just so well made and convenient that I find it impossible to not use them, but I cringe every time I see one on the Metro or on the street. It’s just a tad degrading to see every other person clutching the bag that I appreciated when I was eight.

Rachel Zoe recently wrote a column on her fashion blog about Moroccan oil, a hair serum I discovered two years ago when my mother’s hairstylist picked some up at an industry showing. Only people in the hairstyling business knew this luscious little secret: we were able to buy it wholesale. It smoothes and styles and de-frizzes wet and dry hair, and it smells positively divine. While her blog may not be Cosmopolitan or People, enough people read it that it’s only a matter of time now before Moroccan oil is everywhere. Ugh.

At least I still have Jo Malone and BE&D. Shhhhhh.

The Kindness of Strangers Wednesday, Oct 21 2009 

As I struggled under the overbearing weight of my four rolling suitcases, each one filled to the brim and tipping the scales at their 25 kg limit, I felt the anxiety racing through my body. Not about the 6 hour flight ahead of me, or about the 4 month European sojourn I was embarking upon. I was scared to death that I would have to pay the extra fee for each of my overweight bags.

I had done the best I could, weighing the suitcase several time throughout packing, but when you’re leaving the country for over 4 months and packing for cold European weather, 25 kilograms,-roughly 50 pounds- is hardly enough to contain all necessities. As I approached the ticket counter at Logan International Airport, I tried my best to ignore the jumpy and nervous feelings and be as gracious as possible. I was relieved to see a young man who looked to be in a good mood at the counter. I pulled out my passport and smiled. “Oh, you’re going to Paris, how exciting!” he chatted while he checked my flight information. As he heaved my stuffed suitcases onto the scale, I did my best to distract him from the blinking “Overweight!” indicator that must have been going crazy on his screen. “Yes, I’m going for a whole semester- 4 months!” I tried to emphasize the incredible length of my stay so he would maybe understand the reason behind the excessively packed bag currently crushing the airport scale. He smiled at me with his deep dark brown eyes and rarely even looked at the computer screen. My heart rate returned to normal when I saw the luggage tag he had printed out –it wasn’t the telltale orange tag screaming “Heavy!” He asked me if I spoke French, and I whipped out my favorite little phrase “Juste un peu”- meaning “just a little”, and he smiled at me with the most genuinely kind eyes I had ever encountered in an airport setting. He continued to chatter on about how he was new to the United States from Morocco, and he loved Paris, and he spoke four languages, and he was excited about his new job. We continued to chat during the process of loading my bags, and when he was done he handed me my passport and wished me Adieu and Bonne Chance, with no mention of ever charging me for my overweight luggage. As I walked away, breathing a sigh of relief, I realized that this sweet Moroccan ticket agent had not only saved me hundreds of dollars in charges, but he had given me the best send-off I could have hoped for: a delightful, worry-free attitude.

I think sometimes people underestimate the power that interactions with other humans have on our own experiences. Every day during Catholic grammar school, all I heard was “Treat people the way you would want to be treated”- but I countered with arguments pointing out the facts that if you let everyone go in traffic ahead of you, you’d never get anywhere, and if you gave away allyour money to everyone who needed it, you’d be homeless! It took me a long time to learn that it’s not necessarily what you do for people, but how you treat them and how you make them feel.

Yes, when someone lets you go in a long line of traffic, you wave gratefully and mouth “Thank you!” to them as you merge, and yes you’re more likely to let someone else go in front of you after having received this act of kindness. This “Pay-It-Forward” mentality certainly has merit in several areas of daily life, but is impossible to institute all the time, or in every facet of interactions with others. You do have to look out for yourself in this world, and sometimes that’s difficult to do without turning off others in the process.

Especially in the travel process, when emotions and tensions are high, niceness is of the utmost importance. Everyone has too much luggage, or they can’t find their ticket, or their flight is delayed. Families are worried about finding seats together; everyone is worried about losing their luggage in the airline checking process. It is not surprising that people who wield tremendous power over travellers’ states of being, and thereby the complete atmosphere of an airport, are the ticket and baggage agents.

I experienced the other extreme of the power held over my emotions by airline representatives not 8 hours after my wonderful Moroccan man experience. He had calmed my fears so much, and put me in such a good mood, that I was able to overlook the fact that the stewardesses on Swiss Air completely skipped over my aisle when serving dinner- “It’s ok, I have my Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, and who wants to eat airplane food anyway?” and also roll with the punches when the individualized TV sets for each seat decided to stop working one hour into the flight-“It’s okay, I should sleep anyway to beat the jet lag.” So when I landed in Zurich, I was a bit tired but in fully gracious and happy spirits, ready to await my flight into Paris.

I was still okay even after realizing that, according to our tickets, my mom and I were not sitting next to each other on this next flight. My mom and I had enjoyed our apple-and-hot chocolate snack in the airport, and were sitting at the gate waiting to board our little plane to Paris when I decided to talk to the ticket agent before boarding to see if there were any available seats together, to avoid the hassle of asking people to switch once on board. I thought a ticket agent might appreciate this thoughtfulness, since it would certainly speed up the boarding process and make everyone’s lives easier. I stood in line in front of the Swiss Air counter for over 5 minutes, watching the agent talk on the phone in Swiss, staring at the computer screen. I was patiently waiting my turn, until I realized that people were starting to line up to board the plane. “Oh well, I guess this will have to wait until we are on board. I’m sure it will work out.” My mood was slightly deflated now after being so rudely ignored, but I was excited to get on the plane and get to Paris.

I stood next to my mom in the not-so-well-organized line, amidst people pushing and shoving and inching closer to the gate. There was no reason or order to anything. But I was still in a perfectly fine mood. When I finally reached the boarding gate to board the bus that would take us to the plane, I handed my boarding pass to the agent with all the positive energy in the world. She looked at me. She looked at the orange Longchamp bag hanging from my shoulder. She looked at the larger yellow Longchamp tote I was clutching on my forearm. She shook her head, muttering something. My heart started to pound and I could feel my face getting hotter each second. She viciously whipped around to the computer and printed a “Check Bag” tag and attempted to yank my large yellow bag away from me. No words. She just started to move her hands toward my bag, which contained my two pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes, one pair of Ferrgamo shoes, one pair of Bruno Magli shoes, all my jewellery, all my medicine and contact lenses, my laptop computer and my boyfriend’s sweatshirt that I had used as a pillow on my flight from Boston. There was no way in the world I was letting this woman take this bag away from me. She clearly did not know who she was trying to mess with.

I resisted, stepping back to prevent her from touching my priceless piece of luggage. “You’re only allowed one carry-on in Economy” was all she kept repeating to me, holding up the number one like I was an infant. My face got progressively hotter with each revolting syllable she uttered, and each revolting gesture that she dared to make toward the bag which contained the most valuable possessions I owned, and that I had carried all the way from Boston. I attempted to remain calm and in control, because I knew I was sure to get detained for punching this Swiss woman in the face, and that’s hardly the way to start off a study abroad experience. Her response to my polite inquiry? She just continued spitting the word “Economy!” at me. I looked around for my mom, who had become separated from me in the chaos of the line set-up. I knew there was about to be a problem.

My mom, new to the dilemma and also carrying two carry-ons, offered “Well, I’ll take your little bag inside my big bag,” but the woman just barked the word “Economy!” again. Then, she dared to spew “It’s not like you have valuables in there” at me as she started to wrap the tag around the handle. My hands were shaking. I could feel my heart pounding in my throat. My ears were about to explode off the eruptive volcano that my head had become. I removed her hands from my bag and stepped five feet away, shaking my head and holding up my hands in defense against this hateful creature. “No. I am not checking this bag.” I kept thinking in my head that the contents of this bag were worth more than this heartless villian’s life, but the only words I heard coming out of my mouth were “No. No. No!”

By this time, people behind me in line were becoming exasperated by the “ugly American” scene I was causing, but my mind couldn’t even process that or begin to care. “Mom, this is problem. There are other ways to get to Paris. I will take the train. I will walk to Paris. I am not checking this bag.” I kept my hand protectively between the bag and the ticket agent, who I now only saw as a figure of all that was evil and wrong with the world. It was like I was possessed- I knew I was coming off as snobby and unattractive and difficult, but all that mattered in that moment was keeping my bag clutched to me like a life preserver.

Finally, she admitted defeat. “Well, the tag is on there. My job is done. They will make you check it on the plane” she muttered as she waved her hands off to the gate. “No they won’t.” I hissed back at her, daring to counter with me one more time. Still stewing in my rage and defensiveness, I boarded the shuttle. Having traveled from Boston to Puerto Rico, and then on a smaller jet from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas several times a year since I can remember, I was very familiar with the “small plane” phenomenon. But when I saw the plane, it was full-sized- the same size as the jet I took from Boston. When I boarded, I saw that there was plentiful bin space, and the flight wasn’t even full! Why on earth would that woman try to deny me my “extra” bag? There was no logical reasoning behind her “Economy” rule.

I sat in my seat and then promptly dealt with the seat dispute, not smiling or coaxing but just curtly achieving my goal. The easygoing, happy-go-lucky attitude of my first flight was a mere memory. I was now in “defense” mode, looking out for myself and my possessions, and not really bothering whose feelings may have been bristled in the process. That horrid woman had pushed all my buttons-first ignoring me in line, then touching my belongings for no reason, then spitting at me about my class of travel, implying that it was my own financial fault that I couldn’t have both bags. There was no way around my reaction. She had awakened every hard, cold, defensive, “when push comes to shove” bulldog bone in my Boston Irish body, and she had awakened quite the beast. Looking back, I am embarrassed by how the scene must have looked, but I can’t say that I would have done a single thing differently.

The two flights that brought me to Paris show complete book-end examples of the effect that a stranger’s actions can have on our emotional states: kindness breeds kindness and a “go with the flow” attitude, while contempt breeds defensiveness and stubborn firmness. A smile goes a long way. Would I have been more agreeable if she had smiled and apologized, or perhaps explained the rule of one item per passenger and wished me luck in finding room on the plane for it? Maybe if she hadn’t ignored me prior to our interaction, my immediate reaction would not have been one of hostility. There is no way to know. Maybe I’m just difficult and short tempered to begin with. Maybe I’m just a high-stress traveler. Maybe some people are okay with that kind of treatment from strangers in a customer service position. But one thing is certain: the two astronomically different attitudes of the two ticket agents I encountered on my way to Paris each aroused a polar opposite reaction within me.

It’s so easy to be nice. Smile. Don’t always be in such a rush to get everywhere. Not only is it better for your internal body chemistry to “chill” sometimes, but you never know whose day you might brighten just by letting them go before you in the grocery aisle or letting them have the last chocolate chip cookie at Starbucks. It’s like that “good deed” ad campaign ads for Liberty Mutual, where people do small, human tasks for one another. If you pick up someone’s keys when they didn’t realize they dropped them, it is so much more likely that they will hold the door for the person coming out of the building behind them, and so on and so on. Even just saying “sorry” when you accidentally bump into someone, or say “It’s okay” when someone accidentally bumps into you goes a long way. It can be so hard to rise above the pettiness and competition in this world- yes, everyone is looking out for themselves- but it can be so easy to do little things that might not even register to you or take much effort, but could start a whole ripple effect of niceness.

Lost in Translation? Monday, Oct 19 2009 

Trying to translate French into English, or English into French perfectly is just impossible. There are some words that just carry different connotations and meanings. The French word for “boyfriend” is petit ami. But “petit ami” means “little friend”, a la Scarface– the French must mean “close friend”, or “special friend”- but in English there are so many clever plays on words, especially the little nuances of “girlfriend”, “friend who is a girl”, “boyfriend”, or “man friend” to quote Sex and the City: The Movie. But these nuances do not exist in French, or perhaps I just have not encountered the intimate form for the word “boyfriend”. And what if I wanted to actually say “my little friend”? Are all these really lost in translation?

This past week up at Montmartre, I stopped in to visit one of my favorite little shops. After a few minutes of poking around at the odds and ends, the earrings, scarves and tote bags, my eyes rested on a black ball of fuzz next to the cash register. I walked closer. My heart literally skipped a beat when I realized just what this little ball of fluff was. It was a short hair cat, that looks just like my kitty Zeus. As I cooed and immediately went over to play and pet the precious feline, my brain was flooded with images of my own pet, 3000 miles away. I just looked longingly while stroking his silky coat, adoring and admiring his perfect little content feline form.

My friends meandered around the little shop to look for treasures, but I spent the whole time petting this imitation of my real life pet. The shop owner made her way behind the desk to unwrap some more goods to stock her shelves, and she noticed my intent fixation of love onto her animal. I have noticed that most Parisians are snooty and somewhat protective of their little animals, and do not allow strangers to stop and adore and pet them on the street. But this woman looked at me and gave me the kindest smile I have encountered since arriving in Paris. She looked at her pet, and then looked at me again. I smiled back and wordlessly thanked her for sharing her feline friend with me. When my friends were ready to leave, I lingered for a few moments so they wouldn’t hear my horrendous French, and then worked up the courage to utter “Je manqué ma chat,” with emphasis on the word ma, meaning “mine”. She smiled kindly and gently corrected me- “je ma chat manqué”. Oh. Yes. I forgot. She then added-“Ta chat ta manqué”- your cat misses you, and she emphasized the “your”. Without taking my usual sixty seconds to decode what she said and put it into English in my brain, I instantly knew exactly what she mean. Maybe some sentiments don’t always need the exact words.

I do feel a little silly walking into Hugo Boss looking for presents for mon petit ami, though.

Hello Worth Goodbye Part Une Tuesday, Oct 13 2009 

Not just making reference to a Beatles song. Being abroad and so far from home for the past two months has taught me a great deal, especially about the importance of spending time with the ones we love.

Saying “goodbye” is one of the hardest parts of growing up- saying goodbye to your mom on the first day of preschool, saying goodbye to your first family pet that dies, saying goodbye when a friend moves away. Saying goodbye is something that never gets easier no matter how often you practice, and you just never seem to get used to the “goodbye” feeling.

During my parents’ recent visit to Paris, the “Hello”s were joyous- full of gleeful squeals, with hugs and kisses abound. Smiles and laughter and more hugs and kisses. I was surprised at my level of delight when I saw them again, because it was during the rambunctious “Hello” period that I realized how much I had really missed my parents.

I remembered saying goodbye to my dad at the airport, and pretending not to see him get a bit choked up. I knew I would miss him, but I was honestly a bit more worried about getting my overweight bags through the checking process. Saying goodbye to my mom was completely different- I was already in Paris, settling into my Parisian apartment and bursting with excitement to explore my new home. It was difficult to see her go- I was now totally on my own, in charge of my own banking, grocery shopping and wireless router issues. Even coming home from college, having gotten used to doing my own laundry and making my own dinners, it’s just nice to have your mom around. But I knew I would be okay here in Paris- I knew she wanted to stay and experience the city with me, but I kind of wanted to prove to myself that I could do this on my own. Without my parents a phone call and hour plane ride away. These “goodbye”s were difficult, but I knew they only signaled adventure and excitement ahead.

Saying “goodbye” to my parents apres their Paris visit was much different. I had already gotten a steady dose of city living on my own, and had eagerly welcomed the refreshing bit of childhood that I had experienced with showing them around. I took a little break from worrying about whether I left the lights on and if I was carrying enough Metro tickets and exactly how many pain au chocolat I could eat in one day before guilt set in. I just listened to stories from home, and about my pets, and regaled them with tales of my Parisian life thus far. So bidding them adieu meant more than just going another two months without kisses and hugs and free meals- it meant I was back to being the city girl living my city life. I had to keep an eye on my French debit card limit, and re-stock the fridge with water bottles. I had to get back into my European attitude that comes from walking around a city by yourself. I knew it was more Abientot than Au revoir– it was only two months until I would be home again. Having gotten a  petit taste of being taken care of as their little girl again, it took a bit more focus and willpower to go back to being a “big girl” and being responsible for myself.

How Can They Tell? Monday, Oct 12 2009 

Having lived in Paris for close to two months now, I like to think I fit in well with the native Parisians. However, I have been told by European friends and have noticed in the way that native Parisians have treated me, that I give off a distinctively American vibe. Before I even open my mouth to attempt their native language, more often that not, French people can tell I am not French. How can they tell I’m not Parisian, let alone pinpoint my exact nationality?

Am I not dressing Parisian enough? Am I not walking with enough of a European attitude? Is it my awe at my gorgeous surroundings? Is it the fact that I coo at every little petit chien that walks by? Is it that I still can not get used to the sight of the Eiffel Tower lighting up at night and can’t help but to emit a small sound of glee?

Maybe Europeans are just very intuitive, and especially Parisians, thanks to their booming tourism industry, have a knack at narrowing down a visitor’s place of origin.

When my parents visited, my 6-foot-1-inch ex-All American football player, redheaded dad might have given us away as Americans. But I have lived here for two months. I walk into boulangeries and order in French without the shop owner looking twice at me or stopping to question my language; I stroll down the Champs Elysses without getting lost and pulling out my map every two minutes. I even have learned to keep my voice hushed, since the pure volume of our voices gives Americans away instantly, compared to the European pitch. But still, at a party over the weekend when people ask me where I from, I answer “The United States”. Their quick response: “I know, but where in the US?” Out and about enjoying the Paris nightlife, French men point their finger at me and declare “You are not French- where are you from miss?” and examples like this go on and on.

I have a feeling that Americans give off an “American” vibe. Americans exude a bit of attitude reminiscent of imperialism, and a faint arrogance is always about us. When looking at the ancient buildings of Paris and walking down the epic and historical Champs Elysses, it’s hard not to picture American troops liberating the city from German occupancy during the Second World War. It’s hard not to feel a bit entitled to everything the country of France has to offer when you look at the numerous cemeteries dedicated to American troops killed over here, or when you visit the beach at Normandy.

Americans have that feeling everywhere we go- England, Italy- we’ve been everywhere, we’ve impacted every country. Even countries where direct fighting hasn’t occurred has somehow been impacted by foreign policy of the strongest superpower in the world.

Maybe that’s how they can tell. Maybe every American, even when in Europe, or maybe especially when in Europe, gives off a “Proud to be an American” vibe.

Age Appropriate Friday, Oct 9 2009 

Age Appropriate

The craziness of Paris Fashion Week has opened my small town girl eyes to some of the most bizarre, eccentric and avant garde fashion choices out there. Feasting my eyes on the arrivals at the Vivienne Westwood, Chloe and Valentino runway shows this past week has shown me just how far some people will go to catch the eye of a photographer.

People wore blood red tights with lime green stilettos; or a tiny floral balero that barely covers half of their neck; or a sequin diaper-like apparatus over black tights; or a pink tutu over black lace tights, complete with magenta shrunken jacket. Are these people really this edgy with their everyday fashion decisions, or are they trying to impress the photogs of the crazy mixed-up fashion world?

Bustling about the outskirts of the runway shows, or bumping into the most fashion forward people hours later at the fashion week after-parties, I was exposed to quite the array of interesting attire, to say the least. But one thing I have noticed remains the same, among all venues of gatherings of people: there will always be girls who dress to look older, and there will always be women who dress to look younger.

Even in the United States, teenagers want to look 25, and 50-year old women pay the  bug bucks for Botox and gym  memberships to make themselves appear younger. There has been much analysis, research and eventual scrutiny of women going to lengths of plastic surgery to acquire the fountain of youth, but I believe the opposite side of the coin is equally worthy of attention- prepubescent girls wearing 5 inch stiletto heels and miniskirts, carrying $2000 handbags.

Are these girls trying to attract older guys to buy them drinks? Are these older women actually “cougars” on the prowl for a younger guy? Are these ridiculous ensembles an attempt to attract the opposite sex, or are they dressing this way for another reason- insecurity, low self-esteem, or jut poor fashion sense? Is this what they see in the fashion magazines and on their favorite celebrities, and hence have taken the exact style and copies it, regardless of their own input, taste, age or body type? Have women in our society become incapable of forming their own opinions about trends and style and fashion, and are destined to just follow aimlessly the 20-year old starlets of Hollywood enjoying their 15 minutes of fame, and making thousands of young girls and older women look ridiculous in the process?

Paris is no different in this phenomenon than anywhere else in the world. I find it extremely interesting to see that even in the year 2009, in this chic, European atmosphere, in this fashion center of the world, there are females who feel an overwhelming desire to dress in an age-inappropriate way.