Justine is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Originally from Los Angeles, she studied English literature and art history at Oberlin College in Ohio. She lived in Paris for nearly a year and misses it every day.
As a student in college, I was studying English literature, French, and art history. I knew I wanted to study abroad my junior year – it was just a matter of picking where. Paris seemed to make perfect sense, as I would be able to improve my French and spend time at some the most amazing museums in the world. I can’t believe it was that easy, but it was. I applied for the program, got my visa, and moved. It was maybe the best decision of my life. I ended up loving the city so much that I didn’t want to leave after my program ended, so I got a job as a nanny and worked in Paris for another four months.
My love affair kind of developed in layers, and I feel really lucky that things worked out the way they did – I couldn’t have planned them better! For example, the first time I ever visited Paris, my family and I stayed in a sweet apartment on Rue Mouffetard. When I moved to Paris as a student nearly 10 years later, I was randomly placed with a host family who lived five minutes away from Rue Mouffetard. So even as a foreigner, I already felt like I knew that corner of the city, and in a small way, it was my own.
I really clung to that feeling and chased it as I discovered new neighborhoods, and when I eventually moved to an apartment across the river. I also think I really fell in love with Paris through walking – by the time I left, I could navigate the perfect walk from the Left Bank to the Right Bank with my eyes closed (basically). It’s still just amazing to me that you can create these movie-perfect moments simply by walking to the right place at the right time.
I think as an American, the language barrier could get really exhausting for me. Even when I was fairly fluent, it was still obvious that I wasn’t French or from Paris. Sometimes it just felt really discouraging, day after day, to not be able to express myself in the way that I wanted. The last time I visited, I also got catcalled quite a bit, especially for not smiling – although I don’t think that’s unique to this city.
There’s a stereotype that French people are not friendly to Americans, but I experienced exactly the opposite. I found everyone I met in Paris to be much friendlier than the majority of people in, say, New York.
Sitting on the ledge at the Quai de Montebello, looking up at Notre Dame, hoping I won’t fall into the river.
It’s insanely easy to put yourself in front of some of the most beautiful and historic structures in the world. You just hop on the metro, or walk, and suddenly you’re standing in front of Notre Dame at night, staring at this ancient building, totally alone. Those moments feel sacred. Or you decide on a whim that you want to see the Eiffel Tower light up, and in 20 minutes, you’re there. There’s so much beauty everywhere, and it’s so easily accessible. That never, ever gets old.
Is it cheating to say all of Before Sunset? In particular, I love when Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) are walking around Shakespeare and Company and St. Michel. Oh, and when Carey Mulligan and Peter Saarsgard visit Paris in An Education – it’s so perfect and beautiful that it hurts.
I also love any scene that takes place along the Seine: so there’s one in Midnight in Paris, where Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard are walking to together at night; at the very end of La La Land, where Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are dancing by the river; and in Ratatouille, when Linguine sets Remy the rat free. The first time I visited Paris, my sister and I tried to find the spot where that Ratatouille scene happened, even though it was animated.
It would be a wild, beautiful, swirling, improvised, freewheeling instrumental jazz song.
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