Everyone has a bucket list- the to-do-before you die itinerary of fears to overcome, goals to achieve and dreams to realise. Yet more often than not these life lists remain perpetually pinned to our figurative fridges, harnessed by magnets of fear, denial and a ‘why do today what you can do tomorrow’ mind-set.
Living in Paris has headlined my so called bucket list before I even realised I had such an ultimate agenda. It was a hazy ambition- working as what or with whom I was living were not factors I particularly cared about- I simply wanted to live in the city of lights and free-fall on the bohemian allure that my one-pointed Parisian plan entailed. And so, when my master degree finished in august in the midst of a recession riddled Ireland, I decided there was no better time than now to start living the list.
Yet there were two bumps in my otherwise open road to the French capital- I couldn’t speak the native tongue and I was penniless, wanting to set up home in one of Europe’s most expensive cities. The prospect of an au pair job- with central Paris lodgings included and where I was required to speak largely English, not French- seemed to be my ticket. And so I posted a profile of myself on the au pair world website where families can browse through endless listings of wannabe nannies in the search for their own Mary Poppins. One Skype interview later, I had found ‘ma famille’ and was Paris bound.
Although speaking French was by no means a prerequisite of the job, I was nevertheless conscious of, as far as I could, putting what meagre French I had into practice. True, it took me forever and a day to ask directions and yes, I have full faith that I was taken for a maniac much of the time. I at first couldn’t grasp why my French friend stared disbelieving at me as I explained, quite frankly in French that at home we eat a jumper for Christmas dinner (pull and poulet are too close for comfort). But God loves a trier and at times it felt as though my efforts were wasted in a place where most can speak better English than I can French. “Speak English,” the butcher chuckled to me as I struggled through the shopping list. Any light-hearted reminders I made of our French location were always met with the unnervingly prevailing assumption that ‘everyone speaks English’.
I cannot help but think it is arrogant, disrespectful even to speak English when the effort can be made to speak simple French phrases. Yet this linguistic volleyball where I my efforts were returned in English detracts from the je ne se quoi Parisian magic that the language of the land instils. It is a thoughtful consideration of the French to converse bilingually but in doing so they undermine the importance of their own language and the magnetic charm encapsulated within.
But when push comes to shove, the butcher is right- everyone it seems can speak English. The universality of the language has made making new friends in a foreign place a much smoother process than I had anticipated. Thanks largely to my language class, I have a dolly mixture of acquaintances-friends from Austria, Denmark, America and Spain with the English language our common thread. Admittedly, I was concerned that the au pair position would not offer many opportunities to meet new people. Yet I have discovered the cosmopolitan pulse of Paris seems to exude an openness and acceptance that would not perhaps exist so freely in a one-nation atmosphere. What may be constituted as over eager or desperation in home circles is simply part of the live-for-the-moment vibe of the international mix. It is not only the best way but the only way-unless you want to spend your time alone. As a result, I have cycled Paris by night, partied on a boat and discovered places I never knew existed all with newfound friends.
It is these little life gems I had hoped to covet in my Paris voyage. After five years of university education –an undergraduate in English literature and a master in journalism-the practical thinkers around me thought my decision to not immediately pursue a journalism job was bizarre and even foolish. Even the downgrade in my housing arrangements had my mother perplexed, distraught to discover my little room where I live, labelling it a shoebox. But you know what? It’s a shoebox in Paris- and right now that’s all that matters.
© Illustration Paris & Shoes : EyeItalia : wrapping paper