Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Strange Love

There are those who love Paris. There are those who hate it. And then, there are those who live here.

For many expats who were swept off their feet by the city’s charm and good looks, the honeymoon eventually rolls to a halt about a year into the love affair. It’s then that the afterglow begins to fade, and all of Paris’s blemishes and annoying quirks are revealed. She may be sexy, this City of Light, but she can also be hell to live with…or make that, in.

A lazy brunch in Berlin’s hip Mitte district find three young German chaps questioning an equal number of parisiennes on life in France’s famed capitale:

“It’s so polluted there; in the summer, you can barely breathe…”

“Everything is so expensive…”

“Especially the apartments – if you succeed in finding one. And if you do, it’ll probably be tiny, dark, or noisy…or all three.”

“My apartment is so small that I must think twice before buying a simple t-shirt because I know that when I get home, I’ll have nowhere to put it.”

“Did I mention how expensive it was?”

“Everyone is always so stressed out.”

“Unless you’re in a lousy neighborhood, you can rarely buy a coffee for less than two euros…”

“The Metro doesn’t run after midnight…”

“And finding a taxi is as difficult as finding an apartment…”

“Everything is complicated in Paris. Even ordering a pizza can transform into a complex operation if you allow it to.”

“Pizza! Do you know how much pizza costs in Paris?”

“Forget pizzas…let’s get back to the cabs. When you finally flag one down, don’t assume that the driver actually knows the city. And if he doesn’t, he’ll start yelling at you if you don’t have a map.”

In HBO’s hit television series “Sex and the City,” New York’s personality was as prevalent as those of the four female protagonists. Paris, too, is like a person – one who is prone to severe bouts of bitchiness. So why do we continue to live here? Like the fetishist slaves who beg their masters for another spanking, do we crave the whipping that Paris delivers? Or are we all a bit like that eccentric friend who dates only crazy people because they find stability too boring?

It would seem that way. How else would one explain why three otherwise intelligent young women found it annoying – but relatively normal – when, after the automatic machine broke down, a Metro worker refused to sell them tickets for the last train between the Orly airport and downtown …and taunted them to boot? Or that a freelance journalist wasn’t that shocked when a cab driver forbade her to eat a sandwich in his car because it would create too many crumbs, but gave her the green light to make love with her boyfriend in the back seat if the desire overtook her?

“It’s true that Paris can be infuriating,” admits a pretty Irish editor. “I’ve had periods when I’ve wondered what I’m doing here. But after eight years, I can’t see myself living somewhere else.”

In a way, Paris is a trap of one's own making. “That’s what’s so frustrating,” concedes a tall German redhead who has lived here for over two years. “Part of you wants to leave for an easier destination, but you know you won’t love it as much. There’s just something about this city.”

True, it’s pretty special being in a place where the energy is so vibrant and everything is beautiful. Paris isn’t just full of museums; it is a museum, where not only the stunning architecture is perpetually on display, but the gorgeous people are, too.

“Barcelona is a great town, but there aren’t as many good-looking men as there are in Paris, and when you do see one, he’s probably poorly dressed,” was one superficial, but heartfelt, comparison. “Frenchmen know where to find well-tailored clothes.”

And, once you’re through gazing at the stereotypical, stylish Frenchmen, perhaps it’s appropriate to apply a method that some of them use to spice up their relationships: cheat.

“The trick to being happy in Paris is to go somewhere else…even if it’s just for a couple of days,” instructs one such well-tailored Parisian bloke. “Then you come back refreshed, invigorated, and appreciating Paris all over again.”

Absence, after all, makes the heart grow fonder.

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor. Contact her directly at, or through her agent, Rebecca Friedman, Sterling Lord Literistic, (212) 780-6050 or