Art & Culture

Published on January 15th, 2016 | by Anne-Fleur Andrle Stephan

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“Dessine-moi un Parisien” (Draw me a Parisian)…

When we left France about five years ago to move to the United States, my husband and I had a “goodbye party” in a tiny bar in the center of Paris with both friends and family. It was finally the big day – we were flying out early in the morning the following day. My husband was happy to move “back home”, and while I was excited to embrace this new chapter of my life, I had butterflies in my stomach and was very emotional, to say the least. We had an amazing time with everyone who joined that night, remembering all the weird and crazy moments in France, which I still cherish, whether in my hometown of Brest or in Paris, where I spent my twenties. We also had fun imagining the life we would have in the U.S. Back then, we were moving to Buffalo for school – upstate New York, land of chicken wings, snow and Niagara Falls.

While I was sad to say goodbye, I always knew I would be back somehow, someway. However, coming back as a visitor is not the same as living in your country all year long. Living there means being there for the great moments and the tough parts as well. Living there means having the chance to improvise and be spontaneous, while visiting means (and I am sure all my expat friends can relate to this!) always being on a tight schedule to see everyone and ensuring quality time is spent with them. I honestly miss being spontaneous when texting my sister to meet in our favorite coffee place on a Saturday morning before going Christmas shopping for the family, and having an impromptu raclette dinner with my friends that does not involve months of planning and saving for the plane tickets (or even for the cheese as a matter of fact). I also miss going to Laduree with my dad for macaroons, finding a new steam room with my mom, and going to happy hour at a new bar with all my siblings, staying there until the bar closes. The spontaneity of these events makes them high quality, and I tend to miss that. However, let’s be honest: if I did not live so far away, I do not know how things would have been. We all tend to idealize our memories. I read that the other day – “Nostalgia: the feeling that makes you think everything used to be better”. Is that what we do? I know this is not true, and I refuse to live with such a negative mindset. Knowing I do not have the luxury of physical spontaneity makes me a lover of time: I cherish every moment, I do not waste any time. I embrace every minute of life, and I do my best to share my feelings and emotions, my good and bad times, and to be human. I realize we tend to overprotect everything: ourselves, our kids, our homes, our cars… I want us to be more human. I wish that we let our protective shell crack and open up, to show the world who we really are. This is what I wish for us in 2016. I believe that humanizing our relationships, both personal and professional, is key to empathy and fraternity, and this will eventually lead us to more peace. And you know we do need peace!

This might seem like an awkward bulletin to you. I agree. As part of “humanizing” myself, I decided to open up to you this way. I hope you will not mind.

If you watch, read, or listen to the news and wonder what happened in 2015 in France, chances are you will think of the disgusting attacks that shook our country both in January and in November. Needless to say, as any human being was, I was shocked by these terrible events. Needless to say that as a French citizen, I got scared of these cowardly actions. Needless to say as a Parisian, I got hurt, deep in my heart. Needless to say as an expat, it did feel like I was so far from my family, France. Too far. Belonging to a country is like being part of a family: I want to be there in good and bad times.

But let’s think about all this, and while we will always remember the memories of these modern heroes fallen too soon, let’s take a moment to also remember the fraternity and the love which were the ultimate reactions of Parisians and the French people. We were all, you and me, we were one, we were all French. No, people did not show hatred, did not talk about wars when you wandered Place de la République – the large square that became the rally point of French lovers – no! People were talking about freedom, were drawing or singing love, and debating about life!

Love is our blood pouring out, yet healing hearts. The other day, I was on the phone with my mom while she was walking on the street. She did not pay attention to her itinerary while we were discussing and happened to end up in front of the Bataclan, the sadly infamous concert hall where 90 people were killed. She told me she could not pass, she had to stop. And I understand. Can you believe that the French National Archives have been collecting and preserving the drawings, poems, letters and other forms of love that were placed in front of all these memorials? And that they continue to do so despite the fact that there is no more room because Parisians, French and other inhabitants of planet Earth keep coming to show their love and support? Can you believe that some people take it upon themselves to remove the dead flowers and relight the candles every day in front of these memorials? This had already struck me earlier this year when I passed the HyperCasher and the Charlie Hebdo offices: months after the event, love was still around.

Take a look at the national ceremony in memory of the victims and listen to this song “Quand On n’a Que l’Amour” from Brel:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtMbwXCJPOk
The lyrics say it all: “Quand on n’a que l’amour pour parler aux canons…” (When you only have love to speak to canons). This is what came out of all of this. We are strong, so united and so human when in pain. My gift to all the victims is an attempt to make it last.

The French national newspaper Le Monde, a French equivalent to The New York Times, decided to publish portraits of the November victims every day. The portraits are amazing, they were our friends, teachers, parents, neighbors, and the lives of these people, while too short, were amazing. The posts on their social media are endless. Today is January 3rd, 2016, meaning over a month and a half after the attack, and still some portraits are being released. Someone told me the other day, “This is crazy, I wish I was friends with all of them.” Because yes! They were the “crème de la crème”, our crème de la crème, although Parisian among many others, but incredible lovers of life and human beings.

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Dessine-moi un Parisien d’Olivier Magny. Photo by Amazon.

This is why I want to honor the memories of these amazing Parisians taken too soon from us as well as recommend to you this book, full of laughter and sarcasm, and somewhat accurate: Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi[1]. This is a small book organized in two or three-page chapters describing very practical aspects of the Parisian life with a great sense of humor. For each of these chapters, the author Olivier Magny (100% Parisian himself) provides a full description of the theme followed by short “Useful Tip” (to look Parisian) and “Parlez Parisien” (meaning “speak Parisian”) sections. A dear friend of mine offered this book to me when I left France, and I am always happy, even five years later – and even more today – to go back to it and laugh about the accuracy and sarcasm of these few words.

Take a look at this description found on Amazon: “To be mistaken for a Parisian, readers must buy the newspaper Le Monde, fold it, and walk. Then sit at a café and make phone calls. Be sure to order San Pellegrino, not any other kind of fizzy water. They shouldn’t be surprised when a waiter brings out two spoons after they order le moelleux au chocolat – it is understood that the dessert is too sinfully delicious not to share. Go to l’île Saint-Louis-all Parisians are irredeemably in love with that island. Feel free to boldly cross the street whenever the impulse strikes – pedestrian crosswalks are too dangerous. If they take a cruise on the Seine, they will want to stand outside, preferably with their collar popped up. If they want to decorate, may we suggest the photographs of Robert Doisneau? To truly be cool in Paris, own an iPhone, wear Converse sneakers, and order sushi. And as you stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens, remember – you can’t go wrong wearing black.”

If you want to know what Paris is about, and because we all are Parisians and should never stop laughing, I strongly recommend this short book.
May 2016 help us become more human! Happy New Year.

[1] Called “Dessine-moi un parisien” in French. Originally a blog: http://www.o-chateau.com/stuff-parisians-like/full-list-of-stuff-parisians-like.html


About the Author

Coming from the "Far west" of France, Anne-Fleur grew up in Finistere (Brittany). Currently working in the hightech industry, she represents a French company specialized in smartglasses apps in the US. Engineer by training and based in Boston, she loves to get back to her Briton roots a couple of times a year. After graduating from the Université de Technologie de Compiegne, in France , she decided to pursue her studies in biomedical sciences at the graduate school of the State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo, NY. Driven by sciences and her desire to learn, Anne-Fleur hosted a radio show, "les échos de l'innovation" (literally innovation echoes) for a couple of years, offering debates and interviews, aiming to dissect misconceptions in science and technologies for the layman. Always thirsty for discovery, she loves traveling, initiating new projects and exploring the ocean, on a sailing boat or with her snorkel.



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