Before I get into the stuff I stumbled upon this week, let me tell you about Jour Cinq. (And, if you haven’t had a chance to read about them and want to, let me direct you to jours one through four.)
On my first Saturday here, I woke up early not out of inspiration to walk the winding streets of the Marais, but because I had to get my ass over there between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. to drop of some paperwork at a translator’s apartment. That translator happened to live on one of the windiest and most romantic streets in that area, which, I’m told, is also one of the coolest in the city.
Climbing the creaky steps of her building, I passed a group of girls my age speaking — wait what?! — English. After just four days here, a chorus of voices conversing in English was surprising, and way more welcoming than I had imagined. My usually anti-social self disappeared because I just wanted to talk to people. “Are you au pairs?” I ask.
Soon, the paperwork was safely dropped off and all of us au pairs were yacking, our loud American English reverberating from wall to wall. Everyone was just as eager to get to know one another. I met three girls from California (do not remember the last time I met one person from California), two from New York, one from Chicago, one from Pennsylvania, one from Chicago, one from Vancouver, and one from London. I was the only upper Midwesterner, and yes, snow did enter into the conversation early on.
We all wandered to a café and then a garden to sit and talk in, all of us holding close to the chance to speak in our mother tongue with people our own age. We talk about the kids we are watching, what kind of living arrangements we have (some live with their host families and have their own bedroom, while others have a separate apartment). We recount the awkward encounters we have had as we adjust to moving in with a family we did not know at all a week before, and now share an intimate daily routine with. We share about how much French we came here with (one girl is starting from nothing, and I give her so much credit). Mostly, we talk about how tough it is to get the kids to listen to us when (a) they speak their language much better than we do, (b) we just were implanted into Paris a few days ago and our minds are not 100 percent here yet, and (c) every child is different, and it just takes time. Though we were all desperate for any kind of conversation, it was easy to relate to one another because we were all experiencing a new lifestyle that is so specific and strange. We also all decided to take a break from our old lives to make total fools of ourselves around Paris’ people with means, all the while trying to figure out how to be an adult for the sake of their kids.
After the garden, a group of us headed to the Centre Pompidou, then another café, and later, to La Fourmi in Montmartre, where we turned in the other direction from the lines of neon sex shop signs and climbed the a stairway to look over the city from Sacré-Cœur. I am happy my first look from this spot was in the dark. I talked with Nicole, who has been here before and wants to move here, who says, “I love how this city never quite gets dark.” She was right, at least right then. The sky was a hazy dark orange, and all of the lights below were keeping it from shutting off.
So, with three cafés and a museum ticket, I had bought — err, found — myself some friends. And in the span of a single Jour Cinq, I had taken the métro and walked down unknown avenues so many more times than I had that week, and was so much more prepared to be where I was.