After having recently applied with the Les Powers That Be once again to live legally in France for another year, I thought I’d provide an update on the Parisian Life.
‘Reseau’ was a word–and an important concept–that was introduced to me in the first week of living in France. It translates to ‘network’, the group of friends, acquaintances, vendors, and colleagues that you have around you.
I was advised by Marie, my first acquaintance at my now-daily-ritual cafe, that the ‘reseau’ would play an all important part in my life should I decide to live in Paris for any length of time. She also advised me that the cafe I chose was also of paramount importance because it was within that cafe that I would find my ‘reseau.’
This concept of having your network of friends, family, and coworkers whom you rely upon for advice and insight is nothing new, and certainly nothing unique to Paris. Being an expat, however, brings the concept into particularly sharp focus: when my wife and I arrived in Paris, we knew no one here. We had an email introduction to a friend of a friend, but that was it.
Not the most settling feeling in the world when you don’t speak the language or have an office of colleagues to help you get acclimated. If there was a real emergency, we could contact the police or the American Embassy. In all other matters, we were on our own.
I took Marie’s advice to heart, and, slowly over the past two years, we’ve made inroads into the community here. The investment of time at the cafe, building the ‘reseau’, has reaped rewards, both tangible and intangible.
I’ve met a circle of great people, a few I now consider friends. I’ve been given keen insights into French culture that can’t be found online, in guide books, on tours, or on travel shows. I’ve met and collaborated with creative Parisians on projects that I never imagined would interest or benefit me.
Three months ago, when we were searching (without much luck) for an apartment, I mentioned our situation to one of my comrades at the cafe. He immediately pulled out his phone, dialed a friend, and arranged a visit. Thanks to his generosity, we now rent a slightly larger–and much quieter–apartment overlooking the Seine.
Our landlord, who I’d seen and spoken to at the cafe but never met, was never going to advertise the rental online. He doesn’t want to deal with real estate agents. He doesn’t want to deal with ‘strangers.’ He wants to rent from people he knows, or who know someone he knows. He doesn’t need the money. He doesn’t want a hassle. He wants a sense of comfort. As a result of these factors, and the introduction from a friend, we’re paying 500 euros less every month for a better apartment.
(And if we ever need something repaired in the apartment, I know where to find my landlord…at the cafe.)
A change I’ve experienced is one that I mentioned in a previous post. I pondered the question: would I start to succumb to the charms of the Luxury Capital of the World and cast aside any of my Old Money ways when it comes to being frugal and discreet? The answer is: not so much, in many ways, and hell yes, in one particular way. I have given in to one of the wicked temptations that Paris has to offer, and her name is Cheese.
In the middle of last year, after sampling le fromage citywide at shops, markets, and street fairs (some delicious, some overrated and overpriced), my wife discovered a farmer. He sets up shop 3 days a week on a narrow street in the St. Germain, and from the back of his truck, blesses the masses–and me in particular–with the best truffle cheese I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve eaten quite a lot of truffle cheese, here and in Italy.
So, now, me, who wears sport coats older than most of my baristas, holds onto shirts until the collars and cuffs fray into almost a fashion statement of their own, and resoles and refurbishes shoes until my wife throws down the gauntlet and insists that I buy a new pair…me…champion of all things Old Money…me is walking across the river every Friday and throwing down 45 euros for 2 not-large wedges of heaven (one truffle and one perfectly aged ‘compte‘) and considering myself lucky to have found this Cheese Man. (Cheese Man is our name for him.)
And the cheese doesn’t last a week, mind you. My wife has to remind me to leave her some. Next Friday I will be making my pilgrimage again and happily, without hesitation, paying a premium for this unique experience of artisan quality food.
I don’t feel the same way about wine. I don’t feel the same way–yet–about some of the luxury clothing I see in store windows. The best bread in the world–and I do have my favorite boulangerie here in the neighborhood–is not an issue at one euro and twenty cents a baguette. Likewise, the coffee, at under 2 euros a cup at the counter or bar, is consistently good in Paris.
But I have surrendered to the cheese, my wallet pillaged and sacked like Rome. Count me, then, among the Blissfully Defeated, ready to be conquered again next Friday.