Many of us have an escape fantasy. For me, when the work piles up and the dog poops on the rug and soufflé collapses (literally or figuratively), I think that running off to Paris might solve all of my problems. And that’s exactly what Eloisa James did, along with her husband and two children, and it’s an adventure she writes about in her new book, Paris in Love. Here, James explains what she learned and whether people are really happier in Paris.
Q: What were some of your favourite, daily things about Paris?
A: Walking through the city, rain or snow or sunshine, after dropping Anna off at school. Eating lunch with my husband in a completely quiet apartment. Sitting in a cafe and watching Parisians walk by.
Q: There has been a recent spate of books about how the French do everything better than us: parenting, eating, style, etc. Having lived there, what do you make of this idea of Parisian superiority?
A: I think they do some things better and other things not as well. When you live there, it becomes extremely clear that we do things differently. They do have a different parenting style, and it’s much more along the lines of how my parents parented: your job is to play and keep out of the way, and my job is to parent. There are some enormously refreshing things about that, but I really relish the intimacy I have with my children that my mother and father never had with me. The one thing I think they really do better is dress. And the one thing they do less well is intimate conversation when you’re getting to know someone. In North America, we quite quickly move into talking about interesting, personal things. In Paris, I sat through a lot of dinner parties that had interesting intellectual components, but I didn’t really learn anything about other people. However, with the French, once you do become friends, you’re friends for life.
Q: Did you get any sense of whether French women are happier than we are?
A: No, I didn’t. My friend, Charlene, is the same as anyone at home. She’s a banker, she works all of the time, her husband is very busy. Her kids were struggling in their English classes. It felt like the same kind of life my friends in New York have.
Q: What made you happiest about being in Paris?
A: It’s a beautiful city, and it’s such a joyous city. The French are also much better at relaxing so the pace feels very different. After a while, my heart stopped racing, I stopped trying to get everything done on time, and I just went to lunch and had a glass of wine. I realized the world would not stop if I had a nap. It was a great pleasure to have that cultural learning experience. It’s something I brought back with me, but have to be reminded of when the stress creeps back.
Q: Did you learn any other important life lessons from your year in Paris?
A: I learned that it’s better to be happy than learned. I realized that it made me much happier to sit in a square in Paris and just watch than it did to go to a big museum. I learned how to be in a foreign place, how to live in Paris, and how to observe it rather than trying to take something specific away.
Q: How did the experience of Paris compare with the fantasy of living in Paris?
A: I would recommend that anyone thinking of this, do it. I don’t speak French, but I have a big smile and a credit card. We rented our apartment on the internet. It’s a particularly wonderful place to go to if you’re trying to decide what you want to do next. You can take a pause there. It made me think about what kind of time I will most cherish at the end of my life – and a big part of what I cherish is the time I spent just walking around in Paris.