Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Paris, I ♥ You But You're Bringing Me Down

 I'm reading, Paris I ♥ You But You're Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin - another book of Paris vignettes (much longer) of his 18 month stay working in a Champs-Elysees ad agency - a different sort of love story.
'One year, when I was fourteen, my parents took me and my little sister, Leslie, for a week's vacation in Paris. Our hotel, near Place Saint Sulpice, was miniscule.'
 'That's when I began drinking coffee.
I was hung up on every little thing. I LOVED Paris, and felt straightaway at home. Not to be grandiose, but it seemed like the city had been waiting for me.'
 An opportunity comes up for Baldwin to be a copywriter years later and he jumps at it. He comes back with his wife, Rachel and they adjust to a very different Paris from the one of his boyhood.
 Still there's much to love.
'The air was adhesive, hot and fragrant, and we walked the streets up and down and saw everything.'
 But life at the office/bureau is a bumpier ride - full of mishaps, misunderstandings, malapropisms.
Have you seen the video, What Parisians say at the office?
 'Typically, coworkers preferred takeout, bringing food back to the canteen, where they ate in groups. Almost no one ate alone...
But eating at your desk was not cool...
Olivier complained,Why couldn't I eat in the canteen like a normal person?'
 'For months, I'd feel like an infant wandering into rooms that filled with tension the moment I appeared:
What is the giant baby doing here?
A pattern emerged: whenever, wherever, I would glue my foot to the roof of my mouth.'
 'There was a 'pot', an office party, organized for an employee who was leaving us...
I saw Keith, a Scottish copywriter I'd come to know...and started threading my way toward him. Then I slipped in a puddle and went down in a split, and knocked a small cake off a bench while my drink shot out of my hand and exploded on the feet of Guy, the guy in whose honor we'd gathered...
I picked myself up and shrugged. I knew just what to say to him, because nothing else fit:
"C'est la vie."
There you have it, that's life in Paris for us bumblers, what could we do?'
 'Tactics to learn French via shock immersion:
Accept and make telephone calls.
Do this despite a crippling fear of conducting phone calls in French, terror so real you begin to experience it in nightmares...
Still, do it, call strangers.
Answer telemarketing calls...
Keep a notebook in your pocket for words and phrases you don't recognize, so later you can ask your boss or other friendly Parisians to define them for you.
For example:
Ca m'enerve. (That annoys me.)
C'est classe. (That's classy.)
Deguelasse! (That's disgusting!)'
 'Finally, when you are unable to indicate what you want, explain what you do not want.
For example, say you desire a coke. Specifically a can of Coke, because the can version is colder than the bottle, in your opinion...And you don't know the word for "can."
So request un Coca, but specifically un Coca qui n'est pas dans un bouteille.'
 Baldwin's book fills you in on the day-to-day quotidien details that make living in a foreign culture so unforgiving. He can also knock your socks off describing a park or the weather.
Listen to him on NPR here.
'Early autumn in Paris was temperate and dry. My lunch park, a rolling grassy lawn in the eighth arrondissement, was about an acre in size, engraved by gravel paths. Paris was dotted with tiny parks such as this one, and lunchtimes were crowded with office workers picnicking, students smoking and chatting...'
 'On the Metro ride home from the park, Rachel and I composed a list of what we loved about living in Paris:
 Loved living within walking distance of most everything that made Paris great.
Loved Parisians' way of lingering, and how commonplace sensuality was a habit in exchanges.
We loved the everyday beauty of Paris, its tidy deterioration.
So this is what it's like to live and work in Paris...


  1. For once I don't have a comment:) Except I like your photos and that cute cahier..
    By this I mean I don't have an intelligent opinion..

    I would have to read the book..

    I imagine..all offices are quite the same..
    Living in QC..on the outskirts of Mtl..

    It could almost be here concerning the Mtl parks....we have so many.The words..the same..sauf l'accent of course..but plusieurs d'entre nous ont un language soigné.Definitely not all~
    I can't wait to see and feel Paris, for myself..I think then I will know better what to say:)
    Thank you for this interesting post~

  2. Think I will go to Italy.

  3. Hmmm. I've been thinking about reading this book but I was afraid it would bring me down! Seriously...like getting a job at Disneyland and seeing all the messy stuff in the backlots. But if you like this book then I will give it a try. I trust your taste, Carol.

    1. I think it's gripping tales Connie.
      Intriguing look at the inside of living, working in the luxe ad biz of Paris.
      Badwin names names of restos he likes and what he ate.
      I can't put it down, so yes definitely read it.

  4. Amazing: 18 months in Paris and material for a book! :-)

  5. Carol, I love the book already. Nice pictures to show excerpts from the book. I wish I was in Paris to hang out in the outdoor cafes.

  6. Marene Chiesa Bowman2:08 PM

    Carol, please! I'm spending too much money on books you recommend! I have a friend who with his wife lived in Paris for eight years. They both worked for IBM and had a beautiful apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower. They would go back in a minute, if they could. As for me, still waiting for my house to sell, then it's Paris for me. As you said, "What is all wine and roses? " To me, the good in living there far outweighs the bad.

    1. I so agree with what you're saying Marene.
      The author Baldwin said he would go back in a minute to if he could on NPR

  7. Carol, what a great way to conduct a book review... genius!! I felt as if I had the author read it to me. I love all the pictures you chose. Very interactive! Thank you.

  8. You've captured a mood, an ambiance of Baldwin's Paris.
    Not the usual pink flowers and lush desserts but another side more perplexing.
    I'm intrigued to read this.

  9. I just finished Paris in Love which was positive, sweet, uplifting & funny. I look forward to ...Bringing Me Down & especially Tactics to Learn French. Thank you!! I never returned a phone call of a French friend of a friend because I was too terrified.. Each Paris memoir book is so different! I loved Baxter's A Pedestrian in Paris: The Most Beautiful Walk in the World. I filled my sketc books with expressions as I walked très slowly on my last trip...

  10. Anonymous3:44 PM

    Hahaha yes I love that video of what Parisiens say at the office! There's a whole series of them- so true!

  11. Its always a gem when someone can be honest and put into words the complicated feeling of being an expat in another country. Sounds riveting.

  12. I agrre that this is a great way to review a book! Illustrations to plot the theme...

  13. Carol, I practice my French conversation in my neighborhood wine shop, where the staff are friendly, patient teachers, and remind to listen well in order to learn.

    I'll have to see if my library will order these books you've mentioned.


  14. I especially love the advice to explain what you don't want if you can't think of the name of what you want...I swear I've had to do that in English!

  15. Interesting stuff. In my experience the first year to 18 months of living in a new country is the toughest, and the time when it's hard to find a balanced perspective within oneself. The bottom line is him saying he would go back in a minute if he could, I guess.

  16. You could have written this book ! It's your story !

  17. great post and I LOVE the cover of that book!

  18. Katie @frenchcravings.com8:56 AM

    In the book, I loved this bit from Rachel."I miss not knowing what people are saying. Being part of what's going on around me." and later, from Baldwin, "We were amateurs at everything."

    We did a 2-yr stint in Berlin a number of years ago and the emotional roller coaster never came to a stop, but we would do it again in a heartbeat. This time in Paris.

    1. There are so many quoatable lines in this book!
      I loved that one,
      "We were amateurs at everything."
      maybe because it's like being back in grade school - a HUGE learning curve is required that is so engaging.
      "Everyday was an improvisation."


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