Life as a Local; or, Waiting for the Plumber in Paris

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I think most of us have a certain image in our minds of Parisians: confidently strutting through the Champs-Élysées drinking champagne and eating a baguette simultaneously while on the way to an assignation with one of their beautiful lovers at a quaint bistro.

Solo female traveler at the Marmottan-Monet museum in Paris.

Some of the appeal for wanting to live in beautiful places that aren’t your home is to imagine who you would be there. Would I be a lean, tanned yoga goddess in Bali? A tall, cool bike-riding girl in Copenhagen? A wildly chic woman of the world who spends all her time being intellectual and also beautiful in Paris?

Life anywhere is just life

Well, turns out the locals anywhere have an unglamorous side to their lives. Even in Paris. Today I got to wait for the plumber, who in the apparently international practice of plumbers was late and also messy (he was the best-dressed one I’ve ever seen though).

Other glamorous local events in my life in Paris:

  • Waiting in long lines to talk to a postal agent who sighs deeply at my request for postcard stamps, as if the weight of those four stamps was crushing his weary soul
  • Looking for four days to find where on earth I put my glass to be recycled and then take all my bottles and causing a big racket depositing the built-up piles of glass Perrier bottles (it’s a huge bin on the street, apparently)
  • Dodging frantically out of the way of speeding scooters from all directions, who then shout at you if you pause for a millisecond in the face of your certain death
  • Closing my windows even on nice days because the constant smell of cigarettes is making me nauseous (this one I have gotten over, I barely smell them anymore because it’s omnipresent)

Wherever you go, there you are

I have a vivid imagination, always have. I’ll see a person strolling by and make up a whole backstory for their life and the errand they’re on and what they’re about to do. This is one of the reasons I love traveling: it allows me to imagine different ways of being, different lives, both for other people and myself.

What if my great-great-grandparents had stayed in rural Ireland or Schleswig-Holstein or the Isle of Barra? What if they had moved to California instead of New York and Boston? There are infinite possibilities for any life.

But wherever you go, there you are. You’re still the same in many ways whether you’re at the Ritz in Paris sipping champagne or back in your tiny Beacon Hill apartment.

So why travel?

You do learn more about who that self is through travel, for sure. I love champagne and a hot bath and a good book wherever I am. I am always smiling, even when I try not to. I’m a little bit shy, sometimes very shy, but once I remember that people are generally lovely I come out of my shell.

I love art, and literature, and history, and beauty.

If I hadn’t been anywhere, I wouldn’t know so much about myself. I wouldn’t know how much I seek out the ocean and its wildness wherever I am. I wouldn’t know how much a painting anywhere can move my soul.

And I wouldn’t know that even chic Parisians, who I very much have a tendency to idealize (I also think people in beautiful clothes have beautiful lives!) have to occasionally waste a beautiful morning waiting for and cleaning up after the plumber. C’est la vie!

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