Time flies when you’re eating bread. I recently passed the 6-month mark of living in Paris – the city of lights, love, and a metro that smells like wee-wee. My heart feels like a Pixar movie score when I think about everything I’ve experienced since June: summer days spent reading in manicured parks, late nights staying up talking in tiny apartments, autumn strolls along esplanades lined with amber trees and wintery Sunday afternoons curled up with some M&S soup and a second-hand book. I’m so grateful for my new normal, but I’ve decided to celebrate half a year in my dream city by reflecting on the most unglamorous times I’ve had here. There have been so many occasions on which I’ve told myself I would ‘look back and laugh about all this.’ So it’s time to sit back, slice up some saucisson and find out if I was right.
1. A narrow escape
The first half of 2018 saw me um-ing and ah-ing about when I would take the leap and finally return to France. I knew it would be some time that year but was buried in a deep hole of hesitation. I kept asking myself when I would feel like I had enough money to get me started, and when I would be prepared to say goodbye to all my loved ones, the answer to both of these questions being ‘obviously never.’
Then I saw a post on Charli XCX’s Instagram page announcing a show in Paris on 19th June. There it was – something concrete to look forward to and plan for. I booked a ticket, then an appointment at the French consulate, and soon secured a visa whose validity period started on June 18th. On y go!
I landed on the afternoon of the 18th and caught the metro to the concert less than 24 hours later. Despite my body having no idea what time or day it was, I was super excited. When I arrived to the venue I joined the queue behind 3 other people who were completely alone, just like me (stay tuned for a post about going to concerts alone; it’s a fave activity.)
It was a super hot day, and the venue consisted of a tiny black, boxy room with a dungeon-esque mosh pit. Dehydration was immediate. Then Charli came out and ordered us to do things like “put your f*cking hands up!” and jump and dance and scream. At one point she left the stage for a breather, because it was too hot, and we were all like, ‘relatable!’
The truly unglamorous part was the aftermath. The corridor to the ladies’ room played host to a bunch of young women – myself included – crouched down against the wall, unable to confidently stand without fainting as we waited for the queue to decrease. We shoved our faces into the bathroom sink, desperately lapping up whatever water we could. I thought I was going to vomit and dashed into a cubicle, which I then found I could not get out of. Having failed to coach my increasingly-claustrophobic, sweaty self out of there, a kind stranger fetched the key from the staff and opened it from the outside. It’s true that not all heroes wear capes! Some of them wear popstar merch 😉
Having avoided both projectile puke and toilet imprisonment, I ordered an uber and escaped to the fresh(er) air outside. Then my stomach did something else weird and I thought I might literally soil myself in the car, or have an embarrassing Bridesmaids moment in the middle of the street. It’s brutal out there for dehydrated, jet-lagged, post-rigorous-jumping stomachs!
In an actual miracle, I made it back to my Airbnb unsoiled and conscious, with a blessed private bathroom to welcome me home <3
2. Hell Bus
It’s lucky I didn’t have any similar stomach woes on a mid-August trip to Marseille, because when I sat down on the overnight bus that would take me there, the driver leaned into his microphone and announced ‘This bus has no toilet. Also no wifi, nor any electrical chargers. Thank you for your understanding.’ (*understanding not found*.)
Usually, I’m great with 8-hour bus journeys, but these circumstances turned this particular one into a nightmare. I couldn’t sleep due to the fact that we pulled into a service station every hour and a half to allow people to use the bathroom, woken up each time by lights that blinked on suddenly and the driver’s boom of ‘PAUSE DE DIX MINUTES.’
Since I couldn’t charge my phone on the bus as I had planned to, I turned it off to preserve battery, and consequently suffered in silence for a whole.long.dark.night. At least when I arrived in Marseille at 7 am, unable to check into my hotel until 4 (!!), I could still listen to Ms Grande’s just-released Sweetener album as I took sleep-deprived strolls around the city. Priorities in check.
3. Pipe Queen
I wasn’t even 2 months into my Parisian experience when I found myself on my hands and knees in front of the kitchen sink, untwisting pipes and shoving broken coathangers into them in attempts to unclog a sink that was as blocked as every creep who slides into the ‘Other’ inbox in Facebook Messenger. I fixed the issue temporarily – out of sheer plunging perseverance, but a couple of months later my flatmate and I noticed that our bathtub was spurting up dirty, stinky water, prompting our landlord to finally step up and help out. Unfortunately and inexplicably, he took about 4 days to organise a plumber, so we were forced to wash ourselves by taking turns standing next to the bathroom sink and splashing cold water on our skin. It got so unbearable that I ended up taking a trip to the public pool for a shower – which actually turned out to be the only positive from the experience because I bought a bunch of cute swimming stuff and gave myself a new hobby. Michael Phelps, who?
4. Britney 2007
I’ve previously detailed my unexpected trip to the hospital, but the most unglamorous moment of my September illness was that first Sunday morning when I dragged myself, wheezing and exhausted, to an SOS medical clinic on the other side of the city. I was wearing sweatpants (*cough* pyjamas) along with my Britney Spears Piece of Me Tour t-shirt, and my old, battered sneakers with odd socks. Add a greasy bun, zero makeup, extreme under eye bags and a whole lot of sweat and you’ve got a Scary Woman on the Metro. I suppose if I could have breathed properly I might have felt liberated by how little I cared about my appearance. And hey, I may have been pale and sick and greasy, but at least I own a Britney tour shirt!
5. Sad Tabouli
Given I never have a lot of cash to splash, my work lunches always pale in comparison to those of my colleagues. Sad Tabouli became a lunchtime ritual that began in October and has carried onto the present day. While my colleagues return to the office with 15 euro burgers, 8 euro salads and pricey Pad Thai, I regularly reply to questions of ‘what have you got for lunch?’ with a sheepish ‘eh… you know… just tabouli………………………………. again.’ I wobble to the fridge and take out my container with the ‘Alyssa’ label (we can’t have people stealing my Tupperware now, can we) and consume the infinite dryness while I take in the odours of delicious soups and fries and shakes. It’s not that the 2 euro supermarket tabouli makes me sad, it’s just that my lunchtime image is a far cry from the joyful culinary tableaus composed by my colleagues.
Despite this, I’m sure that on my last days here, before France kicks me out because I “don’t have a European passport” or whatever, I’ll be thinking sweet, sentimental thoughts about my Sad Tabouli; tearfully eat one as a bittersweet goodbye.
6. Public Tears
Ah, the classic. Our dearest Julia has already masterfully covered this subject, but to round off my six moments from six months, I’ve got to give my own shoutout to crying in public. I’ve been lucky in the past month or so to have some very special visitors here in Paris, which means that each time I had to see someone off at the station or airport, The Tears™ came out in an intense, sudden wave, like an unimpressive party trick. I’m an especially experienced metro cryer now, which tbh has taught me only that nobody commuting around Paris cares if you’re sad.
I figure that’s a delightful note to end on, so I’m off to reminisce about the good bits now.
Let us know below if there are any memorable mishap moments from your travels that you now look back on and laugh at!