Overseas Briefing

By Guest Contributor

«Tu viens ici chaque semaine, oui?» (Translation: You come here every week, right?)

People thrive in environments where they feel comfortable. It’s certainly not a groundbreaking revelation, but I like to think that we’re all at our best when we know our way around and genuinely feel at ease. So imagine my surprise when Paris came along, knocked me upside down, kicked me to the curb and left me feeling more out of place than ever before.

It’s not that I couldn’t figure my way around the city (the Paris metro is practically idiot-proof). It was that people, or, to be precise, the Parisians, knew that I wasn’t one of them the moment I walked in the door. My olive-tinged skin and eastern European blood garnered me a lot of “holas” and a handful of “hellos,” but never a “bonjour.” In my first weeks here, I was never given the chance to blend in. My one and only defining characteristic was that I didn’t belong.

People don’t talk about how isolating studying abroad can be, being in a new place with new people and all. And so for my first weeks in Paris, my goal was to kick that feeling of isolation and find somewhere that I could really belong. Little did I know that I would find exactly what I was looking for in the most unexpected of places.

The smallest greenmarket in Paris is held on Tuesdays and Fridays around the corner from the Middlebury office. Hidden behind the sprawling produce vendor is a dinky Lebanese food stand which shells hummus, stuffed grape leaves, tabouleh and falafels for three euros per portion (read: wallet-friendly, flavorful and healthy. Believe it or not, you can have too much butter and crème fraiche). I had purchased my lunch (moudardara being my dish of choice) from the dinky little vendor a mere three times before I heard those fateful words.

«Tu viens ici chaque semaine, oui?»

And at that very moment, it clicked. I became a regular. I had found a place where I could belong and where I could feel welcome, even if it only exists between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., twice a week.

I’ve bought my lunch from Jean, the vendor, who I now jokingly refer to as my French boyfriend (he doesn’t know it yet), on every marché day since he first recognized me. We chat about the weather and my classes during our two-minute, bi-weekly transaction in which I ask for une portion du moudardara, he bags it (throwing in an extra pita for good measure) and I hand him three euros.

There are still plenty of places in this city where I am defined by my foreign-ness, but somehow, after the first time that Jean recognized me, it didn’t matter anymore. There was at least once place in this city of three million to whom I mattered and to who I could look forward to seeing. Buying lunch from Jean has become a routine, and with that ritual comes comfort, ease and a sense of belonging.

I don’t care if my “French boyfriend” doesn’t treat me to clichéd picnics in a garden with a bottle of wine and some cheese. He gives me extra pitas and isn’t bothered by the fact that I’m not une vraie parisienne. And in a relationship as open and undefined as ours, what more could I ask for?

Written by EMILY SINGER ’14 from Paris France