What The French Citizens Unknowingly Taught Me in Paris

I have found that France lives on because it stays in the heart of each person who visits.

Paris
PHOTO Rachel Chenoweth

Vive la France’ is a common end to many of toasts given in France translating to ‘long live France.’ However, after spending time in Paris last winter, the phrase has come to mean more to me than just a celebratory gesture of patriotism. To me, these words are the truth. I have found that France lives on because it stays in the heart of each person who visits. What started as a visit to see the Eiffel Tower and artwork at the Louvre morphed into a personal journey.

I went to France with a less than hazy sense of who I was. I was a typical college girl, with too many worries and too many insecurities. I was hopeful that maybe they would all evaporate when I arrived in France and I envisioned that upon arrival I would magically become the ideal French woman: fierce, fashionable, sophisticated, and always rocking a pair of killer stilettos. Yet, a week or so into my trip I learned that the French woman was less about the shoes and more about the attitude and spirit.

After having spent a good amount of time with many Parisians during my visit, it seems to me that America’s vision of that rare and mysterious French woman is really, in fact, the standard French woman. They remain composed and stylishly put together. If they have any sorrows in their hearts or worries in their minds, they do not show it. They came across to me as strong. And I wanted to be like them. Not because of their designer closets, but because they could carry on and smile when I could not. It was then that I was inspired to make a resolution to myself. I would no longer sit, mope, or complain to friends. Instead, I would smile and concentrate on the positive and hope that eventually that forced smile would become real. If they could carry on and pretend to everyone else that their lives were perfect I could do the same.

Paris
PHOTO Rachel Chenoweth

Being surrounded by them taught me that if I was not happy, I simply had to act like I was until I came to believe it. These French women did not have perfect lives, but they seemed like they did because of the smile they put forth. That is their secret. They too have worries and burdens, but they continue on in the French fashion. They remain strong and fun even when their souls darken. I realized that while I would sit and stress about a problem for an hour, they would spend that hour at an outside café laughing with friends. They let nothing ruin their happiness. And that was a quality I admired and wanted.

So, for the last half of my trip I adopted their decorum. I savored life irrespective to my problems. As I laughed, shopped, and sight saw, my problems diminished. Acting composed, like a true French woman, was an unnatural challenge at first. But eventually, I started to believe my own composure and realized that I could handle the problems and stress I had. When I realized I could handle them, well, that changed my outlook completely. The situations that were the cause of my problems did not change. What changed was my way of reacting to them. And it may seem silly, but Parisian women changed me more than they know because their strength became a part of me. When visiting Paris, see the sights, taste the food, and dress the part, but also take time to meet the people. They will surprise you and change your perspective. For they are just as much a part of the culture and inspiration of France as is the Eiffel Tower.

Whether it is spiritual awakening at the Notre Dame cathedral, cultural appreciation at the Louvre, or finding inspiration in the citizens like I did, France offers anything a heart could need. So, Vive la France. Take from your visit what you will, but know that what you experience does not go away when you leave the country, rather it will change you and live on in you for many years to come.

Article written by Rachel Chenoweth.

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