I spent just over a year living in Paris, France. I arrived at the end of 2014, and left just a little bit over a year in 2015. I was studying Fashion business management, and learning about the history of fashion in France and how to create different brands in different sectors.
Like living abroad in any other country, you will experience the ups and downs of living in any society and culture. In retrospection, it was a pretty good year. Strangely I arrived in Paris with high uncertainty, and left it the same way. I suppose as I am still currently a student and not sure what will come after I graduate.
It’s been almost a year since I have left France, so I’ll share with you the main events and aspects of the city that helped defined my stay:
Terror Attacks of 2015
I also lived through the first 2 terrors attacks that hit Paris. The first one was the Charlie Hebdo attack nearby my school and the shootings at the Jewish supermarket later that day. The second was the bombings at the Stade de France and the shootings at the Bataclan theatre. These terror attacks made history and are considered the deadliest against France since World War 2.
I wasn’t at the sites of the attacks, but in a small city like Paris, it’s hard not be affected. The day the Charlie Hebdo attack happened, we were in class. The security came knocking on the door and asked the whole building to evacuate. We had to wait outside and were informed of 2 gunmen running free. We waited and when all was clear we could carry on. The whole country was glued to their TV screens as they chased down the gunmen. That evening ,a vigil was held down the road at Place de Republique.
After almost a year, the second major attack hit Paris. I was actually out that evening with a friend in the Marais, when suddenly everyone was on their phones. My friends were messaging me urging me to go home as they told us of the attacks. People started getting up and leaving the bars and restaurants. My friends told me not to take the metro home and rather take a cab. I took the metro anyway. There were only 3 people on the train. It was a Saturday night.
The next day, the entire city was shut down. What would usually be a sunny afternoon with laughing and relaxed people sitting in the Tuileries Gardens, that Sunday the gardens were all closed off, and armed guards roamed the Louvre. You couldn’t even enter the premises. Every shop was closed along Champs Elysee. Understandably, it was a like a ghost town.
My studies came with ups and downs, as it does with all student life. I enjoyed my studies at fashion school, which wasn’t only confined to a classroom. We got to explore France’s main fashion sector today and in it’s past from Paris, Lyon to Nantes. We even got an exclusive visit to the actual apartment of Chanel founder and creator, Gabrielle Coco Bonheur Chanel!
I got to visit one of the last surviving silk factories that provide the materials for big fashion names such as Elie Saab. We also got to visit all the exclusive boutiques to study the art of fashion space. I even got to check out the vibe and drama at Fashion week at a Dior show. We even got to go behind the scenes in the making of Haute Couture by visiting Chanel’s Lesage and see samples of world famous gowns from major fashion houses.
La vie est tres chic!
Life in France can be easy. The city is picturesque with an array of free facilities and events for all the public to enjoy. Paris is super expensive, but many visit it for the experience and splendour it has to offer, even if it’s for a fleeting hour. They say your environment can change the way you feel, and the city of Paris sure makes you feel special. There are so many free events, concerts and many museums to enjoy. Just sitting along the Seine and doing nothing can be satisfying. Art and the reflection of life in art is everywhere. Artistic and personal expression pulses through the city with passion, diversity and impact everywhere you go.
Paris is beautiful, the views alone and being surrounded by such rich design and history is an inspiration. The French believe strongly in the living a life of quality and to always appreciate it. This can be seen in the strong sense of unity amongst the French and those who live in the city.
The reality, la mierde
Life in Paris also proved to be hard. Like any major city, it takes a lot to survive, especially one amidst an economic decline where employment is scarce and opportunities lie in who you know, rather than what you know. It’s also highly competitive, and France’s once prized systems of benefits is beginning to weigh down on its citizens. The recent attacks, have also broken people’s trust and sense of security, something taken for granted over the many decades.
Poverty is no stranger, even to a glamorous city like Paris. Many homeless people live between streets and alleys away from the popular tourist spots. Communities of tents live under the bridges along the Seine near Gare Austerlitz made up of refugees and French citizens with no homes. The streets and roads were also used as a toilet for the homeless. Be aware of this.
Don’t be too surprised to see ghettos and even shanty towns, that resemble the impoverished townships of South Africa around the outskirts of Paris to the North.
Je suis Paris
Well, it wouldn’t be special or unique without it’s perfections and flaws. In fact, no place
I’ve ever lived in has been able to a be unique without its own unique aspects of good and bad. A life made in Paris, or anywhere can only really come down to you. I made an effort to meet new people, make friends and make Paris a part of me. I also made the effort to accept Paris as it was and to find a place for myself in the city. I let myself become a part of France, as I let it become a part of me.
Within a year, most of my friends had already left while a few stayed behind and new ones came into the picture. I miss France, just as I miss any country where I have once made a home and a life in.
Audrey Hepburn once said “Paris is always a good idea”. She could not have been more right.