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My Happy Summer in France


By Nancy F. Bauer

I love Paris in the springtime.

I love Paris in the springtime.

I love Paris in the Springtime. [crescendo con brio]

But Paris in the summer

Is nothing but a bummer. [doo-wah, repeat chorus, fade out] --Descartes, 1653

I. Paris in the Spring

Apparently, things are better in the spring. Perhaps it's because that's when Parisians go into heat: Jean-Claude, mon cheri, Je t'aime--et c'est avril!" The flowers are in bloom. No one cares about high prices or lobotomized policemen or anyone or anything else. All of the tourists are in love, too.

"Howard, that little garcon just stole our luggage."

"So what, Gladys? Here we are in Paris in the springtime."

"Oh, shhh tame, mon frairi!" (passionate embrace)

But people are tired of loving each other come June, and it isn't even warm in Paris during July. Each morning the picture-perfect Parisians leave their overpriced little flats, smiling away, in shirt-sleeves and halters; and when you crowd into a metro car with them you look at all the goose pimples, and you want to scream, "Bonjour, Paris! Vous etes froid!"

But you don't because your French stinks.

II. Paris in the Summer

Day 1

They do not remember that they have hired me when I arrive at 120 avenue Charles de Gaulle, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, site of the chic and glamourous International Herald Tribune. "We don't have any internship program"--not a welcome sentence when you are standing on foreign soil, thousands of miles from home, mute (for all practical purposes), and without friends or finances. The second worst sentence possible in this situation: "Oh, you're the typist."

I check out the signature on my "Congratulations--we would love to have you serve as an intern with us in Paris this summer" letter. This person is the managing editor; he will straighten things out. His secretary speaks 12 unrelated languages fluently, and in flawless English she informs me that Mr. Managing Editor is now only Mr. Deputy Editor and that his job is being shared by two other men. May I see him? Yes, because he has nothing to do--"the Trib is easing him out." Why? Because no one trusts this man, who alone made the decision to hire me.

Day 2

The owner of the hotel, where I am staying until I find a cheap place for the rest of the summer, beckons to me as I head out the door for my first eight hours of typing. He spits French at me, and I glean that he is asking me why I am not eating the breakfast that comes gratis with my room. I would like to tell him that I don't ever eat before noon, but the does not understand my "French."

"Eh? Eh?," he shouts over and over. Finally, I say something in English just to throw him off: "You know, I'm using the bidet in my room to clean strawberries." (This is the truth.) For some reason, he nods. This is an acceptable answer. I am learning the ropes.

I live in the 7th arrondissement, the Greenwich Village of Paris, a stone's throw from the Bastille, I'Hotel de Ville, and other unremarkable landmarks. The metro stop is just a block away, so I see only a few cafes and a Chinese restaurant on my first morning out. Somehow it seems strange to see a Chinese restaurant in Paris, but then I think about it. "Wow," I think. "Wow, this city is a meeting place of cultures." For the moment, it escapes me that there is also a Chinese restaurant in Oshkosh, Wise.

It takes about 45 minutes to get to the Trib. One million Parisians cram into my car between "Louvre" and "George V," and when I stand up to get some air my seat snaps up and catches the bottom of my dress. No one sees this, but I pretend I know what I am doing anyway. I get off of the metro two stops too early and walk one mile to the Trib. I am one-half hour late; my dress has grease stains on it. It is raining.

When I get to the Trib. I am informed that the visual display terminals I am to use are leaking radioactivity at dangerous levels. I type for eight straight hours.

Day 6

I am a pro at Paris. When people at work ask where I live, I say "the 7th instead of "Rue St. Paul." I stand up in the metro at all times. and when I want to get off I push people and mutter "pardon" and act annoyed. I have learned to say "merct" when in doubt. My maitre d'hotel understands that I do not eat breakfast.

The deputy editor who hired me is in a quandary because he cannot decide when to hold the semiannual editorial staff party. Everyone tells him that the 4th of July would be perfect since almost all of the Trib's employees are Americans and since it is a Friday. But the D.E. is paranoid: he is afraid to make a decision that no one will trust. So he calls me. the lowliest peon in the building. into his office for my opinion. I suggest the 4th of July. He remains unconvinced.

The deputy editor reaches into his desk drawer for a nip. It is time to change the subject.

"How do you like Paris?" he asks.

"Well." I say. "Well. it was a little rough in the beginning. but I think I'm getting used to it. It's still a little frightening. though. you know?" I realize I need sympathy: I have. in fact. been alone. I crave human contact. I my be radioactive.

"You know." he says. "You know. when I first got here ten years ago I thought the Eiffel Tower would be black."

Day 10

It has rained every day.

Day 12

Paris truly is a meeting place of cultures: Men from all over the world have followed me around the city. Today the Trib sends me to the suburb of Nanterre, not to cover a story, but to get a French social security number so that I can be paid. I have the equivalent of $10 left to my name. On the way back, a man from Zambia asks me if he can speak English with me. I cannot very well say no because he has followed me from the social security office to the metro and has inadvertently paid for my train ticket.

"Where in America from you?" he asks.

"Near New York."

"New York? From?"

"Well. actually. I'm from New Jersey."

"OHHHHHH! New Jersey! You be knowing Hoboken?!"

I take this as a bad sign and tell the man how happy I am to be living in Paris with my new husband. Richard. and his family. My story is claborate: Richard's father works for IBM and has recently transferred to Paris from Buenos Aires. Richard is a student at Cite Universitaire. Richard and I are totally in love. despite the season.

"When can you meet me?" he asks.

I tell him that I am a journalist at The International Herald Tribune and. obviously. work seven days a week. He is very impressed.

The he looks at my left hand. "Why no ring?" He is glaring. We are at my metro stop: I run quickly. People at the Trib tell me I should have immediately yelled at the strange man. "Vas te faire foutre!" This apparently means "Go fuck yourself."

Day 13

I bring my umbrella to Notre Dame for two reasons: it may rain, and I need a good weapon. An Arab man approaches me and asks to share my umbrella. "Vas te faire foutre!" I yell.

He laughs hysterically and walks away. It works.

Day 14

My hotel owner has asked me to leave the hotel, so I move to the 14th to share an apartment with a woman named Illeana. We have no shower, no heat, no air-conditioning, no refrigerator. Illeana is 5-ft., 10-in, and weighs 105 pounds. She is an anorexic vegetarian, who eats only fake camembert cheese and bread crusts. My rent is $250 for one month.

Before I leave for work in the morning. Illeana says only, "Don't buy any meat for your dinner."

Day 23

Rita and Robin, the two women who type with me at the Trib, take me out for coffee and tell me that Norma, my supervisor, does not like me because I am interested in doing more than typing.

"Is there any way you can go home?" Robin says.

"Ohmigod, don't go home until you see Notre Dame and the Louvre." Rita says. I tell her I have seen both.


Day 27

I am sitting on a Transamerican 707. I have horrible diarrhea from eating pounds of fake camembert. I have told the D.E. that my grandfather is dying. I am going home two months early. I do not remember having seen the Jeu de Paummes Museum or the palais Royale or Les Invalides or Montmartre. Later. I will talk about them in detail and sound impressive.

Day 30

Back in Chatham, New Jersey, I am living with my family. This is my first day of work as a Kelly Girl, and I report to a pharmaceuticals company to begin work as a clerk.

No one can believe that I have left an internship at the International Herald Tribune in Paris, France--city of love and lights--to file drug receipts in New Jersey. They do not understand why I am so happy to be able to et a roast beef sandwhich for lunch.

III. Paris in the Fall and the Winter.

It beats me what Paris is the during the fall and winter, but here are some tips anyway.

1. Bring you father's master Charge card to get quick, free cash at one obscure bank in the 12th.

2. Pretend that you have been to all the landmarks before and are bored by them. Five minutes in the Louvre is enough to say you've been there.

3. Act annoyed in the metro. Say "pardon" many times. Assume an air that suggests. "Yes, indeed! I speak French!"

Remember: Appearances are everything.

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