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City of (Public) Love

Postcard from Paris, France

By Rachel L. Pollack

My guidebook to Paris lists the top 10 best places to kiss in the “City of Love,” including Pont Neuf, the Musée Rodin, Montmarte, and the Eiffel Tower. Apparently the writers forgot to mention the Luxembourg Garden. And the line outside my local crêperie stand. Even the moving sidewalk in the Châtelet metro station.

The abundance of PDA—public display of affection, for the unfamiliar—is really quite remarkable. While strolling through a park on my first afternoon in Paris, I saw five couples making out in the span of five minutes. That has to set some sort of record. It seems that everyone in Paris gets some action. Young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight all flaunt their sexual satisfaction.

Except the tourists. Even without their bright orange fanny packs and Texas accents (“Mercy bu-cups, garsone!”), they'd stand out by their total asexuality. They’re set on business; they'll get the most out of their two day museum-passes, and have no time for handholding, suggestive glances, and, above all, kissing. What's more, tourists often travel in families—not conducive to public romance.

And where do I fit in? For six weeks, I'm in many ways experiencing the life of a French student. I live in my own apartment, attend classes taught in French, and have to fend for myself with budget shopping at the Monoprix. With my daily baguette and block of brie, I could almost pass for French (until I open my mouth).

But as for my comfort with PDA, New England's puritanical roots must have rubbed off on me. I'll admit I was taken aback at seeing a couple having sex on Avenue Kleber en plein air on their street-facing balcony. For the first couple of weeks in Paris, each time I saw a couple kissing on the street, I was reminded of the morning a man shouted “Excusez moi!” and then “Regardez!” before proceeding to show me something I surely did not want to “regard.” Try as I might to turn away, the amorous French couples seem to shout, “Excuse me! Watch!”

As I've spent more time in Paris, however, I've noticed a change in my attitude toward Parisian lovers. I no longer feel distressed, or even surprised, when I see a couple kissing in the park. I can't say that any one event caused me to re-evaluate my stance toward PDA, but after weeks of involuntary observation, it’s simply become a part of the Parisian landscape. Like the countless boulangeries and shoe stores, PDA is an omnipresent part of the scenery—a necessary staple of Parisian culture.

Besides, what's wrong with having sex in the privacy of your own balcony?

Rachel L. Pollack ’09, a Crimson news editor, is a history concentrator in Dunster House. She has not, in fact, had sex in the privacy of her own balcony.

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