I’ve spent most of my life dreaming of France. At age five, I read Madeleine and Babar and Beauty and the Beast, and begged my parents to visit the country I kept reading about. Not wanting to blow a trans-Atlantic plane ticket on a five-year-old whose whims changed by the hour, they said they’d take me for my 10th birthday if I still wanted to go. I didn’t forget their promise, and so before I hit double-digits, they booked a trip to Paris for the week of my birthday. To prepare, I bought a French phrase book and tripped over sentences like “Qu’est-ce qu’il c’est?” until I committed them to memory. I spent my birthday taking in the city from the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Musée d’Orsay with my family. A decade later, it’s still one of my favorite memories.
The next year, I started learning French in school. I loved the language so much that at 15, I spent three weeks studying in Cannes. Three weeks hardly seems like enough time to learn anything now, but back then, I felt like I slid seamlessly into the language and culture. I loved everything about it.
I’m a junior in college now, and after 15 years of dreaming of life in France, it’s finally a reality. I moved to Paris in January for a semester abroad, and the city is lovelier than I ever thought it would be. Most days, I pick up a croissant from a boulangerie on my way to class; study French literature, art, and history; and end the day over a home-cooked meal and cheap wine with a group of friends. Every day is idyllic, like something you could pin to Pinterest. And thanks to my new French friends, I’m quickly shifting from the stiff, academic French I learned in school to a casual slang they assure me sounds much younger and cooler.
Paris is gorgeous, but it isn’t my home. I want to order an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and lox and 16 ounces of piping hot drip coffee from my usual barista, the one that looks like Huck from Scandal. I want to spend the first warm day of spring stretched out on the grass in Washington Square Park, listening to jazz players and dodging the Free Hugs Man. I want to hear fingers clicking across keyboards and heels clacking down halls in the Hearst Tower, where I interned for two semesters. I know that if I ever moved to Paris permanently, I’d find near-enough replacements for everything I miss from New York.
I’m most nostalgic for New York during the summertime, even for the things I know I hate: the pile of unidentifiable sludge outside my apartment that emitted a horrific stench, the fear of walking underneath a dripping air conditioner, the week I ate nothing but $1 microwaveable Thai noodles when I was worried about rent.
Don’t get me wrong — I know I’m incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to transplant my life to Paris for a semester. I’m ecstatic to be here. It’s difficult to whine about missing Washington Square Park when the Jardin du Luxembourg is so close by and still sound sincere. (Yes, I hear an orchestra of the world’s tiniest, least sympathetic violins.) But at least once a day, I crave New York. It feels taboo. My friends and I huddled together in the smokers’ courtyard between classes last week to whisper what we miss about New York: the 24-hour subway system, Duane Reade, peanut butter.
It sounds like an Eat, Pray, Love cliché to travel abroad and “find” yourself, but there’s some truth to the statement. Before I left for Paris, I thought I was a city girl. Now, I know that I don’t quite feel at home in just any city — I feel at home in New York. When I’m at school, I use the word “home” to refer to the Boston suburb I grew up in. But almost immediately upon arriving in Paris, I started using “home” to refer exclusively to my familiar slice of Greenwich Village.
New York, when I come back, I want you to give me your best. Sure, a free cronut or a Britney Spears-only playlist at Bar None would be great. But feel free to throw in a dangerously over-crowded 6 train, an out-the-door line at the Union Square Trader Joe’s, and a whole fleet of subway rats, too. That’s how I’ll really know I’m home.