I didn’t move to Paris because it was something I’d dreamed about as a little girl. I went because I wouldn’t know anyone and I wanted to be surrounded by a language that wasn’t English. I had a small advantage – my family speaks fluent French – but mine is a shaky mess of jumbled pronouns and unconjugated verbs and bears traces of a Canadian accent.
I was reserved. Something about the harsh winter air and subdued Parisian personalities pushed me into my shell. I wanted to be daring, but it didn’t come naturally. Luckily, I fell into a good group of friends and felt more at home.
My closest friend began a flirtation with our professor. (It’s France, what did you expect?) I admired her boldness. I was too timid to approach any man in France – for fear of roofies and physical attention from anyone that wasn’t a boy I’d known for three years.
Finally, I became frustrated with my own self-censorship.
We went out on an uncharacteristically warm night, to a spot in the 10th arrondissment. It wasn’t a touristy area – no one was speaking English. I saw him almost immediately. He was tall, with a strong jawline and a smile that was familiar. (You know, when you see someone and their grin makes you feel like you’ve seen their face before?) He was pushing 30. I had just turned 20. Again, it’s France.
I wouldn’t approach him, or even move in his direction. In true middle school fashion, a friend physically pushed me into him. He caught me. I tried to emulate the pleasantly windswept look women pull off in movies, but was unsuccessful. I got out a “je m’excuse,” but before I could shuffle off, he coaxed my head upward and I couldn’t help it. I wanted to stay.
He came over a few days later, after a multitude of texts exchanged in broken English and grammatically incorrect French. I made friends go down to greet him and assess whether or not he might be a serial killer. He wasn’t. He was lovely. He brought wine.
I didn’t have wine glasses. I didn’t even have real furniture and I sure as fuck didn’t have a clue what I was doing with this beautiful man in my apartment. We talked and talked until I’d physically run out of things I could say in French (which surprisingly, took a few hours). When I’d run out of conversation topics, and figured I couldn’t keep my charm going much longer, I did what I’d want to do all along. I kissed him.
It escalated from there. Though not quickly, because in France you’re taught to savor not only your meals and your wine, but your sex too.
I don’t think I said much for the (insanely long) duration – there was truly no reason to interrupt him. What was I going to say? “T’as fini?”
If there was something I wanted to express, I didn’t need to do it verbally.
It is a very surreal experience to have sex in a language you don’t really speak, in a city that is not your own, with a man you don’t really know. But it was beautiful, in a way that nothing else in Paris was – which is saying something, because every inch of Paris is filled with beauty and I’d just like to publicly apologize to Monsieur Rodin, for the sacrilege of valuing this experience more than his museum.
I never saw my Frenchman again. It was just those two times – the night we met the night I had him over to my tiny studio in the 14th. I never reached out – I didn’t want to. Every romantic experience I’ve ever had came with baggage, but that night was perfect. I didn’t ever want to do anything to tarnish that memory.
The point to all of this isn’t that you should fly to Paris and jump the first garçon with a beard and skinny jeans. The point is that on any given day, you can have an experience you never thought you were capable of having. You can approach someone and make them fall for you. It’s an empowering thought – even if you don’t go home with them.
You don’t need sex to have a fulfilling study abroad – but you have to go experience something. Anything that elicits a feeling you’ve never had before. This is the one time in your life when you have no rules. Your financial concerns are minimal, you’re in good health and all the terrors of transition are muted because you know you’re going home in four months.
Stop shutting yourself out because you don’t speak the same language as everyone around you. Stop shying away from experiences you aren’t fearless enough to have. Don’t let your predispositions get in your way.
Get lost in Paris. Take a flight to Milan because it’s 9 Euros. Let an elderly Italian man teach you his language at a coffee shop, as you lean up against the coffee bar and drink your miniscule cappuccino. Go to a country you never thought you’d have any interest in and be amazed by its history.
Be braver. Beautiful things happen when you stop being scared of unfamiliar experiences.