Nobody likes to feel stupid. It really sucks. But when you move to a foreign country, it happens a lot — at least in the beginning. In the beginning, it feels like you can’t go five minutes without feeling stupid. Whether I tried to swipe my credit card instead of inserting it into the chip reader, or mispronounced a word and received a prompt (and public) correction, or had to explain in really bad French that my French is really bad so I didn’t understand what you just said to me, I felt perpetually embarrassed.
After swapping some of these stories with a friend (also an American – shout out to you, Carrie!) shortly after our move here, she told me that feeling stupid was something you just have to learn how to do and become comfortable with. This turned out to be very valuable advice.
Truthfully, it’s tiring to worry about looking stupid all the time. And because you have to keep living your life, at a certain point you just do your best to stop worrying and let it go. (Don’t worry, I realize that this applies to life in general and not just life in a foreign country.) Due in no small part to countless experiences of embarrassment since moving, I have since learned how to be a little more comfortable in my own skin. The temperature of my face no longer soars to red-hot when I screw up my French at the market. I’ve stopped caring about the fact that I’m wearing the same eight outfits over and over again because that’s all I brought with me (baggage fees are no joke, you guys). And I’ve stopped worrying about looking like a tourist in a city I have visited several times, studied abroad in for a semester and am now taking a sabbatique in, because there’s a lot to see here and dammit, I want to see it.
To that last point, Andy and I have started to embrace self-guided walking tours. Sometimes they come from our Lonely Planet book and sometimes we randomly pick a neighborhood after we’ve caught the metro and just wander. Either way, we regularly find ourselves stopped at a corner staring puzzled in either direction trying to figure out which way to go next. But, we keep doing it because it’s free, and it really is the best way to get to know the city. Plus, without jobs, what else are we going to do all day?
Pro tip: Pack a water bottle — or real bottle, if you’re an adult — of wine in your bag to make the journey more enjoyable. Yes, you might get some serious side eyes when you trade off taking pulls in the middle of some fancy gardens, but hey, you’re the one with the wine, so who’s really winning in that scenario?
We’ve done a handful of walking tours in the last few weeks, and I’ll take you through three: one in Montmartre, one through les passages couverts in the second arrondissement and one through the Les Halles neighborhood.
The steep streets of Montmartre take you up the hill and back to the Belle Époque — a time when the neighborhood was a bohemian haven home to artists like Picasso, Renoir, Matisse and Suzanne Valadon. Our walk took us past a few of their former homes and studios, including the Musée Montmartre, which quickly became one of my favorites in the city. It depicts, through the artists’ work and preserved studio space, how the neighborhood was changing at the time (ground had only just been broken on Sacre Coeur), what the artists’ lives were like (free-spirited, a bit tumultuous and rife with love triangles, apparently), and what nightlife was like when the Moulin Rouge was the hot new club in town (completely indulgent and a bit naughty).
Long before that, however, the area was more agricultural in nature, full of fruit trees, vineyards and flour mills. You can still see a few remaining moulins if you know where to look, and the only remaining vineyard in Paris exists here. Even if you don’t have a guidebook to tell you where to go, Montmartre is a neighborhood worth exploring without time constraint.
Les Passages Couverts And Le Palais Royal
There are a series of covered passages that wind through the second arrondissement just north of the Louvre. Built in the 19th century, they were places where Parisians gathered to shop, eat and just hang out. They are still lined with shops and restaurants, and great for strolling through on rainy days. Our walk also took us through the grounds of the Palais Royal, where there are some interesting art installations and gardens that grow flowers in February.
Les Halles, Centre Pompidou And Other Stuff
Our walk through the Les Halles area started at Rue du Mail because I wanted to see the street that was strung with lamps. It was pretty neat, but I think it would have been better at night when they’re lit up. Then we just wandered toward the Centre Pompidou and around it, then stopped at a patisserie, got a mille-feuille and some other fruity tart thing and plopped down on the banks of the Seine to eat and drink and enjoy the fleeting sunlight.
As I said in the beginning, feeling stupid sucks. But the rewards of discovering a new place far outweigh it. From what I can tell, the more you put yourself out there, the more quickly you will figure out how you fit into your new surroundings. You will notice and be grateful for the smallest things (like the owner of the grocery store you frequent asking you “ça va?“ for the first time), and eventually you will find your place.