From our old apartment in Paris, I used to walk our dog down the Boulevard Saint Germain past the once bohemian, now touristy, CafÃ© des Deux Magots. At around 7.30am, while Paris slept, lined up in the windows of the cafÃ©, each at their own individual table, would be four or five American men peering over their coffee cups into the street. You could tell they were not French from their books, their baseball caps and the fact they were up that early.
Their faces and postures seemed to say: “Right, Paris, City of Light, romance, poetry, wine with lunch, I’ve got 48 hours, give it to me, now.” I imagined, probably unfairly, that they had left behind 15-hour-a-day jobs and hot-footed it to France to connect with a life they felt they missed. But as the Supremes said of love, you can’t hurry Paris. Nor France, for that matter.
I have yet to meet a visitor or immigrant to France who has not made that mistake. I completely underestimated the change in moving here. Somehow, with my dumb, modern, globalised perspective, I thought Paris would be like London or New York, except in French. Big cities, I believed, had become more alike than unlike. Whenever I visit British families who have moved to rural Brittany or the Auvergne, I find there was a similar misconception. The country would be the country, they thought, just with fewer Sainsbury’s.0