La Vie Parisienne is an essay by one of the finalists in our 2014 Writing Contest. A letter to My Dear Tatie is by Andrea Bouchaud, an American with French ancestry who now lives in Paris…
Bonjour Tatie, C’est ta poupée. I remember the first time we met. It was when my French class and I were passing through Paris for a day on our way to do a tour of northern France. I was so excited when I found out and told everyone about this trip. Grandpop called to tell you the news. You were so excited to meet me. From the very first time we saw each other, I knew our paths would cross again. I was a young girl of seventeen who was enamored with the French culture and language. Although I barely understood a word you said and spoke really bad French, you were patient with me, speaking slowly and clearly, and welcomed me into your home. Then you accompanied my class and I to a boat ride on the Seine. Your generosity was clear from day one when you purchased pictures of us on that small Parisian boat. After that evening, I didn’t see you again for another three years.
What brought us together again? It was my desire to experience French culture firsthand made possible by studying abroad. Just like before, your brother called you to tell you I was coming back to France but for a year this time. You were so excited at the prospect of getting to know me better and offered me a place to live in the heart of Paris.
Our first few weeks together in Paris were tricky as we each navigated the unknown waters of the other’s culture and personality. For me, you were France. Every time you and I failed to understand each other because of a language barrier, cultural difference or generational gap, my misunderstanding of French culture deepened. Even when we disagreed, you would still welcome me back into your home the very next day. At the time I didn’t realize that you were being very French; I just thought you were being Tatie. As the first few weeks turned into the first few months, things changed between us. I understood better the things you said and why you did the things you did. The more that I understood you, the more I understood French culture.
It was then that I began to see that French culture is one of compassion and caring; of thousands (instead of hundreds) of years of traditions passed down; of beauty and articulation; of dedication and determination; of family and heritage. It is because of you that I experienced French culture and my French heritage. In turn, I think you came to have a better understanding of American culture and me. You came to appreciate my strong sense of self (like that big polka dot summer hat I bought at Monoprix – I will never forget the light that touched your face when I came to see you with it on) which I learned we both have. I also discovered that Americans and French are not very different with our strong will and desires. At 20 years old, it was often difficult to put myself in your shoes to see your perspective of our unique situation. Now that I’m a little older, I see that I am you – just 56 years younger, and I often wonder if you saw yourself in me?
What I do know for certain is that is because of you that I was able to live in Paris and discover la vie parisienne. What is la vie parisienne? It is the continual strive for a better life amidst natural and man-made beauty. It is springtime in Paris; night time in Paris; walking through the Jardin des Tuileries; admiring the outside of the Louvre; bettering my French speaking skills; and discovering French cuisine. It is also spending time with you and learning about our family. These are the fond memories I have of my time in Paris and I have them thanks to you. On our last night together, we left on “à bientôt” meaning we’ll see each other later. I had every intention of coming back to see you. Unfortunately, time passed quicker than I wanted and 1 year turned into 7 years. Monthly calls kept us in touch until one day they stopped. I received the worst news- that you had left this world for the next. A good friend once asked me what I will tell my children one day about you. I’m not sure yet but I do know that whenever I think of Paris, I will always think of you.
Gros bisous, Andrea
Andrea Bouchaud is a Paris study abroad expert, author and blogger at www.twentyinparis.net. She studied in Paris for at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV and is the author of Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris and The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored available on Amazon.
More details of all the winners in our 2014 Writing Competition and their award winning stories