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Ch. 1: Which way is north?

Illustration: Kim Wiens

“Je suis un peu perdue.. pourriez-vous m’aider?”

That basically sums up the start of every conversation that I’ve had my first week here. Paris is huge. “A bit lost” is definitely an understatement.

For someone who considers Google Maps to be the second coming of Christ, navigating my first week in a new country with no Internet access anywhere outside my apartment has been rough, to say the least.

But I guess that’s why I decided to come to France—to get a bit lost. Last year I decided to apply to do a semester-long exchange to Paris. And last week, I moved to Paris and began my adventure.

I feel like I’m Lizzie Mcguire in The Lizzie McGuire Movie, except with a lot less singing, shady (but cute) European musical sensations, and runways.

As you can imagine, Paris is quite different from Ottawa. My lack of directional sense aside, this first week has been spent attempting to adjust to a variety of new surroundings.

The architecture is incredible. Design is clearly a source of pride for the French. Imagine Tabaret-type buildings everywhere, except much bigger and without the seemingly endless sidewalk construction. The roads are clean, the greenery is always trim and tidy, and stone-cobbled paths are at every turn. In the streets the cars are all very sleek. Only European vehicles are driven, with BMWs and Mercedes appearing to be a common choice.

The people who drive the cars are just about as fancy as the cars themselves. Everyone here is thin and beautiful. It’s almost perplexing how skinny all of inhabitants manage to stay, despite how rich the food is. I say almost because there are stairs about every 100 metres, so it’s not really that perplexing. Come to France if you want to lose weight eating strictly butter.

People actually go for walks. Children play in parks. “Le foot” or soccer is so popular that they feel the need to put up “no football” signs in parks to keep the peace.

My attempts at not looking like a foreigner have been futile thus far. If my style choices and perpetually confused look didn’t give me away, my phone does. The second I take out my phone in public, they know I’m not a local. The only time people have their phone out here is on the train, and even then the other half of the commuters are reading.

There is a “joie de vivre” here that you just don’t feel in Canada. Life’s not about work. It’s a curious thought for the government lifestyle in Ottawa. Alcohol is not reserved for weekends—not when the wine is €2 a bottle and drinking outdoors is legal.

Although I’ve already experienced a lot this first week, I’m excited to fully embrace the Parisian culture over the next four months. At least once I learn to find my way back to my apartment.



  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper