Midnight in Paris is a popular movie from 2011, starring Owen Wilson, which is all about a starry-eyed man walking the streets of Paris and just being completely memorized by all of the beauty that the city has to offer. In fact, most movies about Paris portray the city in this romantic, rose-colored light where all of the city’s problems disappear and all of the gross normal city nuisances are invisible. Hollywood never shows you the homeless Syrian refugee families who have quite literally made the streets their home, mattress and all. They never features the creepy men who sometimes approach you when you’re walking with your friends through the metro station and ask you what stop you plan to get off at. It makes sense that movie-makers wouldn’t want to focus on the negative elements of a beautiful city with long and rich history, but these negative things are very much a part of living in a large city, whether that city be the romantic city of Paris, the busy city of New York, or the “dangerous” city of Detroit. In fact, these grimy elements seem to play a big role in how the natives of Paris view their city. To them, Paris isn’t just the magical home of the Eiffel Tower, but a living, working city that has its good areas and bad areas. The amount of attention that a person pays to each seems to be a good way to figure out whether one is as a resident or a tourist.
When it comes to being new to a city, there is a time and a place to be a loud, excitable tourist, and also a time to keep quiet and be an observer so you can figure out how the city around you is ticking and how people can live their daily lives. (Hint: the time to be a loud, excitable tourist is not right after you get out of a metro station in hot neighborhoods because this attracts the pickpockets!)
During one of my “quiet, head down to listen” moments I discovered that one of the most amazing things about watching Parisians is that they walk by world-famous landmarks and pay no attention at all. Paris natives walk through town and think, “Oh, the Eiffel Tower is visible from here? Big deal, I saw it five times last week.” Or, “wowie, the Garnier Opera? Eh, it’s just another building on my way to work.”
I assume that this attitude genuinely is part of living in a place for a long enough time and getting comfortable there. I walk through Ann Arbor thoughtlessly, while people from my high school visit the city and are all delighted by how charming it is. The thing about Paris is, when you spend your entire life in the U.S. hearing about the amazing cities and monuments there, actually seeing them is surreal and you fall victim to the starry-eyed amazement that labels you as a tourist. When you’ve lived in a city for years, you forget that the things around you are incredible and you’re able to walk right by them.
Overall, being in Paris in teaching me that it’s extremely important to remember not to let your everyday life go unappreciated, no matter how mundane your city or walk to work may seem. To some, it may be incredible.
Though I always made fun of Owen Wilson’s character, I did genuinely admire his ability to make the mundane seem beautiful. Even though cities are never perfect or beautiful in all directions, it is important to remember how important each day is, because there is probably someone that would kill for your view.
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