Like many a Francophile, copywriter Amy Thomas fantasizes about living in Paris, snacking on nutella crepes and riding Vélibs around the boulevards. But unlike many Francophiles, Thomas gets her fantasy life handed to her on a silver platter.
That life takes the form of a job at Louis Vuitton on the Champs-Élysées, a sixth-floor apartment in the second arrondissement, and enough pâtisseries nearby to satisfy even her ravenous sweet tooth.
In her memoir Paris, My Sweet, desserts become a metaphor for life—and Thomas’s sugary adventures in Paris parallel her rollercoaster of emotions as an American transported to a new city all alone. Amidst the mouthwatering descriptions of delicacies like brioche with rum raisin pastry cream and chocolate mousse cake with salted caramel are lessons about life and what happens when you get everything you wished for.
In the beginning, of course, the rose-colored glasses are stuck on her head and everything seems blissful:
“Was this for real? Why was I there? How was I suddenly living in Paris, among the €2,000 evening dresses and 98 percent dark chocolate bars? Was it fate? I didn’t have the answers, but I smiled with giddiness, hopelessly in love with the entire world,” Thomas writes.
But reality soon creeps in. Parisian social circles are insular, particularly closed off to those who struggle a bit with the language, and Thomas resigns herself to befriending expats. With her American fashion sense and smiley enthusiasm, she regularly feels out of place and the opposite of chic.
“My little Franco-fantasies never transpired,” she writes one year in, referring to her lack of assimilation. “I had been idealizing…Paris, as a city and as my new home.”
Rather than give up and return to New York, she decides to stay another year—for an experience that will be less than perfect, less than fantasy, but still a cherished opportunity for adventure (and daily baguettes). One of the treats that brings her comfort during her disillusionment is the crumble, a metaphor for the beauty of messiness: Her job can be frustrating, her love life is stalled, but she’s still in Paris.
Ultimately, after building up impossible expectations for what life in Paris could be like, Thomas settles into a kind of gratitude and acceptance for what it is.
“I was lucky. Lucky to be living in Paris, on my own path in life,” she writes. “I knew everything would work out the way it was supposed to.”
I, too, have had my moments of yearning: regret that my parents didn’t enroll me in French immersion so I wouldn’t have to struggle with conjugation, regret that I wasn’t born in France so I could spend more than three months there at a time.
But if a genie granted my wish, where would I be? Living in Paris, perhaps, speaking perfect Parisian French and…apathetic. What Parisian has the childlike wonder and fierce love of the city that foreign admirers do? What native speaker marvels at the beautiful sounds of their own mother tongue?
Perhaps it’s the struggle, the distance, and the scarcity that allow us to love languages and places, and to keep the fantasy alive.