The sun above Paris was a mid-July clementine. I bought copies of Le Monde
and the Herald Tribune
at a kiosk and climbed the stairs to my new office on the Champs-Elysées. For three hours, I mugged at a laptop, trying to figure out how the e-mail system worked. My fingers were chattering. I spent long, spacey minutes trying to find the @ key. They’d given me a keyboard mapped for French speakers, with the letters switched around.
For the rest of the day, strangers approached and handed me folders, speaking to me in French while I panicked inside. A sentence would begin slow, with watery syncopation, then accelerate, gurgling until it slammed into an ennnnnnh
, or an urrrrrrrr
, and I’d be expected to respond.
What did they want from me?
Why was every question a confrontation?
First day on the job, my French was not super. I’d sort of misled them about that.
The advertising agency occupied three floors of a building located a few blocks east of the Arc de Triomphe, next to a McDonald’s. Our floor might have been a wing from Versailles. Chandeliers everywhere. Gold-flaked moldings. Long rooms walled by spotty mirrors. There were fireplaces like cave mouths, and high ceilings painted with frescoes. A cherub’s little white gut mooned my desk.
For a long time I’d thought Paris had the world’s best everything. Girls, food, the crumble-down buildings. Even the dust was arousing. Coming out of the Métro that morning, I’d been so full up my throat constricted.
Basically, I’d been anaphylactic about France since I was ten.
So I was trying to seem cool and unruffled.
My new boss, Pierre, was an old friend. We knew each other from New York, where Pierre and his wife had lived before returning to Paris, their hometown. In March, I’d received an e-mail that Pierre had sent around looking for someone to join his agency who could attend meetings in French but write English copy.
We spoke the next day. Pierre said, “You’re good in French…”
I said, “How good in French?”
Around lunchtime, Pierre introduced me to André, his co–creative director. They shared an office. André was stocky, long-haired, orthodontic. He grinned like Animal from the Muppets. I liked him right away. Probably ate scissors for lunch.
“André doesn’t speak English,” Pierre said.
“Fuck that,” André said in English, staring at me. He added, smiling, “But no, do not.”
A computer monitor attached to André’s laptop showed two nude women sixty-nining. André had on a pink Lacoste shirt and a blazer with two lapels, one folded up. It was the first jacket I’d ever seen that included a constantly popped collar, suggesting, Dude, let your clothes handle the boil, you’re busy musing
. At that moment, André’s boots were perched on an Italian racing bicycle. People informed me later that he never rode it—it was parked there only to keep beauty in near proximity.
I told André I liked his office. André grinned, then his BlackBerry began to chirrup. André ignored it and said in English, “So, where you come?”
“Come from,” Pierre corrected him.
“New York,” I said.
The BlackBerry kept ringing. André grabbed it like it was a burning club and screamed down the line while rampaging out of the room.
“A Judd Apatow film in the waiting...Very, very funny.”—John Freeman, The Boston Globe
“Deftly written, with a wry style and liberally deployed irony...Very funny.”—Dominic Tierney, The Atlantic
“A picture of what it’s like to live and work—like, work work—in a city understood by most Americans only through tourist goggles…So necessary and welcome.”—Daniel Riley, GQ
“Baldwin and his wife, Rachel—as well as the Parisians he came to know—are funny and idiosyncratic, and it’s a pleasure to spend time with them....A love story about the city and its people.”—Eloisa James, NPR
“A hilarious, keenly observed, and surprisingly poignant journey into the Parisian state of mind.”—Anthony Doerr, author of Four Seasons in Rome
“Americans in Paris are a common literary trope, but Rosecrans Baldwin has rejuvenated it....A wryly astute fish-out-of-water memoir.”—Teddy Wayne, The Huffington Post
“A charming entry into the expat canon, this book is Baldwin’s true story of moving to his favorite city in the world—favorite to the tune of obsession, mind you—and realizing it’s not quite as he had imagined.”—Emily Temple, Flavorwire
Baldwin proves that with the right attitude, everything in this perhaps most magically remembered of all cities is either beautiful, hilarious, or both, and his friendly voice and approachable style will grab those who want to be there and those who have never been.”—Annie Bostrom, Booklist
“A charming, hilarious account of la vie Parisienne as experienced by an observant young American...his vivid impressions of Paris and its people (expats included) are most engaging. Great fun and surprisingly touching. Great fun and surprisingly touching.”—Kirkus (starred review)