PARIS, I LOVE YOU BUT YOU’RE BRINGING ME DOWN
by Rosecrans Baldwin
Non-Fiction: Travel memoir
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, April 2012
Hardcover, 286 pages
Rosecrans Baldwin has been a lifelong Francophile; ever since visiting Paris with his family at the age of 10, he has been in love with the city and everything it represents. When he is offered an opportunity to move to Paris and work for an advertising firm seeking a copywriter who can write in English, Baldwin is thrilled to pack his Brooklyn belongings into storage and move with his wife to the City of Light — even though he speaks little French and has never worked in advertising.
However, life in Paris is not the romantic ideal he had envisioned. The coffee is bad, the first charming bistro they visit turns out to be an Australian bar that serves ostrich fillets, bureaucracy thwarts many of their plans, and their tiny apartment is surrounded by noisy construction on every side. Instead of the Paris of Hemingway, Baldwin finds himself in the Paris where, “Luke Skywalker had happened. Supermarkets happened. Hip-hop happened and Joan Didion happened. Email happened.” It is the Paris of Sarkozy, frozen food from Picard, and the Tecktonik dance craze.
Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down is an amusing story of expat life in Paris. Baldwin writes about his experiences working in the French advertising office, the boring parties for expats with trust funds, and his blundering attempts at communicating in French. (At one point, he mispronounces “tes temps” as “tetins,” effectively asking his female coworker for her tits rather than her time.)
“Tactics to learn French via shock immersion: Accept and make telephone calls. Do this despite a crippling fear of conducting phone calls in French, terror so real you begin to experience it in nightmares about speaking French on the phone — your daily life repeated at night with no embellishment.”
This was a really fun book to read. Baldwin’s humorous and self-deprecating tone was very enjoyable; he pokes fun at himself just as much as he takes enjoyments from the quirks of others, and I laughed out loud at some of his misadventures.
I think a lot of people romanticize Paris, and I enjoyed reading Baldwin’s balanced description of modern life there, from the idiosyncrasies of his co-workers to French politics and values to late-night parties. He had his share of frustrations, but also many moments that were classically Parisian. I really liked that this was neither an ode to the glories of Paris, nor a tirade against the city; as with any city, Paris has its perks and its downsides, and it was refreshing to read an account that represents both sides.
Another thing that separates this book from many other travel memoirs is the amount of time Baldwin spent in Paris and the depth of his immersion in the culture. He spent 18 months living and working in Paris, which I think is enough time to give one a good feel for a city and its people. I liked that the opinions he puts forth are more than just the fleeting observations made by someone who spent a few days in the city while backpacking through Europe. He really got to know Paris, and it was fun to read about the city from his outsider’s perspective.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves to travel or is interested in France. It is light and funny, and it portrays a realistic, multi-faceted portrait of one of the world’s most romanticized cities.