Voices from Abroad

Zahra Asharia in Paris - Part 1

MBA student Zahra Asharia shares her experience studying abroad in Paris

MBA student Zahra Asharia shares her experience studying abroad in Paris

Hey, all! Though I had visited the city before, my initial reaction to Paris last month was one of surprise. In short, I was surprised by just how New York everything felt. I came to Paris for Paris, but here I was, just living in another version of New York! I wondered if this is how all big cities in the West were now, just slightly different versions of each other. I wondered if maybe I had always had an imagined idea of Paris, of one that was more uniquely Parisian. Did this Paris that I imagine ever even exist? Or, as one might assume, was the Americanization (or New York-ization) of Paris just another example of the cultural effects of globalization?

While this is how I felt during my first few days in Paris, over the course of the next few weeks, I came to realize that my initial characterization of Paris – “it’s just another New York” – was largely unfair, and simply not true. Of course, there are similarities between New York and Paris, and yes, having lived in a large global city and speaking English makes life easy here, but Paris is a city in its own right, with defining cultural characteristics that make it unique and beautiful.

City buildings along a river in Paris visited by MBA student Zahra Asharia while studying abroad there.

Of all the characteristics I have so far observed, perhaps my favorite - or the one I find most interesting - is the relationship Parisians have with time and their surroundings. Though of course these are just my own personal observations, I can’t help but feel that people here have a different relationship with their city, and engage with it in a different way than one might in New York.

Take for (a very simple) example, the way people sit outside at the cafés. Instead of sitting opposite one another, the chairs are side-by-side, so that the two seated face outwards towards the street. Some might say it’s all for people-watching, but I think there’s more to it. I think, this simple placement of chairs invites those seated to engage with their surroundings – to make their surroundings a living, breathing, active part of their own conversations. The city, the streets, the people – all of these things become a part of their present.

And then, there’s the social faux-pas of eating on the street. On one of my first nights in Paris, I grabbed a kabab sandwich to-go, and ate it on the street as I walked back home. A man, seeing me do this, smiled, laughed, and exclaimed, “Bon Appetit!”. Later, after asking around, my suspicions were confirmed – eating and drinking on the street isn’t common practice, and might even be considered disrespectful. Here, I think, is another example of the Parisian relationship to time and place. There is a time and place for eating and drinking, and that time and place is not on the street or on-the-go. When it comes to food and drink, Parisians savor it, appreciate it, and give the experience the time and space it deserves.

Graffiti on a building in Paris spells "Genial" in front of several parked mopeds.

Finally, unlike New York, there’s the busy but quiet streets. While it’s hard to describe or articulate, I’ve found that the streets – particularly at night – though still crowded, feel incredibly still. They are quiet, but alive. Though I’m not quite sure what this might mean or suggest, or if it’s even a valid or important observation, I know that it does, at least for me, evoke a different feeling, a feeling that I haven’t experienced in New York. It’s a feeling of stillness and calm, and in some way, enables me to be more tuned in to the moment and my surroundings.

MBA student Zahra Asharia smiles while seated at a Parisian cafe during a study abroad trip to the French city.

Since it may not be evident from what I’ve written, I’ll say it now – I really, really, like it here. And I don’t really know why. Do I like it because it shares similarities with New York? Do I like it because it’s different? Or, do I like it for a reason that I haven’t yet recognized? I don’t know. All I know, is that I like it here – a lot – and in just two short months, it will be time to say goodbye.