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Paris a particularly clean city. Beautiful, yes, but definitely not
clean. Last week I watched a man in a navy-blue windbreaker pee behind
a Selecta machine at Concord métro station while waiting for Line 1
(direction: La Défense) . And yesterday, while I was waiting to cross
the street from the Odéon station to the Danton café, the man to my
left in the black business suit with the red tie began picking his
nose. He picked his nose the entire walk across the street until he
reached the café where, using his nostril-picking tool, he greeted the
man in jeans and the brown leather bomber jacket.
disgusted I frantically searched through my bag until I found my
purse-size bottle of Purrell hand sanitizer and immediately began
rubbing the solution into the palms of my hands.
Each night on
my walk home to my small studio in the 16th arrondissement I am greeted
by the smiling faces of the chef with the long blond hair who wears an
orange and white checkered long-sleeved button-down collared shirt with
a pair of black slacks, the convenience store owner wearing tan chinos
and a red knit sweater, the old man in the green plaid hat and caramel
trench coat who drags an oxygen tank behind him, and the woman in the
purple Pashmina walking her small black dog who wears a pink silk scarf.
night the same smiling faces in the same stale outfits. This explains
the stink of body odor that permeates the métro and the distinct
perfume Parisian women wear to mask it. But why the same outfits day in
and day out? Why not change it up a little? For a city that is
considered the fashion capital of the world this is a serious faux pas.
I recently moved to Paris from Los Angeles, this foreign sense of
fashion comes as quite a shock to me. In L.A., one wouldn’t be caught
dead walking down 3rd street Saturday night wearing Thursday night’s
outfit, let alone Friday’s. That is, unless of course you have spent
the night out somewhere unexpectedly, and even this the next morning is
known as “The Walk of Shame.”
In Paris, an apartment equipped
with a washer and dryer is considered a luxury. In Los Angeles,
however, even if you don’t have your own washer and dryer your
apartment complex is most likely equipped with several machines located
just down the hall for your convenience. Some buildings will even send
out your laundry for you.
Having lived the last four years in
LA, I am naturally accustomed to wearing clean clothes on a daily
basis, and though the old saying goes “When in Rome…” I set off down
my seven flights of stairs struggling with an enormous brown duffel bag
filled with dirty clothes, in search of a laundro-mat.
Laura, who is kind enough to act as my personal French tour guide and
translator, told me of a laundro-mat just a couple blocks over from my
building. Six blocks later, my right hand is so swollen from the weight
of the bag I can barely fee my fingers, I curse her. Two blocks of
profanity and I arrive at the laundro-mat.
The small room lined
with white tiles is packed tight with two rows of washers and five
enormous red dryers. There are two women with long black hair sitting
in the chairs in the back right corner, giggling. They play some sort
of card game, and have formed a sort of “card table” using two
additional chairs to their own. This leaves one chair vacant, and I
pray that I can load my laundry into the washer fast enough so that I
can grab it. There is a narrow aisle housing six washers with windows
like portholes of a ship. I claim two that are facing one another. I
load my darks into the right washer and my linens and whites into the
left. Not so different from the States…I close both of the doors.
the bottom of the bag I find the two sachets of laundry detergent that
the previous inhabitant of my studio had abandoned under the sink in
the bathroom, saving me 6 Euros. Mmmmmm…there appears to be two
possible containers in which to deposit the soap. I concentrate closely
on my two options. There is a small picture next to each open container
that appears to indicate what goes where. Given my previous history
following pictorial signs in Paris, like when I ordered my groceries
online and was delivered 10 pounds of baby food and two cases of Evian
bottles with nipples on them, I am somewhat nervous about this choice I
At the risk of ridicule I approach the giggling girls
and ask them if they speak English; they speak enough, and certainly
more English than I do French. The shorter one, with the baby blue hair
scrunchy, is very sweet–she explains that this is also her first time
doing laundry in Paris, that she is from Germany and is here studying
law. She points to the container on the right and I begin to empty the
sachet of detergent into it. I do the same to the other washer and then
she takes me over to the machine where I am to deposit my money.
Los Angeles one complete load of laundry, wash and dry, will cost you
approximately $2.50. In Paris this same load will cost you six euros
and the process takes twice as long. No wonder the French rarely wash
their clothes. These two loads set me back 12 euros: rather, four café
I groan as I push my coins into the slot one by one. I
grab the French Cosmo I threw in my duffel bag. Thought I’d practice my
French through reading Cosmo’s expert’s latest take on the Kama Sutra.
I sit down across from the two girls with the long black hair, who are
no longer giggling over their card game but glued to their cell phones
playing the newest version of Tetris.
Fifteen minutes later I
have turned the magazine in every which direction trying to make sense
of the positions of the naked stick figures Again, the French puzzle me
with their diagrams…good thing these weren’t available for order on
the online supermarket–a knock at my door and two naked men with
handcuffs enter, each carrying a white plastic bag filled with baby
food and a 12 pack of Evian water bottles with nipples on them!
chair starts to wobble like it’s about to break. It’s because I’m
getting fat from the café crèmes and the viennoise chocolats, and the
McFlurry’s from McDonalds, I’m embarrassed to say. I look over at the
two girls, their chairs are wobbling too. Now we’re shaking.
L.A. I would automatically think earthquake, but in Paris I couldn’t
think what it could possibly be–the washer?. Like a geyser the third
washer on the left explodes, the porthole bursts open spilling water
and all of its contents, which appears to be piles of multi-colored
scarves. I stand on my chair grasping my purse and brown duffel bag. I
hold them close to my chest as I try desperately to avoid the flood.
The two girls, in a panic, abandon their games of Tetris and jump up
onto their chairs.
We stare at the washer. The silence is just
incredible. Eventually I relax and begin to climb down from my chair. I
pull my jeans up to my knees while walking on my tippy-toes to avoid
the spill of soapsuds. I begin to help the two girls retrieve the
colored cloths that are scattered about the room and stuck onto tiles.
Scarves are everywhere. Red, blue, greed, yellow, pink, light pink,
purple: the laundro-mat is like the supply room for the world cup of
Capture the Flag.
Twenty minutes later, the floor is dry, the
scarves have all been collected and I sit in my chair, dizzy as I watch
my clothes go round and round in the dryer. The two girls appear to
have given up on their laundry and begin to pack their backpacks with
the wet scarves. As the girl with the baby blue hair scrunchy places a
scarf into her forest green backpack, I notice a bottle of dishwasher
soap. Dishwasher soap! It wasn’t a malfunction in the washer at
all–these girls had put dishwasher soap into the laundry machine, thus
causing the minor explosion. I stop them as they turn to leave and try
to explain their mistake, but they don’t understand me. I try to
explain in French; they understand less.
I am disappointed in
myself for not being able to speak better French. They had purchased
dishwasher soap instead of laundry detergent. I feel it is important
for them to be told this, in order to prevent future explosions. But
then, perhaps it’s not my French, but their French. Even I understand
enough French to know the difference between dishwasher soap and
laundry detergent. Perhaps I am not so clueless. I begin folding my
warm, freshly dried clothes into my brown duffel bag.
bag packed I grab my purse and start the eight-block commute back to my
studio, trying to forget the weight of the duffel bag and the challenge
I will face when I arrive at the bottom of my seven-flight climb back
up to my studio.
By block five my shoulders are throbbing.
There’s a nerve pinching in my neck, sending a shooting pain all the
way down to my right pinky toe. My left arm is about to fall off, and
with every step I take the large brown duffel bag filled with newly
laundered clothes grows heavier and heavier. This is going to be a very
long walk home.
I trip on a cracked cobblestone. The large brown
duffel bag goes flying off my arm and lands smack in the middle of a
puddle in the gutter spilling clothes everywhere, interrupting a
pigeon’s bath. The pigeon–a rodent with wings and signature bird of
Paris–is now drying itself off in my moment-ago clean écru Ralph
Lauren towels. My clothes, my sheets, everything, drenched. I look down
at my jeans and black button-down cashmere cardigan…guess I’ll be
wearing this again tomorrow.
I lasted for two days before I
broke down and finally just went over to Laura’s and borrowed an outfit
while I sent my jeans and cardigan to the dry-cleaners. In these two
days, I have gained a much clearer perspective of the French and the
rarity with which they wash their clothing. Wearing the same outfit two
days in a row is actually not so bad. In fact, it is somewhat
liberating because there’s no fuss over what to wear each morning–I
don’t have a choice. At least, until I make it back to the
laundro-mat… which will not be in the near future.
I won’t be
urinating in public any time soon. And hopefully, I will be wise enough
to always carry my pocket Kleenex as my Grandma Roland taught me–to
avoid having to stick my finger up my noise in public or elsewhere. I
will offer the compromise of wearing the same jeans for two consecutive
days. So, for a little while at least, I will be taking the “Walk of
Shame” a few mornings each week. My neighbors will probably think I’m
spending the night out with my French lover. Hmmmmmmm… I’ll call
him… Nicolas. I’ve been here a month, it’s about time I got laid.
joins Bonjour Paris from Los Angeles, California where she recently
graduated from the University in Southern California with a BFA in
Acting. Last year she co-wrote the book and lyrics to a new pop musical
which expects to open in Los Angeles next spring. Two years ago, while
studying at a conservatory in London, Kirsten fell in love with Paris
and decided that she was destined to return for some time. She’s
thrilled to experience this dream come true.