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Patricia Laplante-Collins is quite the interesting ex-pat woman to know, or at least know of, if you are visiting Paris. Originally born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, Patricia came to the old world continent where she attended graduate school in Florence and Paris. Following a career trajectory in marketing which lead her through many of Europe’s major cities, Patricia settled in Paris where she began to help organise fundraising events in the early 90s for American associations here. Given the success of such ventures she was spurred into launching her own events initially focused on Paris’ ethnic communities and developed her ideas via literary cocktails and networking parties into what are known today as the Paris Soirées. Open to anyone with an interest in meeting like-minded and intriguing English-speaking visitors or natives of the city, each Sunday evening Patricia takes over one of the city’s restaurants to bring together an eclectic mix of people in a vibrant and scintillating atmosphere.
“I only intended to stay for the degree and to work some,” says Patricia of her arrival in Paris. “But it was such a ordeal going through the university, getting the visa and papers in order and finally working in the French company, that I decided to stay around and enjoy it all. It was a happy period in which everything was new, I was meeting new people and going out constantly, I was falling in love all the time. There was always something new and exciting coming. That’s why I didn’t leave. In the sixth year, I met someone and married. This lasted for several years.
With Paris Soirées, she focuses on events for global ex-pats (many of whom are Americans), English-speaking French, and visitors to the city. She likes the mixed, international environment. “There’s dinner, a speaker in English, or music, social connecting,” she explains, “It’s community building, I say: ‘Meet people in Paris. Make friends. Create relationships’.”
When I attended one of Patricia’s soirées last Sunday 15th July, I found that the mixed, international environment she speaks of was quite accurate. Although my friend and I arrived early to an empty restaurant with only Patricia, a poetess, and an excitable dog running around (Patricia’s black labrador Eve has been co-hostess of her events for the past ten years), the place soon filled up with at least twenty professionals ranging from high school teachers to laboratory pharmacists to the ex-editor of the Herald Tribune, of American, British and French nationality. This was actually a rather laidback affair, being the day after Bastille Day, usually Patricia can have many more attendees to her events. I was, anyway, impressed by the eclectic mix of the guestlist.
Speaker-wise, we were treated to the spoken word artist Antonia Alexandra Klimenko, herself hailing from San Francisco, who regaled the room with fluting poems about the month of July, her tragic love affairs and related an anecdote of how she once ended up on a date with a man named Salvador Dali when she first came to Paris. What really made the sparks fly though was when Patricia’s other speakers stood to speak. They were three American executives from Nike, who were there to speak about the company’s programme for promoting cultural diversity in the city.
Of course, Nike being what Nike is, and the room being full of sharp-eyed journalists and keen analytical minds no one was quite prepared to accept this stance, there being many more interesting questions bubbling beneath the surface. “How many jobs does Nike currently give to the American economy compared to the Chinese?” barked the ex-editor of the Herald Tribune, to which the female Nike executive smoothly executed a slippery diversion tactic. “Before you answer that question,” she said to her colleague who had been addressed, “I just want to go back to the previous point of…” Why she thought this tactic would work was bizarre, as she wasn’t fooling anyone in the room, but perhaps she was playing for thinking time. Of course the ex-editor merely repeated his question once she had finished her lengthy diatribe of non-information about a previous point no one was interested in.
Patricia oversaw the proceedings with a seasoned and suave eye. She would clearly not let things on her turf descend into chaos, but she was happy to let debate continue and to stimulate the post-speaker conversation. This is, after all, the real reason of the Paris Soirées, both to bring people together and to mix diverse backgrounds and career paths. No one was taking offence, but it was a fresh and enlightening experience to watch people all important in their relative fields trade repartee and clambering nimbly about the climbing frame of social discussion. I mean, I must be honest here, the restaurant itself I was not particularly impressed by; although located in Saint-Michel, it was shabby on the outside, the decor on the inside was gaudy to the point of meretricious and the food wasn’t great. But don’t let that put you off as Patricia moves her soirées around many different restaurants and hopefully this was just an anomaly in her calendar. Why you should sign up for a trip to the Paris soirées if you are in town is for the people you may see, hear and meet there, which, of course, is the very Parisian meaning of a soirée in the first place.
Indeed, when I asked Patricia where she finds her speakers from she answered: “[amongst other routes] many speakers have attended a soirée and I have been struck by them.” And, I would imagine, that would definitely be something to write home about.
For more information, visit http://parissoiree.blogspot.co.uk/
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