Back in California, I rarely ate in restaurants by myself. Sometimes I got coffee alone, perched on a barstool scrolling through my phone, hoping I looked like a harried freelancer and not a loser with no friends.
But in Paris, about a week after I’d moved here, exhausted by my apartment search and tired of microwaving in my Airbnb, I decided to get a proper lunch. I’d just clutch my phone and not make eye contact with anyone.
As I approached the picturesque brasserie, with wicker chairs and tiny tables and heat lamps, I realized I didn’t know how to say “A table for one, please.” We’d never covered this in high school French.
Une table pour un? Too clunky. I’m female, so maybe it should be une table pour une? No, doesn’t sound right. Juste moi? Seulement moi?
I was sure the waiter would get it, but I really didn’t want to sound like an idiot. Or a singleton loser. I stood in the doorway, and the waiter, a silver fox in a tuxedo jacket and apron, approached me and said Bonjour. Then, the dumbest thing imaginable flew out of my mouth:
As I heard what I’d said, and saw him stifle a smile, I feared I had said the worst, announcing myself like a two-year-old, and in one second, I felt a whole dump of emotions, all those I’m-so-stupid feelings that are perched just inside our subconsciences, waiting for their chance to embarrass us by dancing in public.
Then, an amazing thing happened.
The beautiful man looked me in the eye, leaned toward me, his lips inches from my ear, and whispered, “Parfait.”
He took my elbow and installed me at a table, and suddenly I wasn’t a loser. I was a woman who’d been flirted with, a woman who’d said something funny, a woman about to enjoy a meal in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Now, all of my language foibles were not greeted as gently as that, but it did show me something. Strolling in Paris, being a flaneur, is a delight. Just you and the city, and its history and its aura and its romance, are for you.
In Julia Cameron’s classic The Artist’s Way, she talks about the Artist Date. Artists need this, she says, to reconnect with ourselves, nurture ourselves, to have fun. Take yourself to a movie, visit a museum, eat something delicious, or just walk. Julia was right, and Paris is a great place to do that, because simply going through the city is a joy. The architecture is lovely, the Seine makes you inhale and look to the horizon, and shops and cafés invite you inside.
Besides, if Emma Watson can enjoy her life self-partnered, resisting society’s outdated call to mate and procreate, why can’t more of us do that? Nobody’s saying love stinks, we’re just saying it’s alright to go out to lunch by yourself. Or visit a gallery. Or sit on a bench by the Seine.
After my C’est moi! experience, I began to enjoy going to cafés alone. I’d pick a table outdoors under the awning, facing the street, sometimes reading or writing, sometimes not. People-watching in Paris is now one of my favorite pastimes, with the sleek businessmen in dark suits and white shirts, or the shoppers with baguettes under their arms who munch the crispy end of the loaf, or the parade of dogs. My favorites, though, are the old ladies in heels and lipstick, tapping a cane every other step.
When you’re alone, you have space to think, “What was this woman’s life like, that she wears heels instead of casual slip-on loafers? She’s old – did she see World War II? Was she in the resistance? Maybe she’s not that old, maybe she a student during the 1968 revolution, building barricades and waving signs? Has she had lovers that she slapped and then kissed, like in those black-and-white French movies?” When you’re people-watching in Paris, you can let your thoughts wander. Just your thoughts, no one else’s.
Paris is a very romantic place. And that romance is not limited to couples – it’s available for everyone.
Here are a few of my favorite places in Paris, to go with a friend or by yourself:
Paris is full of bookshops and stalls, but I love Abbey Bookshop’s atmosphere of being engulfed by books. There’s coffee for you, and probably some friendly English-speakers if you’re up for conversation.
I love sitting on the terrace of a cafe, watching the neighborhood happen. My favorite is Le Gévaudan, on rue de Levis in the seventeenth. It’s a local hangout and every morning there’s an older woman who holds court. She drinks her coffee and passersby stop to talk to her while her dog talks to their dogs. She knows everybody, and so does her dog.
The Petit Palais is a great place to visit. The permanent collection is free, so you can spend as much or as little time as you want and be on your way. There’s nothing like a glimpse of a Monet or Courbet to brighten your eyes.
The Grande Epicerie de Paris, in the Bon Marché department store, is a thing of beauty. There are foods from all over the world, including ranch dressing and sweet pickle relish for you homesick Southerners out there, as well as fresh produce, butchers and fromagers and bakers and fishmongers. Also, they give out lots of free samples, and who doesn’t want that?
When I have an apartment project in mind, like painting or bedding or lamps or a better mopping system, I go to BHV. This Marais department store has just about everything you need for anything in your apartment, from their basement hardware store to their upstairs furniture and home decor section. However, it’s expensive. So, when I want to dream big, I go to BHV and plan out my project, then I go shopping at Monoprix or Castorama or Hema. BHV shows you what’s possible.
So, if you find yourself alone in the Most Romantic City in the World, for an afternoon, a season or indefinitely, don’t worry.
You’ll always have Paris – and Paris has got you, babe.