I loved living in Paris. For the six years I was there, I loved my Haussmann apartment, walks along the Seine, the cuisine, the joie de vivre, sipping a Negroni at Le Dome and watching the world go by. Last year, I had to move back to the US, and I was really hoping Hemingway was right.
“Paris is a moveable feast” – Ernest Hemingway
Why move to Tulsa? I’d lived all over the country and my three kids had scattered to the four winds during the pandemic. With no loyalty to any particular place I’d lived, I didn’t know where to settle after Paris. Then I visited one of my kids in Tulsa and thought, This’ll do. Housing is affordable, travel is easy, and Tulsa’s got a vibrant, quirky, artsy vibe that works for me.
Is it perfect? No. The summers are wretched, the city’s history is fraught with racism, and even the nicest neighborhoods have a walkability score of 3. Still, the pros outweighed the cons.
I googled ways to Frenchify my life in the US and found lots of articles about linens and crown molding and skin care and accordion-heavy Spotify playlists, but that’s not what I was after. You can have all that stuff and miss the essence of France, the je ne sais quoi that is French life.
In search of French vibes
I thought about what I’d learned during my time in France, and this is what I came up with.
First, complaining. Complaining is the French national sport, the religion, the MO. They have a great lifestyle and maintain it by kvetching about everything that threatens the status quo. That’s what all those strikes are about—they’re the chance to complain en masse. That’s also why foreigners think the French are rude—foreigners mess up the chi with their loud voices, dumb clothes, and pedestrian bumblings, and the French shame them with an eye roll and a tongue click.
The problem for me is that sometimes complaining is just spouting negativity, and I’m a positive thinker. Rodgers and Hammerstein may have written “A Cockeyed Optimist” just for me. (And Nellie sang it to a Frenchman, since, you know, they don’t get optimism.) So, if I’m going to enjoy the good things I picked up in France, I’ve got to curate my life by (positively) complaining about whatever messes it up. And then fix it.
Next, I’m going to take time like the French do. They linger. They stroll. They sip. They savor. A good lunch takes three hours. Just do things at a more leisurely pace. The French word is flâner, a fancy way to dawdle. In Paris, I’d stop on a bridge and watch boats go by. In Tulsa, I’ll sit on my patio with a drink and watch the sunset. Glorious!
Avoid les petits
Next, shun children. Before you get all upset with me, hear me out. I have three children and I’ve taught piano for a million years, so I know what kids are capable of, both good and bad. They can be charming and funny and brilliant, or they can ruin your evening out by throwing food and screaming at the next table.
I don’t know where the French are keeping their kids, but they aren’t out in public. Most restaurants don’t have high chairs or booster seats, and they sure as hell don’t have crayons. You see kids sometimes, in orderly rows on school field trips, or balanced in a cafe chair sipping an adult-sized hot chocolate while the parent smokes and ignores the kid. There is no public whining, no running around unhinged, no pint-sized chaos.
Maybe it’s because French parenting methods are harsh and the schools are authoritarian. I really don’t care why, because the result is a calm public space. In Tulsa, I’ll have tapas at Basque instead of eternal breadsticks at Olive Garden, or set up for a writing session at Notion Espresso instead of going to Starbucks. I’ll stroll on the Riverwalk rather than navigating strollers at The Gathering Place.
(Note: if somebody brings me a cute grandbaby, I’ll course-correct and get the kid Happy Meals and an aquarium membership. Until then, you’ll find me perched on a barstool at Kilkenney’s eating oysters and sipping something botanical.)
Finally, I learned to be delusionally confident. The French are very judgy in their societal expectations regarding manners, dress, comportment, style, posture. They look for something they call allure, which is the way you present yourself to the world. If you don’t have allure, you get scornful glances and maybe a pffff. Clerks assume you’re a tourist and only speak English. Women do this pursed-lips head-to-toe scan thing, where they evaluate your outfit. It’s quite intimidating.
When I moved to France, I had identified solely as a “Passable Suburban Mom” for the past 25 years. My three style words were muted, wrinkled, and schlumpy. However, after many hours spent observing humans from a sidewalk cafe, I saw that most people aren’t supermodels, they just rock what they’ve got. Their clothes fit well, they strut the sidewalk like a runway, and they stand up straight. I learned to carry myself with pride, tits up.
Now, I return those head-to-toe scans and we meet eyes with grudging approval.
So you’ll find me here, on the banks of the Arkansas instead of the Seine, enjoying ma vie parisienne in Tulsa. Because Hemingway was right—Paris is a movable feast. No matter where you move it.