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PARIS, MEET MADDIE

All of my life, ever since I can remember, I have been obsessed with art, design, clothing, music, and culture. Growing up in America (especially moving around a lot) gave me a chance to solidify my identity and interests in the arts, but simultaneously reinforced the cultural outlook that Americans have about these subjects. Time and time again I would feel different or as if I didn’t fit in because of the sheer fact that I had interests, let alone artistic interests. Coming to college, I felt as though I could finally be myself and express my feelings through these mediums without internal or external judgment; I gained confidence in these interests and their validity. But, oftentimes, still, I feel that my outlook on life (specifically this creative one that doesn’t focus on rigidity and conformity) is of a niche interest in American culture. You are almost made to feel bad for wanting to enjoy the beauty of life around you.


When I happened upon a study abroad opportunity in Paris, I immediately applied. Parisian culture has always been described to me as otherworldly, my mom joking that she doesn’t want to take me because she doesn’t think I’ll leave. I didn’t understand that this wasn’t an exaggeration, that life can be so vastly different in two different parts of the world.


The first thing I noticed when I arrived was how people treated each other. American culture is riddled with judgment and individualization – everyone must exert an opinion about every other person, as if other people’s behavior affects them deeply and informs their own. The definition of liberty in France is something I always return to to explain this difference in behavior. Everyone around you is enjoying themselves, and feel free to do so as long as their enjoyment doesn’t infringe on anyone else's. People are out on Monday nights after work with their family and friends having a glass of wine and a good meal, laughing and enjoying the world around them. They walk around singing and conversing, or if they are alone, sitting contently doing so. The emphasis that America has on productivity can become draining, especially if you are not shown a converse example. It feels that the United States’ credo is based solely on working to achieve happiness, instead of looking around and enjoying the happiness you can have right now. In France, there is such long standing culture and history that informs people’s identities, as opposed to America, where our only real culture is rooted in capitalism. The falsely promised American dream strips people of their ability to realize the gift of life they have, and instead makes them believe that only monetary success can allow them to experience real comfort and bliss. I once had this idea too, but Paris has shown me that this is so far from the truth. The good things about life – love, family, friends, laughter, food, wine, culture, art – it can all come at a very low price. Paris has shown me how a reprioritization of values and goals can vastly alter your outlook and happiness.


I think what has struck me the most is the preservation of culture and the yearning for emotional movement in life. The Alaïa exhibit reinforced this for me. In America, the concept of devoting your life to beauty or aesthetics through clothing is seen as perhaps a less valid pursuit; it can be interpreted as lazy, vapid, unstable, or even be cause for condescension. In France, especially Paris, the ability to interpret the world around you and make a tangible, original output based on that is seen as one of the most noble and commendable pursuits. People here not only recognize beauty, they prioritize it. This outlook is what I’ve been missing in my life, and will forever change how I see myself and the world around me.


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