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HomeFemailWhat life is ACTUALLY like as a wannabe Parisian: HATTIE CRISELL reveals...

What life is ACTUALLY like as a wannabe Parisian: HATTIE CRISELL reveals how she mastered working from the French capital

The great thing about enduring love is that even after you’ve settled into a stable, predictable relationship, the one you adore can always surprise you with a new side of themselves. 

This is how it is with my grand amour Paris, which is – after decades of topping up my wine, force-feeding me Camembert and blowing cigarette smoke in my face – about to reveal its sporty side.

I grew up in Newcastle – our Riviera being Whitley Bay – and by my teenage years, I was an angsty romantic, desperate to be sophisticated. It’s not surprising, then, that I fell hard for France. On my first trip to Paris at the age of 18, I discovered the secondhand book stalls that line the Seine.

I was suddenly so smitten with the thought of myself as an intellectual that I bought Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe in French. I’ve still got it, and I still haven’t read a page.

Twenty-two years later, I’m at peace with not being a profound thinker – but I’m still obsessed with Pazza, as my British mates there call it. 

Make mine Monmartre: Were better to enjoy the capital's famous café society? Make mine Monmartre: Were better to enjoy the capital's famous café society?

 Make mine Monmartre: Were better to enjoy the capital’s famous café society?

I live in London, but I can work from anywhere, so in recent years I’ve spent stints of a month or two at a time in the French capital, and gradually made friends. 

I’ve mastered public transport with my very own Navigo pass; I’ve shaken off tourist status by venturing to the city’s least glamorous corners and I’ve even dated a couple of locals. 

It’s embarrassing, my keenness to be accepted by Paris – especially since people there regard us with amusement at best. This aloof self-confidence, however, is part of what I love about Parisians.

Just as I’ve become comfortable in the city, though, I’m about to see a different side of it. In a year’s time, Paris will host the 2024 Olympics. 

France has a long history with the games, having held them five times between 1900 and 1992 – yet still, I can’t quite get my head around the match.

To me, the chicness of Paris comes from its refusal to make much visible effort: it considers itself beyond competition. You’re eating a sandwich at your desk, rather than taking a proper

lunch break? Well, your French friend is at a café, picking over an omelette and watching the world go by. The Parisian image of la belle vie is about pleasure and style – not goal-setting and personal bests. 

Unlike the UK, France is still a place where you get odd looks if you wear gym clothes outside a gym.

Of course, the French do love sport and take it extremely seriously. Watching the Tour de France set off from place de la Concorde last year, I was struck that everybody around me was shouting in a rather aggressive, motivational tone. 

‘Allez, allez, allez!’ they yelled – ‘Go, go, go!’ – as though they were team coaches rather than happy fans.

THE PARISIAN IMAGE OF LA BELLE VIE IS ABOUT PLEASURE AND STYLE 

Enthusiasm is often considered a cringe in Paris, the domain of Americans and Brits. A friend’s French husband, for example,

is a wonderful cook, but when I once declared his food to be ‘Délicieux!’, he looked appalled. ‘Non,’ he corrected me. ‘“Bon” is sufficient. 

Delicious is only for something exceptional.’ Will a bronze medal be considered exceptional enough for a whoop? Or will congratulations be reserved for gold?

As the prep for the Jeux Olympiques heats up, my friends tell me the French are training in their favourite sport: complaining. ‘Everyone is talking about the tickets being extremely expensive,’ says Rosie, 39, who hails from Yorkshire but moved

to Paris 16 years ago. Early excitement about the games cooled considerably, adds a French pal, Rodolphe, 44, when ticket prices were revealed. 

In fact, this has convinced many to skip town altogether during the event: ‘Parisians aren’t attaching much importance to the Olympics, other than to put their apartments on Airbnb,’ he says.

Even the French athletes are grumbling. Jimmy Gressier, a middle- and long-distance runner, is among those who objected to the expense, as competing athletes are offered only two complimentary tickets per event. 

Prices start at €24, but those sold out fast; tickets for the athletics finals go up to €980. ‘How can we put such high prices for our sport?’ said Gressier on Instagram. 

In the committee’s defence, however, each ticket sale includes an optional €2 donation, which goes toward organising access for people in low-income households; this will be the biggest scheme of its kind to date.

I suspect that for all the bluster now, the mood will change when the day arrives. The French will eventually fall in love with the Olympic fuss, in the same way that Londoners did in 2012 – after we’d spent months worrying about tube delays and bad weather. 

Preparations are said to be progressing well, and there will be a huge amount for Parisians to be proud of – not least the fact that this aims to be the first ever carbon-neutral games, with no single-use plastic on site.

The triathlons will start and finish at the Pont Alexandre III, the ornate bridge that links the Champs Elysées and the Eiffel Tower; athletes there will be watched over by bronze cherubs and winged horses The triathlons will start and finish at the Pont Alexandre III, the ornate bridge that links the Champs Elysées and the Eiffel Tower; athletes there will be watched over by bronze cherubs and winged horses

The triathlons will start and finish at the Pont Alexandre III, the ornate bridge that links the Champs Elysées and the Eiffel Tower; athletes there will be watched over by bronze cherubs and winged horses

As you’d expect, there are lofty plans for the catering too. The committee has promised that no food served will have been imported by air, with 80 per cent of the produce coming from France. 

All the beer, wine and cider will be French, bien sûr. One hopes that it will be served with a contemptuous shrug, for the ultimate authenticity.

The 2024 Olympics will also be a stunning spectacle, as befits a uniquely beautiful city. The gorgeous glass domes of the Grand Palais, for example, will house fencing and taekwondo, and the equestrian events will be held in the gardens of Versailles.

The triathlons will start and finish at the Pont Alexandre III, the ornate bridge that links the Champs Elysées and the Eiffel Tower; athletes there will be watched over by bronze cherubs and winged horses.

The city has been working on cleaning up the Seine for the water events. Of course, the idea is that citizens will then be able to use the river for swimming too (see page 40) – and what could be more French, with more joie de vivre, than being able to splash around on a summer’s day (topless sunbathing optional)?

I can’t write about the French, of course, without touching on their obsession with sex – and they’re always ready to provide something to talk about. 

Last November, the Paris 2024 committee unveiled the two mascots that will symbolise the Olympics and Paralympics – a pair of red Phrygian caps, meant to represent freedom and the French Republic.

Instead, say sniggering commentators, the cartoons look like clitorises. The fact that this is the first thing that would spring to mind reflects another point of national pride for the French: they really know their anatomy.

I haven’t been organised or rich enough to buy tickets for any of the events. Still, I’m thinking I might head over to soak up the atmosphere. 

A pricey Airbnb will be worth it for the opportunity to sit outside a café, enjoy a leisurely glass of wine and watch my beloved Parisians’ heads explode, as they try to find more to complain about.

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