When Can You Call Yourself a Parisian?

Paris-wall-close-up copy

At what point can you claim to be a Parisian? Do you have to be a French citizen? Live there fulltime? Pay taxes? When is it acceptable to call the city yours?

I’ve been mulling this over lately, especially since receiving a bit of hate mail as a result of publicity I garnered in the French press for a project I’m doing with Lisa Taylor Huff, called No Love Locks. The article in 20 Minutes, a free morning paper distributed in the Métro and online, featured our efforts to abolish the “love locks” destroying the historic bridges in Paris, describing us as “two New Yorkers…lovers of Paris since they’ve lived here.” This did not sit well with some people.

Fly back to New York if you don’t like what you see.

Are you French? No! Who cares what you think!

Who are you to complain about this? Do we come to your city a start a movement to ban hotdog carts?

Okay, I’m not sure how hotdog carts equate with historic bridges but I was called a “Bobo” and dismissed as not having a right to have a say. I’m not even sure these commenters read the article; they just dashed off their anger at the “outsiders” who were contesting something in “their” town. No matter that we’re trying to help preserve the heritage and quality of life of Paris. That was beside the point.

Two New Yorkers, lovers of Paris since they’ve lived here.

Even the journalist who penned the 20 Minutes article didn’t call us “Parisians.” Even though he knew we lived in Paris, paid taxes in Paris—and that one of us is a new French citizen, married to a Parisian. Still we were New Yorkers.

What does a person have to do to be accepted in this burg? Most other cities let you call it home as soon as you want to. Cities are full of people from somewhere else, do they not count? Residency should give you the right to say you’re from that city, no? But it seems some people won’t let you presume.

Who are you?

Me, I’m a part-timer. I get it, fine. But my collaborator, Lisa, has lived in Paris for over seven years. She became a citizen and voted for the first time in the recent mayoral elections. As far as I’m concerned that qualifies. Dammit.

But I was much more upset than Lisa was. Maybe because I don’t live in Paris fulltime, like she does. Maybe secretly I do feel like a fake Parisian.


Do I think I need permission to live in Paris? And if I didn’t feel that way before, do I now?

Everyone wants to feel accepted, especially in a place you love to be. But this was about more than citizenship; this touched a deeper nerve. The hate mail cut me because Paris and my little apartment have brought me so much joy, changed my life. And these people had just pissed all over it.

Who are you to be happy?

That’s what I really heard. I was being told that I was a pretender to paradise, and they were kicking me out.

“You’re our lovely Parisian girl!” my friend Fabien comforted when I complained on Facebook. “Stand firm,” another friend said. They are right, of course. There are many, many Parisians who support our No Love Locks project, and many who call me “neighbor” and “Parisian.” I should stand firm—on my tiny street in my Right Bank neighborhood with my rightful house key in hand. My street. My house. My paradise.

My town.

When can you call yourself a Parisian? When you have your favorite cafe on the corner, and friends to meet you for an apéro. When you sign up for email specials from Conforama, and know your caviste by name. When you love Paris and feel at home in it. You can call yourself a Parisian when you allow yourself to call yourself a Parisian.

Je suis une parisienne. And to my few detractors I say, respectfully, suck it.

26 responses to “When Can You Call Yourself a Parisian?

  1. Bravo, baby. Plant that flag of ownership and belonging, and claim this city for Lisa-land! 🙂 We both have earned the right, each in our ways. I really felt the most French so far when I voted — you were there to witness that moment. The feeling caught me completely by surprise, I will say, though I do feel Parisian in many other ways already. Sure, we’ll always be Americans, but who says we can’t be both? We had another nasty comment on our NLL site today and I thought about replying, and then, like you, I thought “Suck it” (and not very respectfully, either.) And hit the delete key. Au revoir to all “les cons”. We have so many people standing firm with us, including the more than 80% of our petition signers who are IN FRANCE, our neighbors. They’re the ones who count.

    • BTW we have 1,605 signatures in total at the moment. So that’s about 1,285 FRENCH people who support what we’re up to. And only a handful who can’t see past “Americans” to who we are and what we’re trying to do. To those who have embraced our efforts, je dis simplement: “Merci, nos amis et nos voisins/voisines. Merci.”

  2. BRAVO ladies….ignore the haters..they will always be out there..you are on the side of right..it’s plainly obvious that it can’t go on the way it has been…one day a railing will fall and hit someone on a tourist boat and THEN they will say…mon dieu…what’s with all these locks…??

    the citizens of Paris I’m sure are sick to death of them and consider them tourist garbage…so solider on….!!!

    • Thank you, Debbie! Many Parisians are indeed fed up with them. And they are spreading to every bridge — and even the Eiffel Tower! A huge problem across Europe. My hope is that the EU will ban them once and for all.

  3. I discovered your blog from the No Love Locks campaign. I am so glad you and Lisa have taken up the cause! Not only are the locks an eyesore but they are potentially dangerous. I’ve been living near the Pont d’Archeveche for over 7 years and it’s gotten completely out of hand. So thank you bringing attention to this and I totally agree that those who say you aren’t Parisienne can suck it. I’m an American but consider myself Parisienne for many reasons. There are plenty of other fellow Parisians that absolutely hate what the Love Locks have done to the once beautiful bridges in the city and we appreciate your efforts. 🙂

  4. What’s that the kids are saying these days? “Haters gonna hate”? People who were born / raised in a place always feel more connected than people who come to their town from elsewhere. There are degrees of being “from” a place and being able to say you are “of” a place.

    If you get upset, I will lend you my motto: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” And if things get really bad, just throw some French insults at them. That’ll teach ’em.

  5. Hey Lisa, I’m not sure you would like to be called a Parisian. It’s not usually a good thing to be called a Parisian 🙂
    I am myself French, born in Paris but I grew up in Toulouse. I also lived in Paris 5 years for work and even own an apartment in Paris. Yet, I do not consider myself a Parisian. I am Toulousain! And I will always be.
    A “Parisian” is someone who grew up in Paris, it is also someone who generally think that Parisians are superior to the rest of us French citizens. Lol! And at every occasion they would show-off their “75” license plate attached to their shiny cars around at coastal or ski resorts and pretend that the world is theirs. Do you really want to be like them? I don’t.
    PS: OK, this is a bit cliché but if you hear someone joking “quel Parisien lui!” this is what they mean.

    • Merci, Alex ! Très gentil. I love your comment. So funny. I know what you mean, too. People say that about New Yorkers, also! Toulouse is wonderful! How lucky you are. Funnily, many of my dearest “Parisian” friends are from other places—Normande, Bourgogne, Bretagne.

      • I have never left a comment on any blog but came across yours through the love locks article. I am a native new yorker – born and raised in manhattan and although I don’t feel the same attachment to new york that i did growing up, it annoys me to hear a non-native new yorker refer to themselves as a new yorker. it’s not to say that you shouldn’t be accepted into a new city or town, but you can’t claim that moniker if you didn’t grow up there. it may sound harsh but this is how i believe a fair amount of NY’ers and parisiens feels. i am moving to paris at the end of the year with my husband and although i foresee starting and raising a family there, i would never presume to call myself parisienne. even if i live to 90 and am still there, i will forever be a new yorker, no matter how dreadful i now find that city.

      • There is so much wrong with what you’re saying, it’s hard to begin. Are you also saying that someone who wasn’t born in the U.S. is not American? Is only BIRTH the true claim? Because this is the same narrow-minded hatefulness that is at the root of so many problems in this country. I would have expected more enlightened thinking from a New Yorker, especially someone privileged enough to have grown up in Manhattan and have the fine education that allows. New York is the ULTIMATE melting pot and is great because of those who emigrated here, and what you are implying is really offensive and elitist. I wasn’t born in NYC yet I’ve lived here since 1983—and love it with all my heart. Are you saying I’m not a New Yorker—after over 30 years; after all I’ve contributed? There are native born New Yorkers and there are New Yorkers, just as there are native born citizens and naturalized citizens. We are, each of us, the sum total of everywhere we have chosen to call home, and no one should have the right to say we can’t claim that. I hope wherever you live you will always feel welcomed into the community and feel at home without apology. God bless, my fellow New Yorker and future Parisian.

      • First of all, I think you misread my tone. I am no way implying that I am anti-immigration. I had the privilege of living abroad for 5 years and felt welcomed in the city I lived in, but I still would never have referred to myself as an Xer. Secondly, I am about 8 different races, so certainly I don’t feel that people should just remain where they’re from. What I’m simply saying is that the moniker New Yorker, in my mind (and that of many other new yorkers- as this is a convo i’ve had before) is reserved for those born and raised here, the same way that I feel it is reserved for native Parisians.

        People should be able to settle wherever they want but retain their identities. Yes, someone who gains citizenship here, is certainly American, but they’re also still whatever nationality they were born with. It’s part of the fabric of themselves first and foremost and that’s wonderful.

        Now I have to completely disagree with you about New York being a melting pot. Maybe this is my view as a minority or the fact that having lived abroad gave me a different perspective on how other cities truly embrace different races and cultures in a more genuine way, but I have witnessed some of the most disgusting hatred and elitism in New York. There may be every race and culture under the sun in New York, but there’s no melting going on, there are extreme cases of wealth and extreme cases of poverty right next door to each other. It’s saddening and believe me I am in no way an elitist. I am not rich, although I have had the privilege of a great education and I would not begrudge anyone the right or ability to live in the place of their choosing to strive for a better/different life.

        However, to answer your question, no you are not a new yorker. You live in new york and it seems like you love it, which is great. I will never be a Parisian. Spending my life in Paris does not cancel out my past. I am first and foremost a New Yorker and always will be. Maybe we apply this terms in different ways but this is how I see it. I’m pretty sure this only applies to the most “desirable” cities. For example, I would hazard to guess that people moving to Boise, Idaho from New York will never call themselves Boise-ians (or whatever the term is).

      • Thank you for your reply. I have edited my comment to remove the snarkiness you found offensive. Point taken, thank you. But while my tone was perhaps offensive, your message was much more so, and clearly tweaked a nerve. I’m not sure if you realize it, but you are talking out of both sides of your mouth on the issue of “citizenship.” On one hand you are okay with someone being a citizen of a country where they were not born—and yes, as I said, we are a sum total of everywhere we have lived—but on the other hand, you are saying that one cannot “naturalize” into a city. Why not?

        I know you feel you’re putting forth an intelligent and articulate argument (because you are clearly intelligent and articulate), but your message still smacks of intolerance. That you don’t see it is what’s so disturbing to me because it tells me that even intelligent and articulate people can have this hardline point of view about native born vs. immigrant. And yes, I’m drawing the link to naturalized citizens because it’s all part and parcel of the same thinking: that only the native born has the true rights to a place. Do you see why I say you are contradicting yourself? Maybe you’re just stuck on semantics, and being very literal in your definition that you’re a New Yorker because you were born there, and by that way of thinking, I’m a Buffalonian (even though I only lived there 2 years). I get that, I do. You feel you should be able to claim your city of birth as your identity. But why is it not enough to say, “I was born in New York;” why must you be exclusionary? In civic-ese, everyone living within the jurisdiction of the City of New York is called a New Yorker, just like everyone living in Chicago is called a Chicagoan. It’s really that simple. There are no rules as to who qualifies, except that you live there. You say you’re not elitist, but can you see how your way of thinking feels that way? If I can’t claim to be of the city where I’ve spent most of my life, the city that shaped who I am, then I am a refugee, an orphan with no identity—me, and millions of others like me. That’s what your way of thinking does. It marginalizes us.

        I’m challenging what I perceive as your narrow definition of “citizenship” because it discounts millions of others who contribute so much, and who are incredible citizens of their city, whether born there or not. This is why we have the terms “native New Yorker” and “New Yorker,” for example. If countries can allow people to naturalize, surely cities can.

        Thank you for a lively debate, Liv.

      • Hi Lisa,

        Thank you for amending that comment, I appreciate it.

        I entirely understand what you’re saying and I understand that not knowing me you might perceive me as some hard lined person who doesn’t want to let anyone into the city. In reality it’s not the case. I never meant to take it to the place of immigration, but I completely agree that it becomes a slippery slope with what you’re saying in terms of immigrants having the right to feel as though they are one with their adopted city. I’ve heard people tell immigrants go back to where they came from and it stings (my mom has had it said to her and she was born and raised in nyc!) and I in no way want to be grouped with this kind of intolerant and petty thinking.

        That being said my comment was aimed more at those who say they are from new york and they really mean they live in new york. at this point i guess it is a case semantics. but you and anyone else who finds joy in the city and calls it home should be afforded the right to call themselves a New Yorker if that’s what makes you happy.
        it has been a lively debate and i don’t want to waste any of your time stressing this as there are so many other great things we could discuss. i’ve perused through your blog, which i was happy to find by chance through the love locks article and i find it to be a great premise and i always admire anyone willing to take that risk and get on that plane and explore their passion – whether it’s in another city or country.

        p.s. this all began with reading your love locks article in french to brush up on my french skills and my husband (born and raised in paris) said he completely agrees that the locks are a nuisance and detract from the beauty of the bridges/city. so you have another french supporter!

      • Thanks, Liv! And thanks for your support of No Love Locks! We are making great strides and have had a meeting with the mayor’s office that was very hopeful. As you can see, like you, I’m a passionate gal! Thank you, also, for taking the time to engage on my blog and I hope you’ll continue to enjoy it.

  6. This was good to read. Though I know our situations aren’t exactly the same, I am a young Mexican-American from the “Wild West” of Texas, and recently moved to a stunningly beautiful part of Virginia that I absolute love dearly. I want to “grown into” this place, invest myself in it, learn its history, and yes, perhaps throw down roots here. It gets tough, sometimes though, because I’m a Mexican-American who looks VERY Mexican indeed, and sometimes I feel like there’s a bit of ire from locals for wanting to settle here. I guess because I’m not a white American raised (as far as they know) in a “real” American city, they think I don’t belong.
    Or maybe it’s just me being self-conscious?
    But you know what? I’m a responsible citizen. I love Virginia. I pay taxes. I love the land. I love the history. I love living here. And I deserve to call myself a Virginian!
    Anyway, sorry for the odd rant. Your post inspired me.

    • I’m glad I inspired you. Virginia is a wonderful state where we would vacation every summer as kids. It’s dear to my heart. But I recall that sometimes southerners could seem cautious with “outsiders,” especially as we were from the north. 😉 Still, many of my dear friends hail from Virginia and are warm and wonderful people. Give it time and you will find your niche, as I have found mine!

  7. I love it when Americans go to other countries and impose their will on it’s inhabitants. No wonder we have such a bad reputation and people all over the world hate us. If you don’t like the locks on the bridge and you think it is such an eyesore, then why don’t you move out of Paris !? It is not your decision to make. It is up to the PEOPLE OF FRANCE!

    • Ben
      Darlin’ you gotta read before you blurt. We’re not just a couple of Americans who swooped in looking for something to do. We live in Paris, pay taxes in Paris, and the co-founder is a Franco-American citizen married to a Frenchman, living in France—i.e. “the people of France” as you called it. And if you followed the news about this topic, you’d know that the majority of Parisians don’t want the locks in their city because it is destroying their historic bridges, and largely perpetrated by tourists, which is really quite unbearable. We are not imposing our will on anyone; we are getting involved at the behest of our Parisian friends, family and neighbors, who are grateful. Don’t be such a hater, dude. Jeezuz.

      • You weren’t born in France, thus, you are not French. It doesn’t matter if you married a French person or pay taxes in France. Just ask all the North Africans living there. With all due respect, I find it hard to believe that all French share your sentiment about the locks on this bridge.

        I get the sense there is some underlying bias towards the bridge/locks. Let me guess… Yourself and an ex lover have a lock on that bridge? Got burned?

        Maybe the bridge in question should be closed to human traffic altogether ? Kick tourists out of Paris? But wait…. You still want to walk on it .

        I can understand how some can consider it an eyesore, type of graffiti. Fair enough. But as someone who holds an undergrad in Physics and PhD in Mechanical Engineering, can you please educate me on how these locks are destroying the bridge? By the way, I worked in Pays de Loire for two years and spent numerous weekends in Paris. This issue of the locks comes across as somewhat petty, in my opinion. Bigger more important issues facing inhabitants of Paris.

        Me a hater? Not in the least bit. I actually find your blog very charming and insightful.

      • The locks issue is definitely polarizing for sure. I chuckled at your comment about being a woman scorned. We get that a lot from men, actually. Personally, I believe a lock as a symbol of love is really quite unenlightened, but appreciate others find it meaningful. This is purely about preserving the historic structures and quality of life for those who live in the city. The Pont des Arts is incurring damage that needs constant repair. How profound the damage is from a structural standpoint is for experts to determine, but Paris city officials are concerned about the 93 metric tons currently sitting on the bridge. If there is another place to put the locks, something uniquely designed for the purpose where people can have the moment the seek, I think that’s totally fine. But do know many Parisians absolutely share our view, and we get hundreds of messages daily from locals thanking us for what we are doing.

        Well, I think we’ve kicked this one around enough for now. Thank you for an engaging debate—and thanks, too, for the compliment on my blog. Stay tuned for some posts about my curiosity for French snack food. Hopefully a much less controversial topic.

  8. I agree that the locks are an absolute eyesore, graffiti, perpetuated by tourists. Myself guilty of that. In my early twenties I put a lock on the bridge with an old girlfriend.. In hindsight should have tossed her in the river instead of the key (joking of course)! Thank god my girlfriend from Nantes was disgusted that I even brought up putting one on their 2 years ago. I realized from her that it was disrespectful to the culture and these marvelous structures. Live you learn.
    I think that is cool if you are getting involved with the backing of the local community. But question, why was this not spearheaded by the French long ago? This was a problem years ago when I first was in Paris. Why did it take a couple of Americans? The French seem perfectly capable. Just curious, that’s all.
    As far as the locks themselves, your are right, that is for the experts to decide. Namely,the civil engineers in Paris responsible for the maintenance of those structures. If I may chime in though… As an engineer I my specialty lies in the mechanical characterization of common engineering metals. Metals used as structural components and transportation design. I find the number you quoted of the total mass of the locks (93 metric tons) extremely hard to believe! That is a really big number! Lets put that into perspective here, an M1 Abrams tank has a combined mass of roughly ~ 62 metric tons. So you are saying there is about 1 1/2 M1 Abram tanks just sitting on that bridge? Tanks such as the M1 Abram are made out of special “Armoured Steel,” Steel billets that have been rolled. All this cheap locks are brass at best or some other cheap metal. Much less denser than steel. I think if you put 1 M1 Abram tank on the The Pont des Arts bridge it would become highly unstable, from a structural standpoint. I really believe that if that were true, local civil engineers would have removed the locks long ago. Bridges as such, are very dynamic and complex structures, by no means rigid (or they would collapse under their own weight). Remember, this bridge has to contend with its own weight and the slightly corrosive environment it is subjected too. Not to mention thermal cycling (transitions through the seasons, thermal expansion of the steel it is made of) and creep phenomena (weight of bridge itself deforming steel over time)…. So no matter how good of a job we as engineers do, these bridges will deteriorate over time and need upkeep. Millions of people walking on them over the years. The concrete supports deteriorating as well. In my opinion, the damage and repair of the bridge cannot solely be attributed to these locks. A factor, maybe, but doubtful. Mother nature is the main culprit. Sorry, that was a rant.
    What do you think is a good remedy? If you replace the safety railings with more chain link fence, the locks will return. But maybe some thin material like plexi glass or metal would be good? No place for people to attach locks. But then what about graffiti? Would that be a problem? Not sure, that area seems clean to me, relatively speaking that is. Seems as it is maybe not as straight forward a problem to solve as some people think it is. Will the gypsies complain? Their cheap lock economy might be utterly ruined !

    Paris is a fun city, I m visiting France in a month. Maybe I can get some cool ideas on food and shopping in Paris from your blog. Very fascinating city when you have the time to explore it, as it seems you have been fortunate to do over the years. If only my French was good……..

    • Hey Ben, is it alright if I email you from our official No Love Locks email? I’d like to pick your engineer’s brain. You raise some excellent points.

  9. De toute façon, il y a des cons partout et toujours des gens pour critiquer. Comme ma mère m’a toujours dit ” l’ignorance est le plus grand des mépris! “

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