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The Daily Tar Heel

I wish I could give a logical explanation as to why I found myself in the suburbs of Paris at 2:30 in the morning on a Saturday, listening to a ska-influenced brass band play a rousing cover of Coolio’s classic 90s rap anthem “Gangsta’s Paradise,” but I can’t.

The other day, I wandered into the French café on the corner to hear Edith Piaf or Erik Satie or something truly French while I gingerly sipped my tiny cup of coffee, but instead they played Alanis Morissette.

Strange things just keep happening here, leaving me in a strange cultural juxtaposition between the familiar and the French.

Often, I wonder what country I really am in.

For a country and a culture that prides itself on being superior to everyone else in art, film and pretty much anything it might deem important, France and its people seem to have a surprisingly open love affair with the United States.

You can see it and hear it almost everywhere.

It’s on the local jazz radio station, whose definition of “la musique de jazz” is broad enough to include Marilyn Monroe, Michael Bublé and the soundtrack, in English, of Disney’s latest animated musical, “The Princess and the Frog.”

It’s on the Métro, where gigantic posters promote the release of the latest films, most of which are American movies doubled over in French, with Frenchified titles.

It’s in the shopping centers, where shops promote “la vie de hip-hop” and “le style Converse,” and where Levi’s jeans are the highest selling — and often the most expensive — clothing items.

English is everywhere, coming out of the mouths of French and Americans alike, and it’s becoming less and less of a problem to speak English in public places.

I didn’t chose to come to Paris to speak English, see American movies and buy American clothes. I came here to live in a different culture, speak a different language and explore the outer boundaries of my personal comfort zone.

So I do my best. I go out with my ragtag group of French friends, who always seem to have interesting and weird things planned.

I speak French as much as I can — with my American friends, my French roommates, our cat — and I try and read the daily French newspapers as much as possible.

And when things get truly too Westernized for me, I go for a run to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, just a quick jog from my apartment.

At first glance, the park seems like any other middling sized urban green space — paths, trails, cafés, a lake in the center. People walk, run, ride their bikes. Elegant apartment blocks surround the perimeter.

It might seem too familiar to be an escape. But in the center of the park, in the middle of the lake, there’s a craggy rock outcropping, towering high above everything else.

And at the very tip top of the rock island, there’s a tiny Grecian temple, perched delicately on a rocky ledge.

So even though I can’t always place myself in a cultural sense, I know where to go to escape.

I climb to the top, mount the steps of the temple and look out across the city. I feel far away from anything familiar, and I feel French, if only just a little.

I’m looking for that feeling here on the ground, too. It might take a while.

But I’m hopeful.


Nick Andersen, a sophomore journalism and history major from Milford, Mi., is spending the semester in France. E-mail him at

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