Like most people, I have many, many homes. There's the house I grew up in in Nuneaton, where my tiny mum still lives to this day, a place I instantly feel relaxed in the minute I walk through the door. I have felt at home in a miniscule French village named Millau; my nonna's house in San Donaci will always be a part of me; there was a time when I'd pass Runcorn on my way to Liverpool and feel like I'd arrived home... Home is a state of mind more than anything else. But you still have to go back somewhere at the end of the day. You can't live in your head. I mean, you can do whatever you want - we're all adults here - but you do need a roof over said head.
As one such 'adult' (ha) there have been three formative cities that have moulded me into the well rounded, adjusted (ha) individual you see before you today. Those are, in chronological order: Nottingham, Paris and London.
Nottingham was my uni city and the first place I ever lived alone without my aforementioned tiny mum. It was the scene of many a laugh, it introduced me to pretty much all the people I love (excluding the ones I'm forced to love or have known so long that I don't know any different than loving them), and it was generally an incredibly important place in my life. However, since I graduated I have only been back once and it felt so weird and unpleasant, I vowed never to go back again. Traipsing back through those well worn streets almost made me physically shiver. The thing with uni towns is that once you've thrown out all your Miss Selfridge body-cons and have learnt how to iron (I say this but I still to this day don't know where you put the water in an iron and maintain that if you fold properly you can truly live without one), i.e. once you've become a fully functioning real life human being, you feel like a bit of an outsider and it somehow, almost overnight, ceases to be your city. Other people need it more. Younger people with fresher livers. FRESHERS! GET IT?? Sorry.
So, as dear as I hold Notts, the only two real contenders for my fickle heart are Paris and London. Paris stole my soul within twenty minutes, London’s a slower burner. But I love them both with all their imperfections (and, contrary to popular belief, they have plenty.)
Let the sparring commence.
Contest 1: The people
I wouldn’t say that either city is famed for its open arms and hospitality. In that respect they’re actually quite similar: mildly unwelcoming, much too busy and important to stop and say ‘iya and a teeny, tiny bit terrifying when you first arrive.
When I touched down in Charles de Gaulle airport (first time round), twenty cases in hand, I was coming from the South of France, where smiles are gifted generously, croissants are buttery and as big as your head and your neighbours take it upon themselves to invite you to dinner and lend you their ski clothes unprompted. A place that even now I think of as the equivalent of an afternoon spent wrapped in a fuzzy, well-worn comfort blanket with a camomile and re-runs of Downton Abbey. Whereas when I moved to London I was coming from Nuneaton, where I can now count my friends on one finger, I still have to ask my mum for lifts into town and the height of entertainment is going to the Asda. A place that I think of as the equivalent of being stuck in the Departures lounge when your flight’s six hours delayed and you’ve already gone past Duty Free, and now all you’ve got is a pocket-sized W H Smith and a Burger King to keep you entertained.
Also bear in mind the following: I was anxious to live in Paris, absolutely itching to be there. With London, it was a necessity. After almost a year of interning for free I’d finally got a full time, paid (ha, only just) job in publishing, and in my haste to accept it, I’d conveniently ‘forgotten’ that I didn’t actually live in even the same county as my workplace. Cue six months of Virgin trains and delay repay forms and thirteen hour days. Commuting back and forth was never going to be a long term solution.
Both moves were urgent and desperate, with the difference that with one of them I urgently, desperately wanted to move, and with the other I urgently, desperately needed to move.
So let’s compare the citizens of each. Parisians in five words: cool, opinionated, angry, thin, aloof. Londoners in five words: polite, self-aware, sarcastic, busy, aloof.
I don’t know whether it’s a big city thing or just what, but there is a lot of aloofness around. Maybe it’s a survival technique and you need to retain some element of separateness just to get by, but somehow, I think not. The aloofness does eventually develop in you though, no matter what, even if you fight it, even if you think you’ll never be one of those people wearing a navy blue suit with Oasics running shoes and a permanent bad smell under their nose and a distinct air of do-not-speak-to-me-I-am-not-interested-in-making-any-new-friends-I-already-have-three-and-that’s-more-than-enough.
One of P.R.’s (a real born and bredder London friend) favourite stories ever involves me, an angry and busy Londoner and an escalator. It goes a little something like this: I was visiting P.R. one summer, making my way from Euston to Finchley (which is quite far and involves a number of changes to be fair to the version of me that features in this story) on the tube, pretending to know what I was doing and where I was going. I didn’t really know either of those things, and I think it showed in my whole demeanour (think trembling knees, excessive map checking and general uncertainty). Inevitably, there were some escalators involved in my journey. On one such escalator, I made the fatal mistake of pausing. You’re not allowed to pause on escalators. I know that now. Just like you’re not allowed to stand still on the left hand side, just like you’re not allowed to approach the barriers until your Oyster is out of your pocket and poised ready for a speedy exit, just like you’re not allowed to make eye contact with anyone else in your carriage. Unfortunately, 2011 Silv did not know any of those things. Up until that point I’d even hazard a guess that I’d probably fumbled around for anything up to ten seconds trying to find my Oyster in all my pockets, and attempted to smile in the direction of at least two people on the tube. And I paused. I paused right on the last step of the escalator to adjust my shoe (you know, to avoid tripping to an untimely death), and in doing so I caused the woman behind me a three second delay to her journey. People in big cities don’t like having three second delays to their journeys; they don’t like it at all. And this woman in particular, she really didn’t like it. She was mad. A usual Londoner reaction to something on this scale would look a bit like this: an eye roll, a tut, a muttered, tame insult – something like, ‘bloody amateur’ (but very, very quietly so as not to cause any real offense.) Rather than opt for the typical controlled reaction, this woman chose drama and intrigue: she pushed past me, turned to openly stare at me as she overtook me and shouted, at great volume, loudly enough to ensure as much offense as humanly possible, ‘you fucking idiot, watch where you’re fucking going!’ So there could be no doubt of just how much I’d inconvenienced her, she made sure to turn back around and shout, ‘fucksake!’ for good measure.
In a state of shock, I looked all around me to check I was indeed the intended recipient of her wrath. I was.
Londoners are definitely not known for their approachability. But then, neither are Parisians. Case one, asking for directions in Paris on my first ever day as an honorary Parisian… The woman in question not only did not provide me with any help whatsoever, but also, so dismayed was she that I would even dare to ask, she positively growled at me, ‘I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!’
Neither city really deserves the point for this one, but London gets it by a fraction, based on the fact that Brits are just bloody funny and weird, and I’m one myself so I don’t mind their bad bits quite as much.
Paris: 0; London: 1
Contest 2: The weather
This is a short one, because the weather is atrocious in both places, and I’m finally at one with the idea that I’m destined to forever live somewhere where 21 degrees is cause for celebration.
Paris: 0; London: 1
Contest 3: Shopping
This is similarly a short one, because shops is shops, and, with the exceptions of Whistles for the UK team and the Sandro stock store for Team France, Bond Street could be in Paris and Rue de Rivoli could be in London, and you definitely wouldn’t even notice they’d swapped round. I like Zara and & Other Stories and Cos, and you get all of them in both places, and also, you know… internet, so I’m happy wherever.
Paris: 0; London: 1
Contest 4: Food
Oh here we go. Now it gets fun. Spoiler alert: Paris wins this one. I will give you a list of reasons why Paris wins this one (and they are all food shaped):
-Cheap red supermarket wine
-Comme a Lisbonne custard tarts
-L’as du Falafel
-The sushi place next to my old apartment (best when bought to take away and then consumed in bed)
-Savoury crepes from Breizh café
-Coffee from La Cafeotheque
-Galette des Rois (mmmmm)
-Le Chalet Savoyard for the best (nightmare inducing) fondue
-Hot, chocolate drenched gauffres
-Shop bought aubergine riste
-Bistro burgers and chips and omelettes and salads and still-mooing steaks
-Pastrami sandwiches from Shwartz’s deli
-Baguettes jambon beurre (trust me)
-Pink Flamingo pizza
London, I feel sly, but I’m yet to find anywhere in you that makes me want to write a gushing list like the one above. This is also not really all that fair, because when I lived in Paris my ‘kitchen’ consisted of a micro/oven combo that didn’t really do either task efficiently and one electric hob, so it was either eat out three (or four) times a day or die. In London I make most of my own meals, so, arguably, if I don’t enjoy the food here as much, it’s purely because I can’t cook.
Paris: 1; London: 1
Contest 5: Boys
Cristo. The Parisian lothario vs the charming Londoner. I can’t really comment on this with any great confidence, because, although I have dated in both cities, I don’t think I’ve actually been involved with locals from either place. I’m just thinking… (But I’m mostly thinking so that it seems as though I’ve been on enough dates to lose count…) Yeah, no, no locals here. What I can comment on with some degree of confidence is what it’s like to date in both cities.
Paris. Sigh. It’s not known as the most romantic city in the world for nothing. Sharing bottles of supermarket Cotes du Rhone by the Seine, strolling through the Champ de Mars at night, feeding each other snails and frog legs (I’ve actually done that in London too, but that was with someone who’d made a conscious effort to recreate a fake Parisian scene, and who failed spectacularly)… It’s bloody lovely to be in love in that bloody fancy little city! It just is.
London… Yeah, it's alright. Most of my dates here take place in the pub, and, in theory, that’s how I like it. But in practice… I do actually quite like being taken to hidden rooftops that look out over the Marais or rainy palace gardens. London boys, take note, I never, ever react well to the following invitation: ‘I don’t mind. You can pick where we go!’
However, even though English boys may well accidentally slam a door in your face and get their calculator app up on their phone to work out how to split the bill in proportion to your salaries, they're also far more likely to make you belly laugh, and when you're giggling fit to burst you don't really care about all the other stuff anyway, so London, you can have this one.
Paris: 1; London: 2
Contest 6: General Activities
I don’t do all that much here. Or anywhere. Me and activities don’t really mix. Unless by ‘activities’ you mean binge watching 90s hip hop videos on Youtube or filling your basket on Asos and then never actually purchasing anything, which you probably don’t. I am a girl of simple pleasures, most of which can be found in the comfort of my own home. However, sometimes you do need to leave the house, and for whenever that need does rear its ugly head, both London and Paris are queens.
The easiest way to judge this one, I think, is to list all the things that I love to do in each respective city off the top of my head and see which list is longest.
-Sitting/picnicking/thinking/snogging/daydreaming/writing/breathing by the Seine (anything by the Seine, forever)
-Trawling vintage shops in the Marais for a bargain
-Spending whole afternoons people watching in Montmarte
-Cheap(ish) cocktails in Bastille
-Waxing at Les Petits Soins (this may seem like a strange one, but the beautician who owned it was the sweetest lady in the world and it was always a joy to spend thirty minutes, legs akimbo, practicing my French with her)
-Reading in Les Tuileries
-Pretentious, overpriced films at Bercy
-Playing hide and seek in the park
-Penalty shoot outs
-Watching Peppa Pig until my eyes dry up
-Pubs. All pubs. Just pubs
-Hampstead Heath. The loveliest heath in the land. Apart from Ledger, R.I.P.
-Primrose Hill. Again, the loveliest hill I know. Apart from Lauryn. Similarly, R.I.P.
-Flat hunting (that's all I ever do these days. Hold tight for the upcoming post about estate agents. The ones I've fancied - Stockholm syndrome? - and the ones I've wanted to stab in the head with a nail file repeatedly until they are no longer able to pronounce the words 'I'm not being salesy but...')
-Drinking in Shoreditch (this is basically reiterating Point 1 in a slightly different format, but I’m counting it as its own thing)
-Going to the big Sainsburys on Finchley Road
-Browsing Foyles until all the books start to blur into one
Okay. I admit it, I hold my hands up, put the gun down. The Paris list is slightly longer. HOWEVER, if you look closely, you will see that the Paris list is ever so slightly longer because of some unignorable reasons: when I was in Paris I was hanging out with a small child 70% of the time, and small children are inventive and fun and get very easily bored if you're not doing entertaining shit every second of the day, so forcibly, when around small children, you do entertaining shit more often. Whereas in London I have a normal 9-5 and during the day mostly hang out with teenagers and three older women, whose ages ascend in decades up to 60 and who therefore have their own lives and things to do, and the rest of the time I interact with other people who, like me, now find themselves spending 80% of their time working and making dinners and jogging around a park and keeping on top of their personal admin and remembering to check in with their grandparents every so often and making sure the fridge always has a bag of salad in the bottom drawer. So I don't think it's a fair contest, and for that reason both cities get a point, and it's my list and my blog post and my life, so I decide.
Paris: 2; London: 3
Contest 7: Looks
Ooh child. Everyone says that beauty is skin deep and in the eye of the beholder and fades with time, or whatever people say to convince you that you don't look rough, and even if you do that not everyone has noticed. But it is important; it's lidicrously important! I don't want to live somewhere ugly. I've already done that. I've served my time. Now I want to be surrounded by cute little streets and green, lush parks and well thought out Mary-Portas-curated shop windows. I deserve it.
So who's the fairest of them all? Paris or London?
Well, I mean, it's Paris. It's quarter to ten, and I really want to go to bed and watch Celebrity Masterchef with a cup of tea, so let's not drag this out any longer. London, you cute, but you also have a lot of fat days. Paris, you're a snobby little bitch, and know how gorgeous you are - a bighead of the worst kind - but that doesn't take away from the fact that every corner and crevice and back street of you is stunning. You are the city equivalent of Marion Cotillard, and how fucking apt is that?
Paris: 3; London: 3
Contest 8: Bonus Round
There's an extra point up for grabs for being part of the EU, and guess who gets it...
Paris: 4; London: 3
And that's it. Paris, you win. But, London, I live in you, and I'm warming to you more and more every day, and even though, on paper, you're second best, you're where I'm setting up my little life, and, really, if I'm being a truthful Trisha, you're not second best at all.
London, je t'aime.