When Rosecrans Baldwin was offered an advertising job in Paris by a friend, he jumped at the chance and boarded the next flight to France. Nevermind that he knew next to nothing about advertising, and nevermind that he hardly spoke French. It’s Paris!!
That’s probably how many Francophiles would react if offered to live and work in Paris, the City of Light; one of the most beautiful and captivating cities in the World (in my opinion, at least).
Having visited, and loved, Paris as a teenager, Rosecrans and his wife, Rachel were ready to move from New York, prepared to once again fall in love with the city and everything Parisian. Infatuated with Paris, the Baldwins didn’t mind that their apartment was dark and depressing and was in the middle of a renovation project, or that their neighborhood wasn’t exactly among the best arrondissment; people tend to overlook little things like that when they’re infatuated with a city.
However, once Rosecrans started work, and the Baldwins started to really settle into the city, they soon discovered that living in Paris can be quite a challenge – one they weren’t sure they could overcome.
Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, is Rosecrans Baldwin’s account of his year living and working in Paris, and trying to understand the mysterious, and often strange, Parisians. Hardly fluent in French, Rosecrans struggles to understand the everyone around him, and to make himself understood – not just in the work place, but in his own neighborhood, among waiters, shopkeepers, his landlord, and even among his friends.
Along with descriptions of the city and its numerous art museums, boulevards, and cafes, Paris, I Love You..is filled with little anecdotes on Rosecrans’ misadventures in Paris, and its inhabitants; misunderstandings in and around his office, among his co-workers; challenges of adapting to the French, and Parisian ways of life; proving or debunking stereotypes that Americans (or the World) have about the French, and vise versa; and trying to understand and survive the French bureaucracy and government policies – strange and inconvenient to Americans or those used to living in the United States.
Though the novel is peppered with funny little stories about his life in Paris, Rosecrans Baldwin also shares the difficulties of living abroad, not just in Paris, but in any foreign country. In trying to understand the local population, it’s not enough to simply speak the language – one must also understand and share their common mindset, political views, culture, and history. He also describes Paris, not as the static, romantic city captured in postcards andin everybody’s imaginations, but as a dynamic, modern city which is evolving and adapting to global changes.
Divided into 6 seasons, starting with the summer they arrived in Paris, and ending with fall of the following year, Rosecrans Baldwin mostly talks about his job and his and his wife’s day-to-day experiences and struggles in and around the city. Though his stories about his interactions with his Parisian friends are sometimes funny or amusing, most of the novel is just random descriptions of restaurants, cafes, and markets they visited, parties they attended, and friends they’ve made.
With a title like Paris I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, I was expecting a funny account of Rosecrans Baldwin’s love-hate relationship with Paris, or stories about why many people love Paris but hate Parisians, or a light, humorous cultural critique at best. Unfortunately, Paris I Love You…reads more like a diary or journal filled with random snippets of humdrum topics or activities that though might be significant to those who experienced it, isn’t all that interesting to readers. I think the novel is also brought down by Rosecrans Baldwin’s writing style; He hardly bothers with transitions between one story to another, and most of the time, the stories he shares are totally unrelated to each other, or irrelevant to anything he’s said earlier. In effect, one needs to wade through a lot of boring descriptions of mundane activities to find a few funny, enlightening morsels.
I’ve read several non-fiction books about the misadventures of Americans in Paris, and out of all of them, I think the best one is The Sweet Life in Paris by pastry chef, David Lebovitz. Even Pamela Druckerman‘s Bringing Up Bebe, her account of raising children in Paris, and how different French children are from American children, is better than Paris, I Love You.. Like Paris, I Love You… David Lebovitz and Pamela Druckerman share their love and frustration with living in Paris and dealing with Parisians. However, unlike Rosecrans Baldwin’s account, Lebovitz’s and Druckerman’s novels are better written, with more amusing stories and anecdotes.
Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down (2012) – Rosecrans Baldwin
Picador; 286 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 2/5