Book Review: Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin

Posted October 31, 2012 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 16 Comments

Book Review: Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin
Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux on Apr. 2012
Pages: 286
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Travel
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Rosecrans Baldwin has been a lifelong Francophile; ever since visiting Paris with his family at the age of 10, he has been in love with the city and everything it represents. When he is offered an opportunity to move to Paris and work for an advertising firm seeking a copywriter who can write in English, Baldwin is thrilled to pack his Brooklyn belongings into storage and move with his wife to the City of Light — even though he speaks little French and has never worked in advertising.

However, life in Paris is not the romantic ideal he had envisioned. The coffee is bad, the first charming bistro they visit turns out to be an Australian bar that serves ostrich fillets, bureaucracy thwarts many of their plans, and their tiny apartment is surrounded by noisy construction on every side. Instead of the Paris of Hemingway, Baldwin finds himself in the Paris where, “Luke Skywalker had happened. Supermarkets happened. Hip-hop happened and Joan Didion happened. Email happened.” It is the Paris of Sarkozy, frozen food from Picard, and the Tecktonik dance craze.

Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down is an amusing story of expat life in Paris. Baldwin writes about his experiences working in the French advertising office, the boring parties for expats with trust funds, and his blundering attempts at communicating in French. (At one point, he mispronounces “tes temps” as “tetins,” effectively asking his female coworker for her tits rather than her time.)

“Tactics to learn French via shock immersion: Accept and make telephone calls. Do this despite a crippling fear of conducting phone calls in French, terror so real you begin to experience it in nightmares about speaking French on the phone — your daily life repeated at night with no embellishment.”

This was a really fun book to read. Baldwin’s humorous and self-deprecating tone was very enjoyable; he pokes fun at himself just as much as he takes enjoyments from the quirks of others, and I laughed out loud at some of his misadventures.

I think a lot of people romanticize Paris, and I enjoyed reading Baldwin’s balanced description of modern life there, from the idiosyncrasies of his co-workers to French politics and values to late-night parties. He had his share of frustrations, but also many moments that were classically Parisian. I really liked that this was neither an ode to the glories of Paris, nor a tirade against the city; as with any city, Paris has its perks and its downsides, and it was refreshing to read an account that represents both sides.

Another thing that separates this book from many other travel memoirs is the amount of time Baldwin spent in Paris and the depth of his immersion in the culture. He spent 18 months living and working in Paris, which I think is enough time to give one a good feel for a city and its people. I liked that the opinions he puts forth are more than just the fleeting observations made by someone who spent a few days in the city while backpacking through Europe. He really got to know Paris, and it was fun to read about the city from his outsider’s perspective.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves to travel or is interested in France. It is light and funny, and it portrays a realistic, multi-faceted portrait of one of the world’s most romanticized cities.

  • I think there’s a huge difference between visiting a city on holidays and actually living there. While on holidays everything is new, foreign and even “exotic” but for the city inhabitants, it’s as normal as crossing the Brooklyn bridge if you live in Brooklyn or strolling through Central Park because you’re in a hurry. It’s no longer amusement, exoticism and glamour, it’s everyday life!

    • I definitely agree — and the impressions you get of a place are so different when you live in a place versus just visiting. So many people spend a few days in a city and then come home with all of these ideas about what that city is, even though they haven’t spent nearly enough time there to really understand it. For example, after spending two days in San Francisco last summer, I wanted to draw the conclusion that the sun never shines there — all because it was cloudy for the two days I was there! I really have no idea what the prevailing weather is there from my 48 hours in the city!

      I think it takes time to get to know a place, and it was interesting to here Baldwin’s perspective as an outsider who spent enough time working and living in Paris to get a good feel for the city, but didn’t live there long enough to begin taking Paris for granted.

  • This actually sounds like a really fun book to read! I know that sometimes when you travel to a foreign country, it’s not always what you think it will be! I can’t imagine thinking Paris would be the quaint, amazing city with lots of little bistros, only to be shut down by all the modernity and annoying things you were trying to get away from!

    • It is fun! Haha, Baldwin has a name for that: Paris Syndrome, or the intense disappointment many tourists feel when the reality of Paris fails to live up to their sky-high expectations.

  • I am one of those who romanticize Paris so I enjoyed this book for its reality check. I still would love the opportunity to live there though.
    Have you read Paris My Sweet by Amy Thomas? It has a similar premise, though a much lighter tone.

    • Yes, it was definitely nice to get a nice dose of reality when it comes to Paris! I think any city has its upsides and downsides, but the downsides aren’t necessarily reasons not to live there.

      No, I haven’t read Paris My Sweet. I seem to be one of the few who don’t romanticize Paris; I spent four months studying abroad in London and never even made the short train ride to Paris! I did plenty of other traveling, but Paris was somehow low on my list.

  • I’ve been wanting to read this book for some time now, but I still can’t find a copy. I read a similar book (maybe), about people have a love-hate relationship with Paris. The book I read was called The Sweet Life of Paris. It was also very entertaining.

    • Have you tried your library system? Even if your local library doesn’t have it, you could probably get it through the inter-library loan system. That’s what I did!

      I’ll have to look up The Sweet Life of Paris! Love love love travel memoirs 🙂

      • Unfortunately, I live in a country with a terrible library system. Public libraries like the ones in the US/Canada/Europe, etc. don’t exist lol. If I want to read a book, I need to either buy it or download it.

        Btw..the book is The Sweet Life in Paris by David Leibovitz. He is an American pastry chef who moved to Paris. Do check it out, it’s pretty good!

        • That’s a shame. Where are you from? I guess I take our library system for granted.

          Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll look into it!

          • I’m American but I’m living in the Philippines right now. So yeah, I know how frustrating it is living in a country with no “real” library. Especially when I practically lived in the library when I was growing up (when I was living in the States) 😛

          • Ahh. That must be a rough transition!

          • Yep…it’s very frustrating, but I’ve learned to live with it. A good thing about it is, now I have enough books to open up my own library! lol.

          • Haha I’m glad there’s a silver lining!

  • Despite knowing that Paris is just as flawed a place as anywhere else, I still dream of living there …

    • Without the flaws, we wouldn’t appreciate the beauty as much 🙂