In 4. Genius Loci, The Art of Travel, Paris by Amy1 Comment

The sartorial expressions of a group of people surely make a statement about the culture in which they live. Style can be an indicator of a subculture, like the Teddy Boys in England during the 60’s. Anthropologically speaking, the politics of dress, music, and the other categories that fall under the overarching term ‘culture’, show an interplay of symbols and identity. From an outsider’s perspective, you view another place’s culture as exemplary of the “national character,” as Lawrence Durrell puts it (158). Not only dress, but landmarks, evoke a sense of nationality identity and character as well. As Durrell described the wonder, awe, and poignant historicity of seeing an important landmark for the first time, he acknowledges how the context in which they were created still remain in the national character of the place. The Greeks will always be warriors, and to me, the Parisians will always be icons of style. To borrow from the French model is to make a statement, for there are underlying meanings in style choices. I almost felt like I should toss away all of my denim jeans in Paris after not having seen a single woman donning the American trend. I respect and admire the ease of style that Parisian women seem to naturally uphold. This is an aspect of the culture that is blatantly recognizable, when I compare street-style here to what I see in New York.

Coming into Paris without preconceptions was a daunting task. My family teased about all of the sophisticated wines and cheeses I would get to taste on a regular basis. We generalized about the places we have never been to, which can be a fine line to walk. Having too many preconceptions will inevitably end in disappointment, while going in blind may ensue in an uncomfortable amount of culture shock. With just the right amount of expectations, the experience is bound to be a good one. I commiserate with Durrell as he sarcastically lamented on the primitive French system of plumbing, having walked into my dorm the first day to realize I would have to manually hold the shower nozzle. This slight setback did not deter me from having an overall positive view of French culture. I enjoy the pace of life, the French music that I prefer cab drivers to have on the radio, and the simplistic cuisine that carries so much flavor. These cultural symbols of France are social and public for any newcomer to try on.

I felt an invitation to experience life as born-and-bred Parisians do. I have tried to turn my experiences at the “touristy” spots into personal endeavors to remind myself of the importance of the places. This has served me well in respect to preserving a good relationship with the new French culture. I also have intentions to visit the niche spots of Paris that are not so commonly visited by tourists. The city is so vast and there are so many different aspects of the culture which are new and exciting to try on, it can be overwhelming. I hope to leave Paris with a new part of my identity born from my experiences within the city.

Durrell, Lawrence. “Spirit of Place.” Letters and Essays on Travel, E.P. Dutton & Co., INC., 1971, pp. 156–163.

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(Image: Hotel Chateau Eza; Source: Amy Iafrate)


  1. Hi Amy! I really relate to the comparisons you make between American and French style–I’ve had similar thoughts here in Florence. Not necessarily about jeans, but here people tend to dress in a more modest manner in New York, and nobody would be caught dead in athleisure. Workout clothes are for working out only, and everybody is always so well put together. I had known in advance that style was a bit different here, but it was still a bit of a surprise to arrive and see that the only people wearing shorts that don’t go down to the knee are tourists or study abroad students. The number of jeans or long pants that I see while walking around despite the intense heat is honestly a little astonishing. I have no idea how they can stand it.

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