My great-grandfather Giuseppe married his wife Michelina in 1929 in Bitritto, Italy. He left for America six months later. My great-grandmother, who was pregnant, stayed back in Italy. He naturalized and after 7 years, sent for his wife and daughter, my nana, Carmela. Michelina and her 6-year-old journeyed solo from Bari to Naples to New York on a ship called The Rex. On the boat, an American couple took an interest in little Carmela and taught her what to say to her dad when she met him for the first time. As the train pulled into the station, my great-grandmother pointed to a man with a top hat waiting on the platform and told Carmela it was her father. Carmela ran into her dad‘s arms and said her first words in English: “I love you daddy. Give me kiss!”
My nana was full of wonderful contradictions — She was 100% Italian but had no interest in being the kind of wife who lived to cook and clean. She loved to work hard but also didn’t blink at taking two months off from her job to go on a Euro trip with a friend. As a Depression era child, she shopped at thrift stores but also loved Ferragamo. She grew up an only child and daddy’s girl, only to have four boys and a huge family of her in own. But in matters of faith, she never seemed to waver. It was the basis on which she and my papa built their family.
She took us to thrift stores, parks and the library as kids, valuing time together over things. When she’d take Kevin Morgan and Tim and I on walks in Des Plaines, she’d pick a bird feather up off the ground and exclaim “St. Francis is saying hello to us!” and stick it in her pocket. Like her favorite saint, Nana had little interest in extravagance: the house she raised my dad and uncles in was the house she died in. It’s tempting to view her extreme simplicity as difficult, bizarre or even masochistic, but for nana it was none of those: her worldview was always one of abundance, which made the sacrifices she made seem annoyingly effortless. She repeated “Aren’t we blessed?” and ”abundanza” so often that they felt cliché. “Bill Gates has nothing on me,” she’d add. As a teenager, I rolled my eyes.
The lessons of a grandparent are rarely forced and never shouted. Instead, their example quietly leads us back to basics in order to find what we truly seek. In fact, “listen to the silence” was what she was always reminding the 18 cousins to do (often trying to get everyone to be quiet before grace). Silence and its virtues is something I have yet to master, but now that she’s gone, hearing her there is my only option.
Thank you nana for your wisdom and love. I am nothing without you. ❤️ 🇮🇹🙏
It’s 5:30 a.m. and still dark in Arusha, the home base for climbers before setting out to the national park.
“Whose bag is this?”
Those were the first words Sera, the man in charge of my life for the next seven days, said to me when we met.
“Mine.” I prepared my acceptance speech ahead of being canonized by our guide for my virtuous packing.
“Your bag is too light.”
Cool. Truthfully the only weight I was concerned about was how heavy my unconscious body would be for him to carry down the highest peak in Africa. Especially when you add an oxygen tank.
Sera is short, trim and quiet — not what I was expecting. His full name is Seraphin, a biblical reference to the fiery angels who proclaim God’s glory. Before he became a guide, Sera was studying to be a priest in the seminary. One of his roles in the seminary was leading the choir at church. A beautiful woman joined the choir one day, and the instant he saw her, Sera didn’t want to be a priest anymore. Today they’re married with three children. Sometimes you just know.
Based on his findings, Sera quizzed me on several items that should be inside my large teal duffel bag:
I didn’t remember what that was, but I knew I had it. “Yes.”
“Two, plus the camelback.”
“We’re renting those … and the hiking poles.”
He picks up our other five bags, subtly shaking his head with disapproval. “These are all too light.”
Dissatisfied but unable to stump us, Sera motions for us to follow him to the closet with the rental gear. Our trip outfitter provided a comprehensive packing list, which my mom had followed with military precision. I’d organized two family video calls because I didn’t trust everyone to read all the emails my mom, dad and Morgan were sending back and forth. But Sera’s questioning made me nervous. He’s been up the mountain hundreds of times, what did I know?
I look at Mom. I can tell she’s withholding a profanity-laced tirade that starts with something about Dad not letting her pack everything and jab about him being cheap. After all, we don’t want Sera to see how terrible we are to each other in the first five minutes of meeting. That’s for day 3.
I can’t fault my dad for being annoyingly light packer, because I operate the same way. When I call my dad before the trip he’ll ask me if I have everything packed. I usually balk at the question, so reminds me that “at the end of the day, if you have a your passport and a credit card, pretty much everything else can be figured out wherever you are in the world.” I felt maybe this wasn’t true on Kilimanjaro.
I compare the polarized battle between light vs. heavy packers to our warring political parties. To frugal packers, there is nothing more annoying than traveling with someone whose reckless over-packing is slowing you down. They complain about how tired they are, say the group is going too fast and injure themselves along the way. Why should I, who made the proper sacrifices through selective preparation, have to help you, who had the same opportunity to prepare the way I did, carry your 50-pound suitcases up six flights of stairs to our Paris Airbnb? Besides, if I, a Republican oops I mean light packer, help you this time, it will only enable gluttons like you to do the same thing over and over again.
A heavy packer, or perhaps we ought call them thorough packers to be more politically correct, will reply and say they are packing with the communal group in mind. Besides, we can’t expect everyone to be superhuman light packers; that is unrealistic. The thorough packer claims that they carry the majority of the items the larger group may need (think Tylenol, sleeping pills, shampoo, a towel, an extra pair of shoes because its bad to wear the same pair and walk for 10 days). The thorough packer inherently allows the light packer to move fast, whether he wants to accept their help or not, it’s there as a safety net. The thoroughs despise the light packers too — they are righteous do-gooders whose little carry-on manages to make everyone else feel bad about themselves.
Unless of course, you are Rick Steves. Rick has never made anyone feel bad about themselves, which I would argue is at the heart of his multi-milion dollar travel empire, which caters to first-time Americans headed to Europe. The man loves life and is authentically himself, which enables him to actually get people who are used to checking bags for a long weekend in Florida to ascribe to his light packing philosophy:
Packing light isn’t just about saving time or money — it’s about your traveling lifestyle. Too much luggage marks you as a typical tourist. It slams the Back Door shut. Serendipity suffers. Changing locations becomes a major operation. Con artists figure you’re helpless. Porters are a problem only to those who need them. With only one bag, you’re mobile and in control.
Mobile and in control. Everything I aspire to be.
While I didn’t train much for Kilimanjaro, I did watch YouTube videos, not just to prepare and to verify the packing list, but also to scope out the clientele who have “made it.” For example, I watched a video of two middle-aged American women named Justine and Laurie entitled “Kilimanjaro packing for girls” in which they recounted their adventure and the items that got them there.
Justin and Laurie’s “necessities” were extensive: regular wipes for your body, PH balanced wipes for your girly parts, and then coconut-oil infused wipes for your face. They recommended moisturizer, a separate face cream, a hydrating serum, nasal spray for dryness, and rolls of toilet paper (unrolled to save space), adult panty liners to pee yourself if you don’t want to go outside, a nail scrub, and ear plugs. A nail scrub?
As someone who neglected to take the proper medical precautions before the trip, I am not in a position to critique these ultra-prepared women. Sure, they’d succeeded, but isn’t there a medium between not bringing your malaria pills and bringing coconut-infused face wipes from Sephora?
I’d had enough of Justine and Laurie and was about to close out of the browser, until Justine, the prettier and spunkier of the two besties said, “Wait! I have more thing! Etiquette! Google ‘etiquette’ before you go!”
Finally, something useful. I kept watching.
Justine: “This is a third-world country! They’re not going to understand that your groceries are being delivered and that your housekeeper cleans every Monday, and that your pet sitter isn’t the nicest person. It’s gonna go right over their heads and they’re gonna think you’re weird.”
Justine’s well-intentioned message missed the mark in my opinion, but this video confirmed my greatest fear: Kilimanjaro had gone mainstream. An intense feeling of regret overcame me. Why did we string Dad along for so long? Why didn’t we listen to his desperate pleas five years ago? In my mind, Kilimanjaro would be tainted.
Notable mainstream trips include going to Bali after Eat, Pray Love and I was at least six years late to the Prague scene. I have no reason to care about this, but a waspy yuppie living in the suburbs who regularly uses words like “action items” and “deep dive,” travel is my desperate last stand to stay outside the fray.
The day I left for Kilimanjaro, I was not in a good place. However you interpret that will be accurate enough.
Outwardly, I could fool anyone into thinking my life was together. I had a job. A condo. Places to go and people to see. But I hadn’t been to a regular doctor in seven years. Why? I don’t know. I do know it makes getting a prescription filled for anti-malaria pills three days before departing on an international trip quite difficult. Same goes for getting the CDC-recommended vaccines for Tanzania. So on the day of my departure, my plan was to go to work, race to a clinic to get typhoid and tetanus shots and run straight to the airport. I considered this plan multiple times; it made complete sense.
But then I left work late. I had a dilemma: I could make the flight and get a disease or I could miss the flight and suffer the wrath of my mother. Both end in my death. Using the winter gear I had packed for Morgan as collateral, I asked her to share her malaria pills with me. “You know you’re an idiot, right?” she said. Good enough for me.
I had called my pediatrician to ask if my any of my childhood vaccines were still good.
“How old are you?” the secretary on the phone asked.
“Oh gosh, I’m 29. I haven’t been to your office in 15 years.”
They had to go into the basement where the non-digital archives lived to look me up. Turned out I had tetanus vaccine from previous international trips but she recommended getting another typhoid vaccine. I didn’t.
I made it to the airport on time and immediately joined a work conference call, thinking it was the least I could do quell the guilt I felt going off the grid for 13 days. This reminded me of my next dilemma: I hadn’t written my out of office yet.
I have a much longer rant on out-of-office messages, but here are the high-level notes. Most people’s are something to the effect of “I will be out of office until July 14, and will have little to no access to email.” It’s a weakly-attempted cover-up, a denial of what many of us are afraid to admit — that maybe just for a week, you are not fully dedicated to work. Where you are going, you almost definitely have access to your work email. I am not proud to admit that I have responded to Slack messages and emails at 4am from hotel set in a Thai jungle. Of course they have wifi. Why do we struggle with admitting this? We’re all terrified of implying that perhaps work isn’t our number one priority all the time. So instead, everyone writes these emails as if they’re going to North Korea for the week. I’d like to see us Americans improve our relationship with this concept. I’m guessing that the Europeans have been writing unapologetic out of offices like this for decades, and trust me, they’re taking more than 10 days off.
I decided I could go two ways with my out-of-office — the simple understated one that leaves intrigue but positive enough to look like you care, or the one that really shoves your trip down people’s throats while they are stuck in corporate prison.
Hi! Thank you for your email. I am out of office through July 7th. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you! Amanda
Hi! Thank you for your email. My family and I are on a trekking trip through East Africa ⛰, and will have ZERO access to Internet or email, starting on July 1. My cell also will not work from July 1st to 6th, but in an emergency, it should be working on June 29, 30 and July 7th and 8th. International fees may apply. Hakuna Matata! Amanda
I went with the understated one. This is why I try to get away so much, and why I finagled a 25-hour layover in The Netherlands on my way to Tanzania. KLM has a direct flight to Kilimanjaro, so I worked it out that the six of us, spread across three states, would convene at AMS. While this was convenient for all of us, everyone knows I flew a day early to chill with my Dutch bffs Lotte and Martin. Because spending time with friends for a few hours is too great of a thrill to pass up, no matter how ridiculously short and inconvenient it may be.
Whenever I land in Amsterdam, Lotte always parks and walks inside Schipol to greet me at Arrivals, which adds a ceremonial element to our friendship. Think the opening scene of Love Actually. Before Lotte, I’d never had someone actually walk inside and wait for me at an airport–I’m lucky if my family is even in the car on their way to the airport when I land. One time my dad texted me “call me when the baggage carousel starts moving.” We walked out to her car in the parking lot on the level marked “Tulip.” Martin called from work to check in. We stopped in Germany to get gas (cheaper) and then went to meet their soon-to-be new puppy Rio at the breeder’s farm. Their families came over for a backyard cookout. Everyone kept stuffing me with varieties of Dutch meats and sauces, reminding me who knows what I’ll be eating starting tomorrow. I got so riled up detailing the absurdity of our impending climb that I dropped a huge piece of meat on myself that stained my shirt. Martin washed it for me.
In the summertime in the Netherlands it stays light after 10, which allows for my favorite activity– sitting on their porch with a Heineken and talking. I talk about work drama the same way normal people recount the latest twists in relationships with their significant others. I take time to relay my issues to Lotte in the utmost detail, carefully crafting analogies to make sure she understands the nuances of the American corporate world — the hierarchy of people I’m dealing with, describing their personalities or the “crucial” stakes tied to an important deadline. And after listening to all of my exhaustive and mostly unnecessary context, she’ll just shrug and be like “Well, I don’t think on your deathbed you’ll be thinking about this.” And just like that, I am reminded why I came to Holland in the first place.
D-Day. We woke up at 5:30a and were headed to Schipol Airport by 6. Martin sees us off, handing me my clean shirt and a coffee. This time we park at Windmill, three levels below Tulip and meet the rest of my family in the Arrivals terminal. KLM has a direct flight to Kilimanjaro, so I worked it out that the six of us, spread across three states, would convene in Amsterdam. When I see Kevin, Morgan, Tim and my parents, I can tell tensions are high but ignore it. Schipol has tables outside where you can eat, so the seven of us enjoy brunch in the morning crisp June air. When it’s time to go, Lotte takes one of our bags, walks us as far as she can in the terminal and waves us goodbye. Part of me wished I was just staying in Holland.
I hate shopping because of how often I’m let down. Things are never as good as soon as you take the tags off. I don’t even buy nail polish anymore because I get mad at how quickly it goes bad. When it does, I spiral and craft a narrative and tell myself that because I don’t take care of things, both the money and the item itself has been wasted. Yes, I do this for OPI nail polish that costs $11 at CVS (preferred color: Malaga Wine). Imagine how any item more than $11 goes in my psyche.
Hyping myself up to enter the evil domain of voluntary transactional economic letdown (otherwise known as a store), I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and let the positive affirmations flow.
“Remember, you are confident and athletic. You run, you snowboard, you play soccer … as an adult. You are the target audience of this establishment.” And with that, I exhaled, and walked into the West Hartford REI.
I don’t care what anyone says, REI is a terrifying place. You walk in and are immediately surrounded by books about hiking the Appalachian Trail, bear-protective camping gear, and expensive backpacks you can live out of for three months. I had a packing list in my hand that spelled out everything I needed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but I was still nervous. Are hard shell pants different from snow pants? What made hiking socks different from regular socks? Are the coats you wear to climb mountains the same as ski jackets? I felt added pressure because I was buying gear not just for me, but for Morgan too. Apparently Texas REIs only have hunting gear.
I was greeted by an enthusiastic young salesman. We’ll call him Spencer. Spencer was dressed in the signature REI green adventure vest over a plaid button-down and had a beard that made him look both older and more outdoorsy. I told him of my upcoming endeavor to climb Kilimanjaro and that I was in need of a jacket. Like a beginner trying out a new language in a foreign land, I was having trouble keeping up with his speed and enthusiasm. He was throwing around the words like “Goretex” and “microseam.” Then he determined that I actually need two coats, a soft winter layer to keep me warm, and a weather-resistant outer shell that acts as a raincoat. Cool.
“I mean, the technology behind these pieces are incredible,” he said. For a second I thought Spencer was selling me an iPhone. These “pieces” are by a brand called Arc’teryx. I was so focused on the sizes that I neglected to look at the price tag. I gasped. Apparently Arc’teryx is the Chanel of outdoor brands.
I get anxious when I spend too much time on anything. Whether I am shopping, hanging out with friends who are not best friends or doing a favor for someone at work, as soon as I determine something is taking longer than it should, I go into panic mode. But what to do when two things I loathe, spending money and wasting time, are at odds?
Sitting in my underwear in the dressing room, I called Morgan. After my dad, Morgan is the most reliable Anderson when it comes to answering the phone.
“Morgan I’m at REI I have no idea what the F im doing.”
“Okayyyy …. ?”
“Well, I think you’ll have no problem with a size small rain pants. The mediums fit me fine and have room for leggings underneath them. But the jackets … I don’t know, but this guy says this one brand is the best and it’ll make all the difference on the mountain. And it fits really well, but it’s like super expensive. The rain jacket alone is almost $200 and the base coat is close to $300.”
“Has he ever climbed Kilimanjaro?”
“No, I mean, but he knows more than me.”
“Well, Dad did say he’d pay you back for certain things you bought me for the trip.”
“True, and while he would never agree with this purchase, he technically didn’t specify a limit. Besides, you can wear it on the mountain, and I could use this for snowboarding season next winter.”
“Ok, I’ll do another loop and look at the other options, but we should be fine. I’ll text you everything later tonight.”
“Cool, don’t forget the shot blocks and Clif bars.
“Yeah good call good call.”
I searched my mind for every possible justification I could so I could get out of there: You can’t put a price on quality, consider it an investment, you won’t buy another coat for 15 years, you’ll get the credit card points, at least it’s a practical purchase.
I figured in the scheme of things, $500 was cheaper than an emergency helicopter down the mountain. And that’s how most expensive clothing items I’ve ever owned became $500 worth of jackets from a brand I’d never heard of. I felt deprived of the social status that I’d get from a designer purse or shoes for that amount.
A year later, I was back at REI picking up my new snowboard. On my way in, I stopped to check out the “used gear” sidewalk sale when I saw it: my red Arcteryx rain jacket hanging on a rack. REI has a generous return policy, and when I noticed the famous $200 raincoat had a hole in it after only wearing it a few times, I brought it back, even though it was a few months past the one year policy and got a full refund. I knew the one on the rack was mine because of the patch over the right pocket. I took a picture of it on the rack and texted my dad when I got home.
Me: spotted my famous jacket at the used gear sale for $100 after I returned it over the summer.
Dad: Why didn’t you buy it back?
I was annoyed. Here i thought my dad would have been proud of me for not only getting a refund, but also for my stellar negotiating skills to get said refund despite it being outside the policy window. I was able to part with something after I’d already had it. And yet, he was right, I had failed him. I loved that jacket. The hole was obviously not a big deal; I wear yoga pants with way more egregious holes. As someone who looks like a puffin in winter gear, it was beyond flattering, a bold bright red that looked dope on the ski hills, and protected me whenever I forgot an umbrella. But I was too proud to drive back. If I’d made it nearly three decades living without knowing how an expensive rain jacket could make me feel, I could go back.
In grade school, the Monday after spring break was always one of minor torment. My friends whose parents clearly loved them more than my parents did me, came back with peeling shoulders and their hair braided. Hair braids and hair wraps were the ultimate status symbol for a white suburban girl in the late 90s. The middle-of-the-pack girls who went to the Wisconsin Dells weren’t tan but at least had some stories to tell about the indoor waterparks. My family usually just went up to my grandparents and hung out with my cousins.
To be fair, we pale losers of the class were the majority, but that didn’t stop us from touching the girls’ braids and playing with them as we sat on the rug during reading time. While my friends couldn’t bring me a hairwrap to fit in with everyone else, some true friends did occasionally bring me back souvenirs– usually cute little trinkets like a hand-painted ceramic turtle that said “HUATULCO.” My friends had seen the world and I was convinced that Cabo, Sanibel Island, the Dominican Republic were all far-off lands I was convinced I would never know. I called my parents cheap and referred to us as poor on more than one occasion. I wanted Disney World. I wanted cruises. And I definitely wanted braids.
We were always more the roadtripping national park type, so when we eventually did start traveling to places like South Africa and Australia, someone asked my parents if they won the lottery. But in the span of 10 years, travel became our families signature thing, each trip more exotic than the next.
But my dad has always been a dreamer like that. While the rest of us became a bit jaded and took our weekend trips to Switzerland for granted, my dad has never lost his sense of wonder. In my family, my Dad is Joseph and the technicolor dreamcoat, and the rest of us (me) are the evil brothers who throw him in a pit, sell him as a slave and take the cash. That’s how we felt he told us about his Big Idea™️: his desire for all of us to climb the highest peak in Africa. Don’t worry, I had to Google it too. It’s called Mount Kilimanjaro and it’s in Tanzania. East Africa.
School, work and life in general make it hard to coordinate anything with four mostly adult children. I think Kevin and Tim would tell you they were in support of the idea of the trip, but like most men in their 20s, struggle with the planning and communication part. Because of that, when it comes to managing their involvement, I turn into the two-headed monster– one head, a girlfriend with trust issues and the other, an enabling mother (which is funny, because I am neither). I have booked flights for them more often than I care to admit. I offer to write emails to their bosses and professors asking for time off just to ensure they get the dates right.
Mom was going to be equally difficult to convince. Without explicitly saying it, Mom had little to no interest in climbing a mountain in Tanzania for seven days without bathrooms or showers. But if Kevin and Tim signed on, I knew she’d go (Morgan and I are not enough of draw). Mom’s mofo (I’ve given up telling her its fomo) is something to be taken advantage of. She’d rather break her ankle doing something she doesn’t want to do than miss out on something loosely classified as fun. Mom’s also healthily competitive, so on the off chance that the rest of us actually summited Kilimanjaro, she’d be as annoyed at herself as she was proud of the rest us.
Dad first mentioned his big dream after a hiking trip we took in 2012 to Nepal, a “vacation” that sent my Mom home with a broken ankle (she’s fine). But Dad, never one to be derailed, told us not to stow away our hiking boots for long, because after climbing Mount Everest hiking a small portion of the Himalayas for two days, we were obviously ready to conquer Kili. I was surprised to learn the lifelong dream of someone I’d lived under the same roof with for two decades.
For six years Dad penned us longing emails hoping to get my mom, brothers and sister on board. Here’s one:
Tue, Oct 27, 2015, 4:40 PM
Re: Travel Crisis: Next Anderson Destination
Hey guys, I need your help.
I’m trying to figure out if we’re going on a trip this Christmas/New Years break.
Some of us have informally discussed climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341′) with the thought that if Mom and I ever want to climb this should be done now before we get any older.
Problem is Mom doesn’t want to go, saying it’s too late to start training. The Kilimanjaro training programs I find on the internet are eight-week programs (that’s like Nov. 1st). So I don’t know if I should push it or what. Mom doesn’t always say what she really means, like if she just doesn’t want to go, blame the training, or maybe too scared to break her ankle again, which I don’t blame her. Tell me what you guys think.
Some thoughts are: Try again next year, forget it, or go without Mom (I told her this, only half-joking).
Dad’s email lacked his usual quips of anticipation and adventure, and his despondent “forget it” at the end moved me to call him to make sure everything was okay. On the phone he said something even more unusual: if no one wanted to go on a big trip and get the time off, he’d be open to spending a weekend together in New York. New York? He doesn’t even like New York.
So after I hung up with him, I created a new family chain, added my mom to in, and added a clickbait subject:
Fri, Oct 30, 2015, 1:14 AM
Re: Derrick Rose Being Traded To The Nuggets
made ya look.
In short, if possible: Dad would like to spend some family time with everyone whether its renting a hotel room in NY for or going somewhere. Everyone reply ranking their top 3. don’t pretend youre not on your phone all day.
1. Kili climb (with or without safari)
4. Other (reply all so ppl can support your write in candidate)
Kilimanjaro is on his life bucket list so hes trying to decide if he should go by himself at some point next year if interest isn’t there.
We didn’t go. Dad’s emails got increasingly desperate each year. But when your family has to be clickbaited into caring about a free trip to anywhere in the world, perhaps it’s time for a course correction anyway.
“America, sounds like a prison.” –Emily’s coworker Julien
It’s rare that I’m able to discuss a show that everyone is talking about. If not for my mom, I wouldn’t know what Schitt’s Creek was. But as someone who is from Chicago (here for the Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza jokes), studied in Paris and works in social media, I have stumbled upon my moment: Emily In Paris. I’m basically Emily, minus the heels and loud outfits.
Thanks to my friend Julie, I found out about it right after it dropped on Netflix, making me feel unusually timely and cool. But I almost didn’t make if past the first 30 minutes. There is a scene in the first episode where Emily and her long-distance Cubs-obsessed boyfriend are having phone sex over FaceTime, and her presumably US-voltage vibrator blows a fuse, causing her entire building to lose power. I shouted to myself, “YOU ARE SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS AMANDA! JUST STOP.” Emily has robbed me of my superiority.
My French is not great, but is better than Emily’s–i.e., good enough to endear myself to the French for trying. Emily does not understand how much the French love French. One time, while visiting the hotel my parents were staying at in Paris, a woman literally pinched my cheek upon hearing me speak. “I jooste looove anglophones speaking French,” she said. I was stunned by learning what superpowers even garbage French could unlock for me. That said, my French friends speak perfect English, and when we hang out, we have two options — we can speak English and have a real conversation where we discuss our personal lives and the dismal state of the world, or we can speak French where I can talk about food, directions and how many brothers I have. But honestly, you don’t even need basic French — just don’t be an idiot. My parents speak no French and were once somehow invited back to a French couple’s apartment for drinks after sitting at a nearby table at dinner. We still send them a Christmas card.
Nearly everyone, from the media critics to my much more reliable friends, agrees: Emily in Paris has many bad moments and a weak plot line, but sign us up for season two. Watching the French bully Emily is what kept me watching, as her boss Sylvie (“Do you really believe that most people are happy all the time?” is her best quote) makes no effort to hide her disapproval. Emily is beautiful but easy to dislike: she makes zero effort to assimilate, is self-promoting and thinks she knows everything, the epitome of what Parisians detest about foreigners coming to their city.
But cliches exist for a reason, and I love when experience validates them. Emily wants nothing more than to be liked and has ordered her life pursuing this goal. Gabriel, her hot french love interest, comments on how miserable that must be. And while I don’t think anyone aspires to be hated, it’s an especially American concept to so actively pursue approval at large. I may not care for someone, but consider it a personal shortcoming if they don’t like me. A reason I am so endeared to my European friends is because all of them give way less craps about this. Along with the best of my American friends, while authentic and true to ourselves, we will try to hide the fact that they don’t like someone out of courtesy. The French see this as fake and manipulative, which is why they’re wary of us.
One of my French friends Marie once said to me, “I hope we can stay friends after I move back to France. I mean that, like in the French way.” I was confused by what she meant and asked another French friend to clarify “the French way” of friendship. She knew exactly what Marie was saying — “In America, you all pretend like you’re best friends for a year or so, but then as soon as someone moves away, you never hear from them again. It’s so fake.” I was surprised that it was prevalent enough for a foreigner to see. “In France, once you become “good” friends, you are a friend for life, no matter what,” she said.
The NY Times also made this observation: When Emily asks Sylvie why she doesn’t want to get to know her, Sylvie replies, “You come to Paris. You walk into my office. You don’t even bother to learn the language. You treat the city like it’s your amusement park. And after a year of food, sex, wine and maybe some culture, you’ll go back to where you came from.” There is a certain native reluctance to befriend Americans who come and go. (h/t to Deirdre for sending me this).
Emily’s coworker Luc is my favorite character because he embodies the best of the French –they are skeptical of you at first, but once you get through, they are kind, funny and loyal. My favorite scenes include Luc teaching Emily the concept of working to live instead of living to work (Emily: but work makes me happy!) and him deriding the happily-ever-after American rom-coms filled with dishonest optimism (Luc: “I want to see life! The hero tortured for his love! And the actress, naked.”).
A lot of people are hung up on the social media campaigns Emily develops and not being legit but I was more hung up on the fact that former French first lady Carla Bruni and current first lady Brigitte Macron text each other tweets about a product for older women who struggle with arousal. But to split hairs over the social part is missing the mark. You know what else isn’t real? A hot french chef living a floor below you who is not annoyed but charmed by the fact that you cannot count floors properly and think his apartment is your own. Your heels making it through the streets of Paris. Crop tops in October. Taking selfies with your local boulanger. I could go on. My French friend Jenny also pointed out it is illegal to smoke inside, not all French women are cool with being cheated on, and French businessmen do not only talk about sex.
Another element I enjoyed– Emily’s Trader Joe’s crunchy unsalted peanut butter that exploded in her package from the States. I too have felt the deep heartbreak of TSA-confiscated the peanut butter. But the best part? The Cubs won the World Series. Thanks for that, Darren Star.