Ahhh… this girl. My Parisian-life twin. As I’ve already mentioned, her story has so many parallels to mine. With the exception that she did in fact win her visa war. Again, hats off to you lady! No small feat, I assure you.
I always like to take a deeper look into the minds of these creative, outside-the-box people I have met along the way. Vicki Lesage tells plenty in her novel Confessions of a Paris Party Girl, but I had a few questions of my own to pose. As I got to know her better, I became more and more convinced my hypothetical “memoir of Paris” would read very much the same. From finding my niche in the Anglophile expat community to hilarious stories pertaining to over-the-top French men, I think, “Yep, been there. I get it!” Oh, imagine the giggle if we ever swapped stories… and the wine.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where you’re from and how you got to where you are today?
I’m originally from St. Louis, Missouri – a city that is small by US standards (3 million residents in the metro area) but is huge compared to most French cities. Still, when I moved from St. Louis to Paris I felt like a small-town girl in a big city. Back home, I’d had a stable IT job until one day I was let go. I figured it was now or never, so I took the plunge to move to Paris for what was supposed to just be a summer. Nine years later I’m still here. I’ve worked in freelance web design over the years, which is a skill I’m so happy I picked up because it allowed me the freedom to move to one of the world’s most expensive cities without a job and without going broke!
2. You were a blogger for some time before making the jump to writing a book. How did you decide to put your stories in the longer format, and how did you decide what you wanted your book to be about?
People often left comments on my blog saying I should write a book. I adored the flattery but didn’t think I had it in me until my mom self-published two books and offered to convert my blog posts into a book. I figured it wouldn’t be much work, so why not? I sent my first few rough chapters to a French author friend of mine and waited for her glowing feedback. She nicely responded in a long email with all her recommendations of what to change. It was a shocker but she was right. Basically, her advice was to take what I had and make it more “narrative nonfiction” or “creative nonfiction,” as the kids are calling it these days. And she provided gentle suggestions on how to make the main character (me) more likeable. My book went from a series of rants to a more upbeat memoir where you (hopefully) end up siding with me in my battles against everything France has to throw at me.
3. You have some hilariously funny stories to share! If your life was turned into a movie, who would you envision playing you?
Random strangers and friends alike tell me I look like Scarlett Johansson, and I think she’d make a perfect “Vicki in Paris.” What’s funny is I used to not really get what all the fuss was about her. Then one night as I stumbled into The Highlander (I’m pretty sure that’s the only way anyone ever enters that late night bar!) this guy stopped me and asked for my autograph and refused to believe I wasn’t Scarlett Johansson. He was drunk but still. So I went ahead and signed his shirt for him and now I think Ms. Johansson is just the prettiest actress that ever lived.
4. For the ladies, we all love (and hate) French men. What was your worst encounter with their kind before you met your lovely now-husband?
I met this guy, Olivier, outside a gay bar in the Marais and he was an IT nerd like me. We hit it off but I had assumed it was just as friends – I mean, we met at a gay bar! Surely he was gay and surely he thought I was, too, right? I met up with him and his friends the next night and pounded 3 pints before they even finished their first demi pint. They thought I was the coolest. Then he invited me back to his apartment for a party. Except… it was just him. How had I been so dumb? He gave me a tattered copy of “Le Petit Prince” and wrote some sappy romantic crap in the front cover (thankfully in pencil so I was able to erase it and later donate it to charity). I went to the window for some air and to think of an escape plan, and when I turned around he was RIGHT THERE and dipped me out the window and kissed me. I’m sure plenty of girls would have swooned, being dipped out a window into the Parisian moonlight and being kissed by a French guy but I had no feelings for him whatsoever and his persistence was annoying. I managed to get out of there without further smooches, but of course he bombarded me with text messages for the next 7 days straight until he finally caught on that I wasn’t interested.
5. In your book, you live in the 15th arrondissement. Do you still live there? If you could move anywhere else in the city, where would it be?
Stay tuned for my sequel where I move to the 12th! You’d think I’d stay put considering how difficult it is to acquire a new apartment in Paris, not to mention actually moving. We moved to be closer to my in-laws and while I thought I would never want to leave the 15th, the 12th has a charm all its own. We’re close to Bastille and the Promenade Plantée, both of which I hadn’t really explored when I lived on the other side of town. I’m pretty sure I could find something nice about any arrondissement in Paris, though there will still be bums urinating in the street to keep things in check.
6. You write about a life of being a fun-loving party gal tearing it up in Paris. If you were to recommend a “pub-crawl” or “bar hopping” experience for a newcomer in town, what places would you include?
Ooh, how fun! I would recommend the following route through the Latin Quarter. Not only does it encompass my favorite bars but they’re pretty close to each other, minimizing the walking and maximizing the drinking!
[Optional] Dinner at Nos Ancetres les Gauloises, where you can fill up your pitcher of wine directly from the barrel as many times as you wish while dining on all-you-can-eat charcuterie, cheese, and veggies. It gives you a nice food base for the evening plus low-priced alcohol to kick things off.
The Long Hop: Things start out slow here so you can usually get a seat at the bar and have a few drinks. My friend Etienne is the guy parked at the end of the bar with a scowl on his face but he’s actually quite nice. The more he drinks, the more English he speaks. Around 11 or 12 they dim the lights and scoot the chairs and tables out of the way for dancing. Stay here until they close at 2. Here is where you’ll meet a cool group of friends for the night or a potential make-out partner for later.
The Violon Dingue: The dance party continues down two flights of stairs in this cave-bar. If you like eighties music and dorky dancing, this is your place. However, this is NOT the place to pick up a date for the night. If you didn’t find anyone at the Long Hop, you’re going solo or else you’re going to have major regrets once you see your make-out partner in the light of day. This bar closes at 5 but best to head out around 4 before things get too rowdy.
Pomme d’Eve: More dancing but even better – they have a small stage. I’ve passed many an evening singing (or rather, shouting) Katy Perry to my “fans” in my “audience” on this stage. I have no idea how late the bar is open because I’ve always left before it closed. 6? 7? 8? Mama needs to get herself to bed by then.
7. The French sometimes have a reputation of looking down on the wilder Brit and American drinking culture. Did you ever feel like you faced extra scrutiny or judgment due to your fondness for the night life?
Guys loved it and girls hated it. I guess that’s why I had guys giving me books and declaring their love for me, while it took years to make my first French girl friend. I stuck mainly to Anglo bars, which I guess only perpetuated my lifestyle. I felt comfortable partying in those places and never really immersed myself into French nightlife. But I have no regrets. I loved my nightlife and had plenty of the French experience during the day.
8. Did you ever think you’d end up throwing it all to the wind, packing up and moving to Paris, marrying a Frenchmen and having a family all in the City of Lights? Do you just pinch yourself everyday (when you’re not tending to paper cuts induced by the famous bureaucratic red tape)?
It’s funny but when I’m taking care of the bureaucratic stuff is actually when I appreciate the city the most. The Prefecture is in the center of Paris, so on my way I pass the Seine, Notre Dame, and numerous other gorgeous Parisian classics. Much different from driving to the strip mall in St. Louis to renew my driver’s license. So, yeah, sometimes I truly can’t believe I live in such a beautiful city. As for my husband, even French people think he’s American (he’s tall, wears Abercrombie hoodies, and speaks English with a slightly American accent, thanks to me) so sometimes I forget I’m married to a Frenchman. But every once in a while he’ll say or do something that reminds me he’s French and I can’t help but think that’s cool. And just the other day my 19-month-old son, who is only barely talking, said “Au revoir.” That’s awesome.
9. As for all the fabulous places you’ve been since making the big move overseas, what would you include in your “must see” list for other travelers?
Oh boy, there are tons! I usually break it out into themed days when making recommendations for visitors:
Day 1: Cruise on the Seine to get an overview of the city, then a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. Optional: blow your savings and 4 hours of time actually going up in it.
Day 2: Louvre. There are other awesome museums in Paris (Musée d’Orsay, Carnavalet, Rodin, etc.) but I do think you’ll be disappointed if you skip the Louvre.
Day 3: Go to one of the other museums, based on your personal preferences. At night, head up to Sacré Cœur for a view of the city from its highest point, wander the winding cobblestone streets of Montmartre, then enjoy fondue and wine in baby bottles at Refuge des Fondus, my all-time favorite restaurant.
Day 4: It’s kind of crazy, but try to visit Chateau de Versailles and Chateau de Vincennes in the same day. Start out at Versailles but skip the lines and head straight to the gardens. If you’re there during off-peak season you can try to sneak in a picnic, you rebel you. Then head all the way across town to Chateau de Vincennes. It’s free to walk around the grounds and that’s the best part. You can march across the drawbridge and admire the medieval keep and pretend you’re a princess. Or maybe that’s just me. I like contrasting the two chateaux plus I know that many people don’t have much time in Paris, so that’s why I recommend doing an abbreviated tour of both in one day.
There are about 100 other recommendations I could give, so I guess my biggest tip is to move here if you can, even if only for a brief period of time!
Keep up to date with Vicki’s most recent exploits at her blog, and through social media!