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I’m going to what feels like the Mean Girl of cities in a couple of weeks.

You know the one.

She’s all Chanel and couture and linen and lipstick.  They speak fancy French there, not the regular, old, Canadian kind (and even my Canadian French is pretty patchy and rusty).

colourful, polka dot-patterned suitcase

Even my suitcase screams “Not Parisian”.

I lived in Europe with my family as a teen and then in my early and later 20s, on my own.  But, somehow, I never got to Paris.

London and York and Cornwall, I love.  Hamburg and Heidelberg, too.

But Paris, is a big old question mark for me.

Will it be like the movie, French Kiss?  Or, more like Before Sunrise?  Or, Amelie?

Or, is it actually a REAL PLACE with garbage trucks, and people wearing pajamas in public, and bad cooks?

My parents went to Paris for a holiday when we lived in England, but for some reason, they didn’t take their teenagers with them.  Who knows why?

I was too broke when I lived close by to get there, and my friends lived in Germany.  So, I just kept flying over Paris, as if she didn’t matter one hoot.

Take that, mean girl!

But now, my German friends are living in Paris, in the ninth arrondissement.  I think that means near ALLLLLL the Pain au Chocolat (one of the main reasons I’m even going to Paris), right?

And, I am slightly intimidated.

According to Canadian/US versions of Paris, I am prepared to feel inferior on a number of levels including my weight, my fashion sense (lack thereof), not to mention my (quelle horreur) love of patterned fabric.

French chic?  Mais, non.  Just call me “flabby, shabby chic”.

I am not sleek or sophisticated.  I am much more inclined to the chubby and cheerful.

But, so is Ina Garten and she supposedly loves Paris, right?  So did Julia Child and she was tall and awkward.

Vives les Tall and Awkward!

With a side of Still Too Many Shoes for My Suitcase.

Practical Man disliked Paris when he was there so he’s glad to be sitting this one out.  Mind you, he dislikes ALL cities so he’s not really a neutral opinion.  Instead, I am travelling with my sweet sister-in-law Roadrunner, who speaks Northern Ontario French as her first language at home.  She’s never been to Europe.  In fact, this is her first trans-Atlantic flight.  Although she is fluent in the language, I’ve heard that Parisians can be quite cutting when it comes to The Canadian Form of French.  My also fluent father was once asked in Paris where he learned his French and when he told them Canada, they said, “c’est domage (that’s too bad)”.


I do love me some vintage, flea markets, and sparkly lights.  Someplace called The City of Lights seems to be a good city for that sort of tra-la-la.

Anyhoo, if you’ve been there, here are the questions I have about going to Paris:

  • I expect there to be accordions playing in the background as we stroll around.  But, should I be prepared with some Charles Aznavour on my playlist, just in case?
  • Is there a “how not to overpack” Pinterest board for people who are not Marie Kondo or wearing exclusively Lululemon?
  • If I can’t get rid of my vertigo before I leave and end up getting arrested because I’m wobbling down the streets like I’m intoxicated, will they bring me the French version of Bread and Water (baguette and Perrier) in jail?
  • Is black the only colour people wear? What if I look more like “Widowed Nonna from a Godfather movie” than “Audrey Hepburn” in black?
  • Where can I rent a Betsy bicycle or a moped so I can ride along the Seine with a baguette sticking out of the basket, humming La Vie en Rose?
  • Is it wrong to have a pain au chocolat EVERY morning while I’m there?  Wait, don’t answer that.
  • Will my brain actually turn into a pretzel if I try to speak German (with our host family), Paris French (let’s face it, that won’t be possible), Canadian French (only slightly more possible), Bad French (definitely possible), and English (please direct me to the nearest pain au chocolat?) in one holiday?
  • How many beautiful buildings can you drool on before they kick you out of the country?
  • Ditto for Boulangerie, Patisserie and other “erie” windows?

I’m excited.

And intimidated.

It’s like a first date with someone way out of your league.


Or, as they say in Paris…

[nonchalant and chic expression full of fabulous cheekbones].



Happy Canada Day!  In spite of a full schedule of appearances, ceremonies, and red-and-white people parades, Canada was kind enough to pause briefly to speak this week with A Vintage Life.  We’re excited to be able to ask the questions…the burning questions we’ve had since grade 11 Canadian History class.  Now’s our chance.

Me in 1973 in red and white

Me, dressed in Canada Day festive colours (1973).

CF for a Vintage Life:  Happy Birthday!  Bonne Fete!  On behalf of all Canadians, let me congratulate you.

Canada:  Thank you!   I’m so excited to be the excuse that gives Canadians a long weekend to catch up on their relaxation and mosquito bites.

CF for a Vintage Life:  Got any special plans for your big day?

Canada:  Oh, you know…I’m rather fond of my national and provincial parks and Pierre Trudeau made it look so chic, so I think some canoeing might be on the menu.  And speaking of menus, I’ll be indulging in a little poutine, smoked salmon, maple syrup with bannock, and Thai food, of course.  It is my birthday, after all!

CF for a Vintage Life:   Sounds great.

Canada:  [smiles]  I’m a little fuller around Ontario and Quebec than I was in my younger days, but I’m trying to age gracefully.

CF for a Vintage Life:   I know that, like many of us, you’ve had periods of struggle with your mid-section over the years so that’s a great attitude.   Listen, I’m thrilled to have this chance to chat because I wish I knew more about you.  You’re a bit mysterious to me and many other Canadians.

Canada:  Mysterious?  Don’t you watch Rookie Blue or listen to CBC radio?

CF for a Vintage Life:   Haha.  No, of course not!  You have to admit that you’re a little quiet, y’know.  Not really one to flash your stuff to the whole world.

Canada:  [blushes and looks mysterious.]

CF for a Vintage Life:  [chuckling] Don’t get me wrong, I mean, we love you, of course.  People always tell us how funny and beautiful and friendly you are.  I think you’re smart and thoughtful too, although not many people remember to mention that.  But, still, sometimes I feel as if we don’t really know you.  I’m not sure why.  I mean, my mother insisted that I take Canadian History through high school because, “you’re already getting brainwashed by American TV, you need to learn about your own country!” but somehow, it didn’t help.   Actually, it was my least favourite class.

Canada:  Oh gosh, I’m sorry about that.

CF for a Vintage Life:  Yeah, well, I guess it’s not really your fault.  But, the point is, after all that Canadian History, I should know a lot about you.

Canada:  And you don’t?

CF for a Vintage Life:   Well, I learned a lot from Canadian literature–Margaret Lawrence, Farley Mowat, Robert Munsch, Armond Ruffo, Gabrielle Roy, Lucy Maud Montgomery and more–but in History, we seemed to spend a lot of time pondering something called, “The Canadian Identity”.

Canada:  The Canadian Identity?

CF for a Vintage Life:  Yeah.  Apparently, you didn’t have one…except that you were a “mosiac”, rather than a “melting pot”.

Canada:  Ah, but now there’s Republic of Doyle.  That must help.

CF for a Vintage Life:  True, but that’s really only giving me insight into a slice of Newfoundland (and a lot of Allan Hawco‘s six pack, not that I mind.)

Canada:  [blushes and looks mysterious.]

Canada Flag

CF for a Vintage Life:  Maybe that’s part of the problem.  You’re so large and diverse that it’s hard to see and know all of Canada.  Plus, it costs as much to see our country by plane or train as it does to go to somewhere with really good chocolate, like Europe.

Canada:  [sighs.]  Yes, even with polar bears, whales and the West Edmonton Mall, it’s hard to compete with European chocolate.

CF for a Vintage Life:  Or Disney World on March Break.  Maybe people would travel around and find out more about you, if it was a little less expensive.  Do you have any sway with those frequent flyer people?

Canada:  Unfortunately not.  Just like everyone else, I have to pay for my luggage now (and at 146 years old, I come with a lot of baggage).

CF for a Vintage Life:  Wow, I can see how that would be expensive.  But, do you feel like you have an identity?

Canada:  I think that like everyone, I have some days when I’m all, “look at my gorgeous Rockies” and “all our packaging has two languages on it”.  Then, there are the shaky days when it’s non-stop pipelines and rainforests at risk and conditions in northern communities and then…well, it’s Niagara Falls.  It all just comes pouring out.  But, whenever I doubt myself, I just watch a Rick Mercer rant.  I’ve got him on TiVo.

CF for a Vintage Life:  But, do you ever feel that maybe you should, y’know, be a little more bossy?  Kind of tell the world what we’re made of?

Canada:  Bossy?  No.  I’ve always thought of myself as the Betty to Archie’s Veronica; the Mary Ann to Gilligan’s Ginger.  But, I think that I sort of came into my own in 1965 with the new flag.  It was a huge honour for me to have that recognition (I mean, you work and work your whole life and overcome so many obstacles–like the influx of Europeans and wrangling droughts and tree roots in the prairies and our sacrifices to the mines and wars–and suddenly, years later, someone notices) and I never feel better about it than when I look at my flag.   It’s a deceptively simple design but have you ever tried to draw that maple leaf free-hand?  It’s not easy, let me tell you.

CF for A Vintage Life:  No kidding!  I heard even Marie-Louise Gay gave up.  So, the flag represents you pretty well, you think?

Canada:  Yes.  It’s a lot like Canada with its vibrant colours and a unique look among other flags.   And, it looks pretty darn good on a backpack.

CF for A Vintage Life:  Kind of sums us up pretty well, doesn’t it?  So, Canada:  any wishes for your birthday?

Canada:  Christine, I just want what everyone else in Canada wants:  a Coffee Only line at the Tim Horton’s drive-thru.

Canada flag in felt

Copyright Christine Fader 2013.  All rights reserved.  
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