It Started with a Baguette...New Friends in Paris

The secret’s out.  I have a new best friend.

It was a cold February morning.  The sun was peaking out but not enough to warm my chilly fingers and cheeks.  But then I entered the bakery with my colleagues to film a small interview with a baker and I met someone who's smile warmed me right up.  Irina.  My new best friend.

Irina: My new BFF
I was back by the ovens filming the interview, the air heavy with the scent of yeast, while she was in the storefront, doing her thing.  Selling baguettes.  Pushing the financiers.  She came back at one point and our eyes met for a moment.  “Bonjour.”  It all began.

After about a half an hour, I walked up to the counter to meet Irina and to order a baguette.  Her coworker had informed me that Irena had been at the bakery longer than any other worker, but her grandmotherly age barely showed.  I said hello again and asked for a baguette.  She countered, coyly, with a “what kind?”  Brains and beauty.  I asked about the different ones, and she told me the differences.  So many choices of baguette.  I chose, she smiled and handed me the goods.  I handed her the money with a little nod.  I felt like I should have slipped her a paper with my number on it.

After this final scene was shot, the mounting attraction and tension eased and we could talk like humans who had just shot a scene from Pretty Woman together.  Irena explained to me that she was Polish.  I said I was, too, distantly at least.  But I came from America and I was studying at the Sorbonne.  The bond was cemented.  As we packed up to leave, she implored me to come back and visit.  My classes were just up the street, so I assured her that I’d be back soon.
She even gave me the freshest baguette warm frim the oven...
During our total interaction of roughly fifteen minutes, Irina opened up to me in a way that so few people in Paris do.  Parisians are known for being a bit introverted, but then again, what’s a Parisian?  Irena was as much of a Parisian as I am.  Both of us live and work here, but both of us come from other places.  Her slight Polish accent was nothing compared to my American accent, but we got each other instantly.  “You’re a foreigner, too?  Let’s be friends.”

We both know the hardships of being a foreigner in Paris, just like immigrants in any city.  We both also know the joys.  Irena is surrounded by baked goods all day long.  I tell people stories about Paris while walking around in the sunshine.  Neither of us can complain.  We share more than a common enemy (French bureaucracy), we share a common love of this place.

During every interaction, Irina could not stop smiling infectiously with those eyes glittering under that perfectly coiffed and colored hair.  I didn’t know if she was smiling at me or if she was just proud that someone took interest in what she was doing.  I wonder if she thought about the same things that I thought about, if her family approved of her moving to Paris.  Were they proud?  Did they miss her?  Was this little filming a big moment for her?  A sort of validation of her expat experience here in Paris?

I’ll have to ask her next time I head down to her bakery.  And if I’m lucky she’ll slip me some of those tasty mini financiers.

(Photo credits: The lovely Stephen Mann and Amanda Rogers)