I am on an adventure and I still don’t know where it will take me. Moving through the motions step-by-step. How did we get where we are, and where the hell are we going? I honestly never predicted that I would end up where I am right now. And I have no idea where my adventure will take me in a year. But frankly, I don’t really care. Because the reality is, the best part of life is not having everything worked out. There’s nothing more exciting then not knowing exactly what’s going to happen in the next few months, because it means you might end up living somewhere as crazy and unpredictable as Paris.
I had no idea where my adventure would lead when I embarked on that 23 hour flight from Australia to Milan with Zeenia, a girl who at the time was nothing more than a complete stranger, (whose shorts I quite fancied). After spending a week in a hostel, going from early morning Italian classes back to my uncomfortable cold bunk bed, I moved out with Zeenia and Gemma into an Airbnb in the Navigli until our respective apartments were ready. Let me just say its not ideal living in a studio apartment meant for one person, with two complete strangers. It’s especially not the ideal conditions for your first few weeks of middle of winter misery in Milan, where the thought of going for strolls outside in the pouring rain really didn’t appeal to a Sydney girl with a serious case of Tanarexia (Tanarexia: “An obsessive desire to acquire and maintain a suntan, by natural or artificial methods.”
The funny thing about moving to a new city is that you really don’t have any idea what it will be like. Especially when you’ve never been there before. Of course I imagined I would be walking down the streets of Milan, with the sun shining, dressed in all my fabulous new clothes, looking like nothing short of a super model. As I’m sure you’re aware, Milan and Paris are famously known for being the fashion capitals of the world. “Wow Milan! You’re going to get the best clothes!” “Don’t bring any winter clothes you can just buy all new ones!” These were the sentences ringing in my ears prior to my departure from Sydney. So naturally I took the intelligent advice and left all my winter clothes behind.
Oh yes I heard all about the beautiful clothes and the amazing shops. But what no one seemed to really emphasize, is the necessity of warm winter clothes when you arrive to a country in WINTER. My prior vision of supermodel like stature was in reality, me stomping the streets of Milan puffed up like a sumo wrestler with about ten layers of jumpers, tops, cardigans and a leather jacket to achieve something close to the equivalent of one decent coat. Not only was I a sumo wrestler, but also a dripping wet sumo wrestler with soaking hair, smudged mascara and cold hands. No the gloves I bought from the Pakistani man on the side of the street were not waterproof. I was cold, wet and worst of all POOR. Expensive coats from amazing boutiques were not factored into my survival budget. Thank god for vintage!
In both Milan and Paris, how you dress on a daily basis is approached entirely differently than in Australia. In Milan, fashion is about expression. It’s a way of portraying yourself with a statement, a way of distinguishing yourself through an alternative, individualistic look. There were many a time that I noticed people treating me entirely differently depending on what outfit I wore that day. In Milan it’s really not about how beautiful you are, but rather what you’re wearing. People are much more likely to acknowledge your existence, give you free coffees or give you their seat on the metro if you’re dressed well. It doesn’t matter what style you portray, as long as you do it well, you will undoubtedly gain the Milanese people’s respect. Even the homeless people begging for food in the streets are dressed with clear style and cohesion!
In Paris, people are just as fashion conscious but it’s expressed through a different style. The French are more renowned for their classy and sophisticated elegance. It matches the more withdrawn and hierarchal attitude (they can be really bitchy). But nevertheless, in both Milan and Paris it’s not normal to wear exercise gear in public (unless you’re entering or leaving a gym). It’s certainly NOT acceptable to wear tracksuit pants to the grocery shop, even if it is just across the road from your apartment. I tried it the other day in Paris in my local supermarché in the 16eme, which is the most expensive arrondissement of Paris and where the prices of everything triples. I was tired, it was raining, I was just going out for five minutes and despite being fully aware that it’s a Paris no-no, I wore trackies, a jumper and my Nikes. The shopkeeper usually greets me with a respectful smile and ‘Bonjour mademoiselle. Que voudriez-vous?’ But when I came in with a dégueulasse outfit, a merdique French accent, and held up the whole queue by neglecting to pack my bags and forgetting the pin code to my new French card, she looked at me with a face that screamed “GET OUT. You’re not French, you look like a homeless person and you’re not welcome in our shop.”
Even my French boyfriend gets fully clothed in a coat and boots just to walk me outside of his apartment when I’m taking an uber to the airport at 5am in the morning. He then goes back into his apartment, gets changed into his pyjamas and goes back to sleep. HE WON’T EVEN GO OUTSIDE FOR 2 MINUTES AT 5AM DRESSED ANYTHING LESS THAN PERFECT. This is a reeeeaaaal foreign concept to us Australians, a country where it’s completely acceptable to go shopping in no shoes. Of course now after 10 months abroad, I have learned to adapt. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the days when I could stroll to the grocery shop in thongs, a singlet and trackies. It was a simple life. A happy life. Unfortunately I am now changed forever. In my first few days in Milan I bought an umbrella from another Pakistani street seller, whilst running to class in the pouring rain. It turned out to be a really ugly leopard print pattern. So naturally, I wont use it. Yes that’s what Milan does to you. It turns you into someone who would rather suffer in the pouring rain, then take out the perfectly intact umbrella, albeit awfully tacky, sitting innocently in your backpack.
As humans, we learn how to adapt, and soon when the experience is all over, we look back at the people we used to be, and realize, with a certain contentment, that we will never again be able to be who we once were. And if we do go back to that, well that’s just going backwards, and as Rudyard Kipling so profoundly said, “never look backwards or you’ll fall down the stairs.”