How to Navigate Paris in 1962 vs 2017

A stack of flyers on a table

I was born in 1934 and grew up in Boston. After college I married a nice Jewish boy named Irwin Cohen. Irwin didn’t turn out to be a great husband, so we divorced in 1963 and I went to Paris to find out about life. Fifty-four years later, I’m going back to Paris to perform stand-up comedy in French and English, and things are a little different now than they were back then.

SS united statesHow to Get There

1962: I booked the SS United States liner, fastest ship at that time. It only took five days to cross the ocean. Lots of fun with entertainment and the crew.

2017: I book an economy seat online. The journey’s faster, but the food is terrible (nothing like the 5 courses served on the ship). Also, it’s a too short of time to flirt with the crew. You can’t win!

How to Pack

1962: We didn’t have compact, light suitcases that rolled and spun, so I brought a huge old trunk which must have weighed 50 pounds. It was plastered with labels just like in the 1974 movie Murder on the Orient Express. The Purser said it would be in my hotel room in Paris when I arrived, and it was! (Such was travel in 1962.)

2017: I have a suitcase that rolls in every direction. No trunks, but every suitcase and golf bag costs $100 each way as extra baggage. Bring me back the ship and my spacious trunk!

How to Meet French People

1962: I fled my first hotel ($300 a night!), and wandered the streets looking for a cheaper hotel. I went into a café for a cup of coffee. The young Frenchman beside me asked, “What is your trouble?” I poured out my dilemma. He helped me find a cheap hotel, and then we walked around the Latin Quarter. Wow! This was a real Parisian adventure! He invited me to spend Sunday afternoon with his family and friends in the countryside. While I was there, everyone stared at me like I was an alien. Nobody talked to me. I don’t think they’d ever met an American before and were wondering why the heck he’d invited me. They probably thought we were having an affair. After the picnic, I never heard from him again.

2017: Now I don’t pick up guys in cafés. The minute I get off the plane I open Tinder and within a half hour I get hits from a half dozen guys, many between the ages of 19 and 34 – the year I was born. Frenchmen are so much more appreciative of older women!

How to Find Long-term Lodging

D'yan's dorm at the Cite Universitaire. Image: Fondation des Etats-Unis
Maison des Etats-Unis at the Cite Universitaire. Image: Fondation des Etats-Unis

1962: I went to the Cité Universitaire which had dorms for students from all over the world. The Maison des États-Unis (American House) told me they had no rooms but to keep in touch. I was very upset and decided to go to temple as it was Rosh Hashanah. Miracle of miracles, a fellow American with me in the balcony whom I confided in said he was moving out of a family’s apartment and the room was only $100 a month. I was optimistic, there were two girls about my age living there and I thought, great, I’ll have ready-made friends! Boy, I was wrong—they didn’t talk to me! And my bedroom window faced a boy’s elementary school playground; the screaming began at 7:30am. After two months, I got a room at the Maison des États-Unis! It was a tiny converted shower stall. I was surrounded by tiles on the wall and floor, and the drain was still there. I didn’t have to get out of bed to take a shower! I paid $20 a month and 20 cents for meals in the cafeteria. What a bargain! Breakfast was in the small café in the dorm and I met a lot of other students my age. The people at breakfast actually talked to me. Heaven!

2017: For the next 8 months in Paris I’ll be subletting an apartment I found online. The apartment has a huge huge bathtub and is on the 8th floor in an elevator building. Not the fancy $300-per-night Lutèce Hotel, but at least I have a home of my own and a shower that isn’t a bedroom.

How to Enroll at University

1962: The process of enrollment at La Sorbonne proved to be a nightmare. All of us students would be standing, waiting in lines that were long, long, LONG. Then, when I got to the front, the registration person would start yelling at me, asking for all sorts of different papers and identification. (Middlebury College was never like this.) One day, I just burst out crying in front of the officious French woman. It took about a week of this mayhem to enroll in a French Civilizations and Phonetics Courses.

2017: I’m told it’s very much the same, replete with stuffy administrative officers wagging their fingers.

diana shulman sorbonne

How to Dress

1962: Dark clothes. Wear bright clothes and it’s like wearing a sign that says, “AMERICAN.” I know this because I was invited to a picnic, and of course I said YES and planned to wear my best picnic clothes. I had a beautiful multicolored, striped cardigan that was popular at the golf club. At the picnic, everyone stared at me like I was from outer space. Back then, the French were all wearing very bland, dark clothes.

2017: They’re still wearing very bland, dark clothes.

How to Get the Best Food

1962: In the cafeteria at the Cité Universitaire, the server was handing out pork blood sausages for dinner. I was horrified! This was not my cup of thé. However, she gave the guy before me veal, so I said in my best French, “I want what he got!” The server asked, “Vous êtes Musulman?” I thought quickly, and responded, “Oh no, I’m Jewish.” I got the veal!

2017: I’m 83. Now I am invited every night to a different French family for dinner. The food and wine is the best and I’ve never seen a blood sausage again!

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