Following her first bestseller The New Paris, author, journalist and Francophile Lindsey Tramuta is back with another city-wide investigation to uncover who la Parisienne really is. She sat down with us to talk about her career path, the outdated stereotype of the Parisian woman and what she has learned from her explorations of the City of Light.
Tell us a little about your backstory. Where are you from? What compelled you to move to Paris and why?
I’m originally from Philadelphia, where I studied French literature and linguistics. Fourteen years ago, I came to Paris (not for the first time) for a summer, and then again the following spring for my last semester of university, and then I never left. I was initially drawn to it, not by the culture or the legendary stories that uphold a certain fantasy of the city as a destination, but by the French language and the literary greats – my focus of study. That certainly evolved as the city’s many intriguing/maddening/edifying/beguiling attributes revealed themselves to me.
Author and journalist Lindsey Tramuta in Paris
How did your career in journalism begin and how has it developed?
When I finished graduate school (The American University of Paris), I created a website to share stories from my sometimes complicated experience as an immigrant in the city. After several years, that platform led me into much broader writing, and I began work as a freelance journalist for The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler (US & UK), Afar Magazine, Fortune Magazine and a handful of other publications. As an English language writer who followed (and continues to follow) the way the city evolves — culturally, artistically, economically, technologically — there are a number of opportunities to document my observations. There is an insatiable (and international) hunger for stories coming out of Paris that has fortunately kept me quite busy. I also launched a podcast three years ago, to spin off my first book, that allows me to give a voice to individuals and stories I might not be able to highlight in the written media. The New Paris podcast has been a fun and illuminating way for me to continue what my first book began.
Your first book – The New Paris: the People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement – was a bestseller. Do you see The New Parisienne as a follow-up?
I do! It certainly tackles the evolving city much like the first book but does so through the lens of its women. It also highlights some of the very serious issues facing women in the city, so while it is an inspiring look at Paris, it is also representative of reality, and that reality isn’t always rosy. But that’s what I want to highlight in my work: what life really is in Paris.
You speak about the oversimplified archetype of the Parisian woman. What does this look like, and how does it differ from reality?
For generations, the image of the Parisian woman has been codified through literary depictions, magazine stories, mainstream cinema and popular media. I trace it back to the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as readers will learn in the introduction. What it leaves us with is a representation resulting from the accumulation of these depictions over time, and almost all of them focus on her outward self, not who she is as a person. She’s thin, almost always heterosexual. She’s impeccably styled and affecting an elegance or edginess we’re told is innate. And of course, she’s white. She is French-born. She is talented in seduction and exudes a sexual freedom that foreign women will look to as an aspiration. Of course, none of this reflects the majority of the population. It effaces the tremendous and refreshing diversity in the population and ignores the very many obstacles to her true freedom. This remains a patriarchal society where discriminations, particularly against women, are legion. But the archetype made her into a brand, and shored up Paris as a brand, which means this long-held image is profitable.
Ajiri Aki, founder of Madame de la Maison
For The New Parisienne, you interviewed over 40 powerful women activists, creators, educators, visionaries, disruptors. What were you most surprised to learn? Was there any common thread?
I was most impressed by their profound love for the city, despite having experienced its shortcomings or injustices. It illustrated that one can have deep affection for a place and still want and even expect it to be better. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
A focal point is on Paris’s rapidly evolving culture. How have you personally seen it change during the time you have lived there?
It has become far more open to foreign influence and to diverse cultures and more comfortable at embracing them. I also think the change comes largely from its citizens and Parisians are as vocal as ever, raising awareness at the aspects of daily life that need improvement. If I think about the influence of Mayor Anne Hidalgo, one of the women I profile in the book, the results are remarkable. She has single-handedly shifted the face of the city from one overrun by cars and various pollutants to one at the service of its people. Ridding the banks of the river of its car traffic, creating 400km+ of dedicated bike lanes and innovating to greenify the city are by no means insignificant changes. They alter the way we engage with the city and ultimately how we create and do business in it.
Did any of your personal views change in the process of writing this book?
These women have certainly opened my eyes to issues facing society and facing women that I can never ignore. They have turned me into a far more engaged citizen and certainly a more vocal feminist. I want what they want: greater equality for women and men and a less hateful society overall. I’ve also broadened my exposure to other women’s work and have allowed my views to be shaped by a much wider range of voices and opinions. One way that happens is through choosing to follow (notably on social media) a plethora of women whose backgrounds, daily struggles and lives differ from my own.
And now you have written the book, what does la parisienne look like to you?
She defines herself less by what she looks like, but who she is, au fond (“in essence”). That’s a good start.
The New Parisienne by Lindsey Tramuta
All photos © Joann Pai