This is not your typical, “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat”, “Why are French Women So Stylish” post. This is an essay about experiencing a different culture that is similar to ours in many ways, but so much more laid back and free. I want to share with you how a trip to Paris changed my life.

In the late 1990s I took a trip to Paris with some girlfriends. We were living in Manhattan, so we were used to big city life. When I got to Paris I was amazed at how everything looked like the Plaza Hotel in New York City. The architecture was beautiful. Everywhere I looked it was a big city with a romantic feel.

We were met by a friend from acting school who was a Roman living in Paris. We did some touristy activities during the day, but in the evenings he showed us Paris from the perspective of someone who lives in the city. We went to restaurants and museums that were off the beaten path. I got to see what it would be like to live there, and I got to meet some of his friends who grew up there.

As soon as I landed in France I knew that I could live there. While I never did move to Paris, that experience opened my eyes. It seems cliche to say that Paris changed my life. But my trip to Paris showed me a European sensibility. If you never leave your town or your state or your country, you think there is no other way.

I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone I knew was white and Catholic. Until I went to high school I had never met anyone who was a different religion or had a different skin color. If you never travel or move out of your neighborhood, you will never meet anyone but yourself.

Meeting Parisians was eye opening. The French are so passionate about everything: food, politics, art, living, style, romance. They are open about sex without feeling shame or guilt. They are open about their political views and love to debate respectfully without fighting. They don’t get angry if you support a different political party. They want to talk about books, movies, music, and theatre. The only drawback really, is that they all smoke. I’m overgeneralizing, but that was my experience.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I became friends with a woman who was Parisian. Aimee was in her 70s when I met her and was so full of life and energy — joie de vivre. She passed away in her 80s and I miss her terribly. I learned so much from her. She always took impeccable care of herself. Her hair, makeup and nails were always perfect. Her lips and nails were always the same shade of red. She never tried another color. It was part of her uniform, as I like to call it.

I miss her generosity, and our longs talks on her balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean, sipping champagne while she gave me advice on life and business. She was a very successful businesswoman and restauranteur. Aimee knew how to make money. Her husband passed away leaving her with three small children, and she had to make a living in a new country. She did so immediately. She opened a French restaurant, which sold delicious food, but the best part of the experience was Aimee herself. She was full of exuberance, and she wanted everyone to have a comfortable and happy dining experience. She provided value in spades.

I remember someone saying to me once, “Don’t you think it’s strange that all of your friends are 80 years old.” First of all, that’s not true. I have friends of all ages, and from all around the world. And secondly, I find that statement so insulting. It came from someone who was 65 years old. Did she want to become irrelevant as she retired? People are valuable to me no matter what their age. Maybe I have so many friends who are older because I still see them as people. I can’t tolerate ignorance.

Women are allowed to age in Europe. They are still considered relevant and sexy. Maybe the reason French women are so chic is because they don’t become invisible as they age, so they dress accordingly. Life doesn’t end for them at 50 or 60 or even 80. They keep going as they always have. That’s so empowering.

It’s been more than 20 years since I visited Paris, but my trip there made me realize that there are other ways of life, and other perspectives on life. I carry Paris in my heart. I felt at home in the vibe of that beautifully elegant city.

You’ve probably heard the quote from the movie Casablanca, “We’ll always have Paris.” And as Ernest Hemingway said, “Paris is a Moveable Feast.” You can take Paris with you for the rest of your life.

Have you ever traveled to Paris? Do you plan to? Paris changed my outlook on life. I hope some day it can for you too.