Shakespeare and Company: The American Bookstore of Paris

If one were to take a stroll south from the Notre Dame de Paris, leaving the Île de la Cité via the aptly named Rue de la Cité, they would be greeted on the southern bank by the green faced bookshop known as Shakespeare and Company. The bookshop is the epitome of what should be seen in Paris; there are no flashy signs or wicked displays of grandeur trying to convince you to buy the latest books from the latest authors. Quite the contrary, actually. At the exterior one is met by shelves out front simply offering used copies on sale, a drawing of Shakespeare himself sandwiched in the plain black letters of the sign above the door, and a photo of Uncle Walt flanking to the right.  The interior contains floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, books for anglophones, and it goes back nearly as far as one cares to excavate, creating a basic labyrinth for any book lover to traverse. It is undeniably the ideal bookstore, and as any home of literature should, the bookshop contains an extraordinary story in its walls.

Humble Beginnings

Sylvia Beach first opened Shakespeare and Co., a book lending library for anglophones on November 19, 1919, after months of preparing the new bookstore that had been prepared with her mother’s somewhat limited savings. Beach was able to open the shop with the help of her lifelong partner, Adrienne Monnier, a French woman who ran her own bookshop on the Rue de l’Odéon. Shakespeare and Co. originally opened at 8 Rue Dupuytren, but eventually moved to a much more accommodating 12 Rue de l’Odéon (right across the street from Monnier’s shop), which offered more space for both the books and the patrons that filled the shop constantly. It was called by some, “Stratford upon Odéon.”

Over the next couple of decades, the shop was filled with customers whose names frequent English textbooks globally. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and one of Sylvia Beach’s best friends, James Joyce, (among dozens of others) were all ‘bunnies’ at the shop (Beach’s ‘bunnies’ were her subscribers, a play on the French word for subscribers, “abonnées”). Paris was the birthplace of ideas, and Beach’s bookshop was the home of many of the people who had them. André Chamson, a renowned French writer and curator, said of Beach that, “[she] did more to link England, the United States, Ireland, and France, than four great ambassadors combined.” The shop acted as a hub for authors of the time, who used it as an address to which they could have mail sent to, to receive occasional loans in times of need, and even as somewhere to sleep at night if the situation demanded it (the latter two being situations of relative frequency among novelists of the era).

Publishing Ulysses

The other function of the shop was to act as a publishing house, though with an extraordinary exclusive focus; James Joyce was the sole author Sylvia Beach took on as a publisher, and his novel Ulysses was the sole book she set out to publish. The reason for this was that no publisher in the United States nor Britain would publish the book; it was cited as far too lewd by many, and was banned in both countries on the basis of indecency, and publishers in the countries feared publishing the book for fear of legal repercussions from the government. Beach felt the book was too valuable a work to go unpublished, if a little before its time, and took on the role as the publisher of the book. (France was far from ashamed of indecency at the time, and besides, didn’t have the infrastructure to be managing books in English so closely.)

So Beach partnered with Joyce to publish the book, putting out word that a thousand copies would be printed and would be sold to the first thousand subscribers to send the money for their copy (Joyce was unconvinced a thousand would ever sell, and argued that if but a dozen copies were printed there would surely be some left over). Subscriptions from the English-speaking world flooded in, with large numbers of the books being sold to customers in the U.S. and England.

The countries of residence by these subscribers presented a problem; copies of Ulysses were frequently seized and destroyed at the border due to the ban on the book. Some batches were simply seized by the border control, while others were destroyed. Beach turned to her extraordinarily creative writer friends for solutions to her problems, and “her best customer” (as Ernest Hemingway called himself) had a plan. A friend of his, who Beach called Saint Bernard for his rescue work, rented an apartment in Toronto (Canada did not have a ban on the book). The copies of the book that were to go to American subscribers were sent to his apartment, and each day he would take the ferry across the border with a copy of the book shoved into his pants. After some weeks of this work, Ulysses penetrated the American border unscathed, and Joyce’s writings, however lewd, were read across the U.S.

Other Joycean Works

Despite her original claims of monogamy to Ulysses, Beach ended up publishing two other works of Joyce, though not due to the same complications as Ulysses faced but rather as a sort of testament to the friendship between the author and the publisher.

The first work was a collection of thirteen poems, Pomes Penyeach. They were to be sold for a shilling a piece, “like the wares of the old apple woman on the bridge over the Liffey.” The thirteen Pomes (a play on the French word for apple, “pomme”) ended up costing Shakespeare and Co. more than a shilling (six francs fifty, as the conversion was at the time) to produce due to printing costs of English works, so it was sold at a loss.

The other work of Joyce’s published by Shakespeare and Co. was Our Exagmination Round his Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. (The title was shortened in later publications.) The work was another set of thirteen, but this time they were studies on his new Work in Progress by twelve writers who had been involved deeply in the creation of the work, and one journalist who was commissioned by Beach at Joyce’s behest to write a scathing review of the piece.

Saving Shakespeare and Co.

In the thirties, Shakespeare and Co. grew out of its role as a place only for regular clientele, and began to attract tourists and travelers. Articles about the bookshop were published in several journals and magazines throughout the English-speaking world, and knowledge of the publishing house of Joyce’s Odyssey became widespread. It eventually became a well known spot for visitors, with tour busses even pointing it out on their tour down the Rue de l’Odéon.

Despite its fame, Shakespeare and Company hit hard times during the depression after the first war. The bookshop no longer had the means to maintain itself the way it needed to, and closure seemed inevitable. According to Sylvia Beach, upon mentioning this to her friend André Gide, he exclaimed, “We can’t give up Shakespeare and Co.!” and he set out to find a solution.

The first attempt was to convince the French government to subsidize the store, but the French were unenthused about the idea of financing the ventures of a foreigner, and with one war having ended and another on the brink, it was impossible.

The second, more successful, attempt to save the shop involved creating an annual subscription for two-hundred people to be permitted to attend monthly readings of unpublished works by significant names in literature. This was widely successful, and if not for the two-hundred-person capacity of the room where the readings were taking place, there likely would have been significantly more subscribers.

Nazi Occupation of Paris

World War Two brought an unparalleled wave of tragedy to Paris. In June of 1940, the Nazi forces began to flood into the city. As Beach puts it, “[it was] An endless procession of motorized forces: tanks and armored cars and helmeted men seated with arms folded. The men and machines were all a cold gray, and they moved to a steady deafening roar.” At this point, many Parisians had already abandoned the city, or tried to, and the estimated population of Paris was 25,000 when the Germans came.

Beach was affiliated with several Jews during the occupation, an important one being Françoise Bernheim, who was a student of Sanskrit at Sorbonne, before Jews were banned from the school under Nazi law. Françoise kept learning under the instruction of Beach, the two pouring over the notes from students who were allowed to attend classes.

There was a period of time where Americans were generally safe from the Germans, because the United States had not yet declared war on the Nazis, but when the time for the declaration of war inevitably came, Beach’s nationality in addition to her affiliations with Jews meant she was forced to be more cautious.

One day, a high-ranking German officer came into the shop requesting to purchase Finnegan’s Wake. Beach declined to sell the book, stating that it was her last copy of it remaining, and she intended to keep it for herself. When the officer came back two weeks later, he declared that he would return later in the day to confiscate all the goods from the shop. In two hours, Beach and her fellow literary warriors removed every single book from the shop, and when the Germans arrived later that day, there was nothing to take but Beach herself.

Beach spent six months in an internment camp. When she returned to Paris, she went into hiding in a student’s hostel, until eventually Paris was liberated. The Rue de l’Odéon was liberated by none other than Ernest Hemingway, who first removed the Nazi snipers on the top of Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop across the street, and then went to “liberate the [wine] cellar of the Ritz.” Beach’s bookstore never reopened.

Revival of a Bookshop

In 1964, four hundred years after the birth of the bard himself, Shakespeare and Co. opened in a different form; George Whitman, a journalist and traveler turned bookshop owner, renamed his Paris bookshop (originally Le Mistral) to Shakespeare and Co. in honor of Sylvia Beach’s shop. Unfortunately, Beach died two years prior to the renaming, and never got to see Shakespeare and Company itself revived, but she did frequent Whitman’s shop in the fifties, along with some contemporary authors of the day such as Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Durrell.

Whitman brought a new life to the bookshop, as well as a new experience as a world traveler. He introduced the Tumbleweed program, a program in which all students of literature are allowed to sleep in the shop at night, under three rules: they must help out for a few hours at the shop each day, they must read a book each day, and they must write a one page autobiography that can go in the history of Shakespeare and Company. Since Whitman first introduced this program, an estimated 30,000 tumbleweeds have stayed at the shop.

George Whitman died in 2011, but the shop has since been run by his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman.

Beach’s Legacy

The question of whether authors would have made things work without the help of Shakespeare and Company is not really a question – great authors survive under the circumstances of any era. Rather, Shakespeare and Co. gave great authors the chance to thrive in a way that the world had never seen before. It is because of the work of Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier that we now have some of the most important works in English literature that will ever exist.

After having read through the stories told by and about Beach and Monnier, one thing is clear to me: we owe modern literacy to these women.


Shakespeare and Co., like many other businesses in the time of COVID-19, has recently fallen under hard times. Please consider purchasing a book from their online store to help support this ultra important piece of English history stay alive to tell its story.

This article was a rather large project of mine, and it would be greatly appreciated for you to subscribe to The Road And The Tree mailing list, and shared this article with others via social media. It helps the blog keep going, and more importantly, the writer of it motivated.

Sources:

“Shakespeare and Company,” By Sylvia Beach

“Americans in Paris,” By Charles Glass

The Shakespeare and Co. Website (shakespeareandcompany.com)

Montmartre – The Sacré Coeur and Place du Tertre

Within the regular bounds of Paris, there are few places from which a high-rise look is available. The Eiffel Tower is a classic high rise spot to view the city, as is the Montparnasse Tower, but there is one spot that is undeniably a bit more refined, a bit more authentic; that place is Montmartre. The hill is the closest thing there is to a mountain in Paris, so it’s not surprising that it holds one of the best views of the city, but what might be a little more surprising is just how lovely the mountain of the martyr actually is.

The Sacré Coeur

The most famous thing that Montmartre is known for is for the Sacré Coeur Basilica (Sacred Heart in English), a massive cathedral built on the hill in the late 19th century. The cathedral is relatively young, considering the Notre Dame de Paris was built in the 12th century, but it clearly shows in its architecture. The Sacré Coeur is a multi-tiered masterpiece with six domed peaks sticking up out of it. On either side of the three-arched entrance is an equestrian statue, one of Joan of Arc, and the other of King Saint Louis IX.

The Sacré Coeur Basilica (Photo: Ben Patterson)

The Sacré Coeur is a completely unforgettable sight to behold. The cathedral is magnificent both inside and out, and the building itself strikes me as particularly unique. The white brick that is so apparent from the outside is almost shocking to come across, and the gold that floats around the interior decorations is not only gorgeous, but tasteful instead of purely luxurious. The cathedral sticks up over almost everything else in the area, and its presence is known by everyone there in a sort of pleasing and reassuring way.

There is assuredly another aspect of being at this cathedral that makes it so unforgettable, and that’s the view. The entirety of Montmartre is known for the view, but the Sacré Coeur is located in the prime spot to be able to take advantage of it. In front of the cathedral lies two plazas; one directly in front, a wide staircase that goes down a couple of flights, and the second one below. These plazas make excellent stages for street performers of all kinds, be they dancers, singers, or small bands. It also serves as a sort of marketplace for street vendors, who sell little light up statues and keychains to tourists.

The view from directly in front of the Sacré Coeur (Photo: Ben Patterson)

This spot, in my opinion, serves as a summary for what Paris is about today. The cathedral emerging overtop everything reminds you the roots from which western culture was born, and that the influence of the church will never truly fade. The plaza in front, however, shows you more of what day to day life is all about in Paris. There is a bit of fun going on, maybe some music or a nice show, but there is also the humble recognition that Paris is a place that attracts lots of tourists, and that in one way or another Paris must profit (thus, the street vendors). The view of the city reminds you that you are taking part in something huge, but then you look at the crowd around you, and feel like you can also be part of a single small moment. It is a profound feeling to just stand and enjoy the view, and is completely unparalleled by anything I’ve ever experienced elsewhere.

Place du Tertre

If you go around the cathedral and take the very natural and attractive roads back to it, you will come across the Place du Tertre. Meaning Plaza of the Hill in English, this little plaza makes you understand the reason people stay in Paris. The plaza is home to bunches of little stands selling crêpes and waffles, gift shops selling berets and scarves, and restaurants that let you sit in the garden and enjoy a nice croque monsieur.

Place du Tertre (Photo: Ben Patterson)

Of course, the plaza would not be what it is if it were merely a collection of gift shops and crêpe stands; what would Paris itself be if not for that? The plaza and the surrounding streets are also home to artists galore. Some want to paint your portrait, some want to paint the scenery, but all of them are there because they are pursuing a legitimate path in art. Some of the greatest painters of all time lived in or around the plaza, with names like Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Renoir being among the tenants of the past.

Street leading to the Place du Tertre (Photo: Ben Patterson)

The plaza is, in a word, lovely. It’s difficult to describe one thing that makes it better than any other plaza in Paris, but that’s just the problem, because there isn’t one thing that makes it better. The smell of fresh croissants wafts just a little bit stronger through the streets, the lights glow just a little bit warmer under the canopies, and the people seem just a little bit happier to be existing at all when being there. There isn’t one massive thing that makes the Place du Tertre such a lovely location; there are a million little things that just remind you of all the good things in the world.


Montmartre is truly one of the best places to visit if you’re in Paris, and even if you have a limited amount of time for it, find the time to go to these two places. You can make it through them both in a couple of hours, but you will come out decades happier. Keep in mind that it is certainly a tourist area, so keep an eye out for pickpockets and you might have to shoo away some very determined painters who have decided you to be the subject of their next painting (of course, assuming you’ll buy it), but it is completely worth it to enjoy yourself with a nice café and a warm crêpe, and just imagine for a moment that there is nothing wrong with the world.

(NOTE: Photos taken by Ben Patterson were taken on the same day at the same time as I was there. Sometimes it pays to have a friend who takes more pictures than you do, and I learned that lesson on this visit to Montmartre.)

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Life Update: I Moved to Paris!

As you might or might not know, I have been working on moving to Paris, in order to attend my university, the American University of Paris. What you might not know is what this process has looked like, especially given the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought us. For the past four months or so I’ve been dealing with getting a visa through embassies that were closed due to health concerns, obtaining housing first through a company that has now gone out of business, and then through the university (which under normal circumstances does not provide this service), etc. It’s been a long few months to say the least. That all being said, it’s behind me now, and now I’m in the city of light and love, Paris, France.

The Journey

I started my journey in France by ending my journey in Oklahoma. After saying goodbye to my family, I hauled my stuff through TSA, and waited for a couple of hours for my plane to arrive (early is on time). My first flight was from Oklahoma City to Dallas Fort Worth, which if you’ve ever flown that flight, you probably know is a joke. The flight takes less than an hour, and almost every time you get packed into a plane that’s just a little smaller than it should be.

In Dallas, I got a sandwich for dinner, and almost immediately boarded the plane to Paris Charles de Gaulle. At the gate, everyone boarding was required to show their COVID test result, as well as their reason for going to France (right now the only people allowed to enter France are people with valid student or business visas, so there is currently no tourism allowed in the country).

The plane I was on was a Boeing 774, which is the huge aircraft that you see typically on these sorts of intercontinental overnight flights. The economy class seats are set up with two rows of 3 seats on the sides of the plane, and a row of 4 in the middle. Normally, these seats are packed, but given the fact that no tourists are allowed in France, the plane was practically empty. The plane capacity is about 300 as far as I could tell, but I think overall there were about 50 people on the entire plane, including the pilot and crew.

The plane after being “fully boarded” from DFW to CDG

It was awesome. I’ve always hated long flights like that, with hardly any room to stretch out, much less lie down. On this flight, however, I could put the arms of the three seats I had to myself up, and lie down. Like I said, it was awesome.

Arriving in France

When I landed in France, it was a wonderful day. Bright, sunny, and perfect. I landed on a morning flight, so about 9:30, and was greeted immediately by the AUP student advisors, who quickly loaded myself and four other AUP Freshman onto a shuttle, and brought us to our apartments.

Now let me just say, my apartment is fantastic for what I’m using it for. It’s nothing huge, and it’s probably not somewhere I would want to live in the long term, but as a Freshman in college, it’s the dream. it has a bedroom (which I share with my roommate), a bathroom, a washroom, a kitchenette, and even a small foyer area. Compared to the people who I know that live in traditional dorms at universities in the US, I’m living large.

My apartment is also in a great location. It’s situated in La Défense, which is considered the business district of Paris. La Défense is home to la Grande Arche, which is a monument that mimics the Arc de Triomphe, but in a modern style and significantly larger as well. La Grande Arche is situated about 5km from the Arc de Triomphe, and directly down the Avenue de la Grande Armée, which is the same road as the Champs Elysées, just on the other side of the arch. This all means that it’s a straight shot view from the arche to the arc, and it’s a fantastic view.

The View of the Arc de Triomphe near my apartment

Why Paris?

Paris is an amazing, diverse, intercultural city. When you talk about diversity, especially in light of recent events, Paris is an amazing place to be where you can get the opinions and viewpoints of underprivileged or even completely discriminated against communities and people. It is, without a doubt, the place to go if you want to figure out how you can contribute to better your community with every breath you take.

That’s not to mention the beauty of the city itself. There’s no denying that Paris is rich in history, society, and culture. The more I look around while I’m here, the more I see how things in the US and elsewhere have been influenced or evolved from the Parisian culture. The architecture of each and every building is well thought out, and durability, not cost, is often the name of the game when building or buying something. So many of the buildings in the city were made long periods ago, with the intention that they would last. People live in apartments that are a hundred years old at least, without batting an eye. Additionally, the monuments themselves serve as a reminder of how old things actually are. From the Louvre, to the Hôtel des Invalides, the city serves a constant reminder that there was so much before us, and there will be so much after.

For more info on why I chose to go to the American University of Paris, check out my previous post “Why I (An American) Am Choosing to Attend University Abroad.”


So that’s that, I moved to Paris! I’ll be posting more about the things I’m doing in day to day life from here on, so make sure you’re signed up to receive email updates when I post new content (form below).

How Not to Look Like a Tourist in Paris

Most of us want to experience what it means to experience the local culture authentically, rather than to fall into the abundant tourist traps that are so common in places like Paris. Additionally, Paris is known for things like pickpockets and scam artists, so acting like a local can help defend you from these threats by never even initiating with them. Fortunately for most people, it’s possible to pass as a local, instead of being pandered to as a foreigner with money to spare on their vacation. Here is how not to look like a tourist when visiting Paris.

Clothing Choice

When considering your clothing choice, it’s easy to fall into the trap of dressing with branded clothes or t-shirts with words all over them. When in Paris, you should consider finding clothing that isn’t overtly branded, or at least choose brands with a global presence. Try wearing clothes that don’t have visible words on them, as nothing says “American” quite like a Bass Pro Shop t-shirt. If you choose to wear a sweatshirt, wear one that fits well. Baggy clothes look very American.

For pants, make sure you have well-fitting pants that are meant for general use. Jeans and chinos are great choices for this kind of thing, but you want to avoid wearing things like sweatpants or joggers. French people in general wear clothing to match their setting, and clothes like that are seen as meant for the gym alone.

When it comes to shoes, choose something in a subtle color like black or grey. You’ll obviously need tennis-shoes for how much one walks in Paris, but you won’t be needing brightly colored running shoes that you can see from a mile away. Try again to stick with brands that are subtle, but if you need that extra style point, go with Adidas as they are very popular in Europe in general.

Try to stay away from hats in general. Baseball caps, with some exceptions, are seen as an American staple, and berets (while certainly the cliché) are certainly not something worn by the majority of French people at all. Make sure you have an umbrella, to keep the rain away when necessary instead of a hat.

As a tourist, you’re going to still be needing something like a backpack. Make sure your backpack is low key and dull, instead of being flashy and colorful. However, do ensure that you can always identify your backpack as yours, in the event it is stolen or left behind and you need to identify it. My personal backpack has a small red and blue ribbon on the handle. Fanny packs are a definite no go if you want to not look like a tourist.

Walking and Talking

When walking down the street, try to stay out of other people’s way. Typically, one walks on the right side of the sidewalk (as cars drive on the right of the road), but the important part is paying attention and not bumping into people, especially when you might be admiring the scenery. If you need to consult a map, try to get off the sidewalk, and do it in as much privacy as possible, as you will attract less attention.

Parisians are relatively private people, and this leads to the fact that for the most part, they tend to keep their voices down. I am certainly guilty of having a louder than necessary voice in settings that don’t require it, and especially when not speaking French, it’s important to keep your voice down and to yourself. You aren’t hiding, you’re just being private and sticking to yourself.

When greeting anyone, use a simple “Bonjour.” This goes certainly when you approach someone to talk to them, but also as a nice greeting when you walk into shops, cafés, or even elevators. It’s typical of locals to use this greeting when entering a building and such, and even if your accent exposes you as a tourist, you are likely to get much better service than you would if you came across as impolite for not doing it.

Learn a few phrases in French, and try to communicate in French first with any locals you might meet (read 7 Phrases You Need to Learn In The Local Language When Traveling). Even if you have to switch to English to get any real conversation done, giving this initial attempt puts yourself in the favor of others, and makes your outcome from the conversation much more beneficial.

La Bise

As one of the most talked about subjects of French culture, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the basics of the bise, or kiss on the cheek, that many French people use as a greeting. In Paris, the usual custom is to do one kiss on each cheek, however this amount can change based on the region of France, as well as with different friend groups. Let the locals lead the way on this, and you can follow what they do.

Who you should be doing la bise with is a whole other subject on its own. Generally speaking, la bise only occurs between women, or between a man and a woman. It is not common for men to do la bise unless very close friends, family, or partners. Additionally, la bise is specifically meant for friends, and a handshake should be used in business meetings or official appointments. Again, let the locals lead here.

With COVID-19, la bise is currently not currently recommended as general practice. Until the pandemic is over, stick with a handshake or an elbow bump, and remember to use hand sanitizer always.

Just Act Natural

The key to not acting like a tourist is to act intimately familiar with wherever you are, but don’t do this at the cost of your entire experience. In the age of the cell phone camera, don’t be afraid to take photos of the beautiful scenery of Paris – even the locals do it! The point of acting like a local is to experience Paris as a local does, but it’s also to deter scam artists and pickpockets, as they know the locals are much harder targets than tourists. As long as you are being safe and cautious, having a good experience in Paris is more important than not getting recognized as a tourist.


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Why I, An American, Am Choosing To Attend University Abroad

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

For many people, attending university abroad is a daunting task to say the least. To bury yourself in a whole different culture for a massive span of time, well it’s just not something people consider. I happen to be the exception to this rule, so here is why I, an American, am deciding to take a leap of faith and attend university in Paris.

I come from Oklahoma, and with its many ups and downs that it may have, something worth noting about it is that the vast majority of the people who live here have always lived here. I don’t mean individuals that never moved away, I mean families whose entire lineage, as far as anyone can remember, comes from Oklahoma. My family is one of those families.

When I first began to show interest in learning French, I had a lot of people, both in my family and out of it, asking very candidly why I would be doing that. There was never an intention to be rude, but they genuinely wanted to know what function French might have in life. In Oklahoma, the only other language that is even occasionally spoken is Spanish, and practically every Spanish speaker also speaks some level of English. Even further, if you’re going to travel somewhere from Oklahoma, the odds are much greater that you’ll be going somewhere that speaks Spanish than French. Truly, in Oklahoma, there isn’t much practicality in learning a language like French, but still I learned it.

The thing I noticed as I began to learn French was that the world was so much bigger than I realized it to be. Sure, I’d taken geography like everyone else, but I had never really grasped the concept that people on the other side of the earth would be leading different, but no less interesting, lives of their own. The more I learned about the culture surrounding the French language, things like the value of art and of treating food with care, the more I fell deeply in love with not just French or European culture, but rather this idea that the world is perceived differently by every individual on it. No culture has it right or wrong, but each different society is equally intricate and equally beautiful.

So as I learned about France, about its rich history of art and literature, of science and architecture, and even eventually got to spend some time there. As I did, I felt more and more like an archaeologist realizing that they’ve uncovered an ancient version of a being that exists to this day. I realized that the culture I had grown up in was adapted from the European culture that I could see across the ocean. I could recognize the pieces and trace their history, like recognizing a bone that exists in two species that look completely different. I could see that American religion, and even the specific southern forms of this that we see so commonly, were not that different from the European versions of Catholicism and Christianity, but that they had adapted to fit the landscape and the needs the people faced in the US. I could even look at American grocery stores and draw comparisons to their French counterparts, but also seeing that they are different for very practical reasons. My view on the entire society I lived in shifted, and I realized that just about 5,000 miles away from me was not some sort of archaic ancestor of the culture mine had come from, but rather a culture that shared a common ancestor, who had adapted to resolve its own set of trials. So just as if you found out you’d had a long lost sibling you’d never heard of, I immediately began to figure out how I was going to get over there, to meet this sister culture, to experience the things that it had that my own did not.

Now certainly Europe is not one contiguous culture or society. They don’t share the same delicacies, the same burdens, or even the same interests. That being said, something resonated to me within France. To me, there is a sort of intercultural exposure that France has seen especially in the last century and a half. Looking at great American and British authors, at the great painters of the world, at the architecture of my own country’s capital, it was clear to me that France, and more specifically Paris, had something within it that was important to the human experience, so important that it inspired greatness (or at least added to it). I don’t yet know what that is, but I plan on figuring it out.

The other piece of the puzzle I had to figure out was how to not just visit France, but live there. There is a difference between being a tourist and being a resident. Being a tourist is great sometimes, and broadening our global perspective through travel is important, but I want to know what it’s like to live somewhere. Being a resident of somewhere is the only way to submerge yourself in a truly different worldview, and if only for a moment, adopt it and see what it’s like.

I looked at loads of different options as to how I would make my voyage, which were received by my parents with understandably variable amounts of enthusiasm and support. I looked into going to a local university and spending my second year abroad, but I truly wasn’t sure I could wait a whole year. I looked into spending a semester with a host family through an exchange program, but that didn’t promise any real level of the flexibility that I desired. I even looked into taking a gap year and straight up moving to France with absolutely no safety net, but that was shot down for what I now recognize as obvious reasons.

Eventually I found the American University of Paris, which immediately caught my full attention and admiration. I had looked at a few French universities, but I also promised myself to never take classes in French until I could consider myself fluent, because the last thing I would want is to fail a course because I couldn’t understand what the instructor was saying. The beauty of AUP is that all of the classes (with the obvious exception being French) are in English, meaning no language barrier to deal with. Not to mention that AUP offers a supremely diverse student body, possibly one of the most diverse in the world. Out of its roughly 1,100 students, 108 nationalities are represented. AUP wasn’t just going to offer me the opportunity to get educated in my favorite city in the world, but it was going to give me the chance to do it with a highly diverse student body that represented cultures from all over the world. I’m definitely not trying to sell anyone on the idea of going to AUP. Choosing a university is a complicated enough process, and my voice trying to convince people wouldn’t make anything better. I’m simply saying that AUP offers me an extremely enticing opportunity that I’m not willing to waste.

That doesn’t mean that it was some sort of easy decision to go to Paris for university. In fact, I’ve been quizzed and drilled about my choice by almost every adult in my life about it. Usually when I mention that I’m going to France for college, I first hear a reaction of congratulations, followed immediately by a host of technical questions relating to whether or not the education will be equivalent (it is), whether or not it will be vastly more expensive than college in the US (it is not), etc. As clear as it was that no one was as confident in my decision as I was, there was certainly a sort of reinforcement to my reasoning.

See, global citizenship is the thing I’m striving for in going to France. The purpose to me is to open my mind up to different cultures, to different ways of thinking and different ideologies. The big looming question, however, was whether or not that is a practical skill set. Sure, it’s fun to go around Europe as a teenager, but what does it really offer for a job, for a career?

The truth is that the world is global now. We don’t just live in our villages or our towns anymore, but rather through a vast platform of international citizens. Almost every major business deals with international commerce and trade, and that’s where I fit in. This world needs people who understand how to delicately navigate the global stage without overwhelming it with too much of one culture. And so with every adult bombarding me with questions, it made me that much more confident that the world needs a global perspective more than it ever has before.

Ultimately, I know that my decision to go abroad for college is risky. I know that it’s not normal, and I know that I’m jumping a bit into the deep end on this one. However, I also know that the decision to expand my worldview to encompass more of the world is one that affects everyone around me, and it’s the best way I can leave my mark on the world.

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The Road and the Tree: Introduction

We live in the age of information, a time in humanity where we have the most communication of any generation of humans in the history of the world. In each of our pockets there lies a device with the computing power 100,000 times that of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. There is nowhere on the planet to which communication is impossible, and the ability to see and hear someone on the opposite side of the world, to tell stories in real time, to talk with them as if they are in the same room as us, is no longer a dream but rather something we have the opportunity to engage with on a daily basis. Planet earth, with all of its different and equally interesting cultures, is now the habitat for a global culture, available for all that seek it out.

It is my personal perspective that this global citizenship comes with a unique citizenship test. Of course, this test isn’t a standardized one in which you fill out lettered bubbles in a sterile exam room with a proctor breathing down your neck. Rather, global citizenship comes with the willingness to understand that the world, as small as it might feel sometimes, is full of vastly complicated and different people. It is to recognize that no two people are the same, and that the idea of a culture revolves around the individuals that keep it alive. It is to intrude respectfully into different ways of life, so as to benefit from its heritage. It is to learn, constantly, about the reason that people do what they do, how they do it. It is to use the beautiful, creative, and brilliant things that one culture develops to heighten the human experience in another.

It is for this reason that I’ve chosen to travel from my roots in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, halfway across the planet to Paris, France. In my view, Paris is the epicenter of culture in the western world. Practically every great novelist, poet, artist, or singer has spent some time in Paris, refining their work and defining what it is to be human. Take your favorite artist, and the odds are in favor that they’ve been to Paris. It seems that to become great at anything with higher meaning requires at least a small stint in France.

I don’t know what is in Paris that has this effect on people. Maybe the Eiffel Tower sends radio waves to our brain that enhances our ability. Maybe the spirits from the catacombs intensify the things we feel so as to make them easier to depict. Or maybe Parisian coffee has traces of drugs that amplify our creativity as individuals. Whatever the reason, I’m hoping that my experience going to Paris will help me build my toolbox for becoming a global citizen on planet earth.

The name of this blog is chosen intentionally for this journey I am embarking on. The road and the tree are symbols found in my personal favorite book, William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” (In case you were wondering, yes, Faulkner spent his own time in France) In the book, a character named Anse holds resentment for the road in front of his own house, because of its habit of making things move by while he fully intends to stay put where he is.

“When he [God] aims for something to be always a-moving, he makes it long ways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when he aims for something to stay put, he makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man.”

It’s an understatement to say I don’t like Anse all that much, and if you read the book you probably won’t like him all that much either. These symbols, however, are important for me and my perspective on life. My travel to different countries, my love of the road, is not in the nature of my comfortable, rooted nature as an upright human. It’s possible my love for the road is a rejection of the human-like quality of wanting to stay in one place. It’s also possible, I believe, that the soil in which I plant my roots has not yet been found, and I travel the road in hopes of finding it. Whatever the reason for my urge to travel, I have every intention of acting on it at every turn in the coming years.

My plan for this blog is to document this travel on the road, to hopefully find the soil where I belong. I plan to document my journey through the American University of Paris as a student, learning the concrete knowledge it takes to be a global citizen. I will be recording the less concrete things I take with me from my time there. I will also be showing off the cool things I experience, wherever the road may take me. No blog about Paris is complete without photos and stories of all the cool places in Paris, so don’t think for a second this is any different.

And so with this blog I ask you to join me on the road. Follow along on my journey of the road. Stay with me as I see the cool buildings and monuments that Europe has to offer, and the introspection that Paris will hopefully bring me. Experience the road with me, and I promise it will end with a heightened sense of the global community that we all find ourselves a part of at some point.