An American with a French Heart

Paris is a place that seeps into your soul. Her captivating beauty can easily penetrate even the most hardened heart. Paris has seduced literary greats such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wharton, and inspired artists like Cézanne and Picasso. Clearly, I’m no match for her charm, and find myself in good company with this shared admiration.


I believe I loved Paris before we ever met, an idea that took several years to realize. Contrary to so many others, I was a little ambivalent about Paris, and really, France as a whole. There were no schoolgirl dreams of the Eiffel Tower and walks along the Seine holding the hand of a handsome Frenchman. It wasn’t until my first trip in November 2012 that I finally understood what the fuss was all about. A dozen trips later and countless tears shed at Charles de Gaulle, and I’ve made the City of Light my home. Recently, a Parisian friend said something to me that really struck a chord. “You’re an American with a French heart.” There was no explanation needed. I knew exactly what he meant.

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For the most part, I agree with him. I’m certainly a Francophile, a lover of most things French. But French I will never be, no matter how long I live in this country. The strange thing is that I don’t exactly feel American either. I’m proud of the Stars and Stripes and cling to my Texan roots like a pit master to his recipe for BBQ sauce, but I feel the grip loosening each month I’m away. It’s like I’m the embodiment of Dante’s Purgatory—not French and no longer quite so American. In Paris, I’m standing on one of Purgatory’s mountain terraces {probably gluttony} with the rest of the expats. It’s a difficult feeling to put into words and something you won’t understand, unless you’ve been an expat yourself.

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I’ve reflected quite a lot on the words of my friend. Was I born with this ‘French heart’ and finally found my spiritual home? Or have I simply assimilated to the place I’ve grown to love? I’ll likely never know the answer, but I know I’ve changed. Well, at least some of my priorities have changed.

Weekends in the fall are different. No longer am I glued to the television, watching a marathon of college and professional football games. If it weren’t for my Facebook feed, I wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on in the world of American football. Now, I’d rather watch the world pass by in the Tuileries or on a terrace than see Tony Romo passing to Dez Bryant.

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I pay much more attention to the news. Honestly, this change initially came about due to limited English TV channels. Sufficiently trained, my mornings now begin with a hefty dose of BBC, France 24 in Anglais, and CNN International. It’s fascinating to hear different perspectives of the world’s events and also keeps me abreast of the latest French news. I now realize that America is in a bit of a cocoon. It’s a massive country and very much removed from ongoing stories in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, unless it directly affects America. Comical at times and eye opening at others, watching the news from across the pond is a study of how Americans are perceived overseas. I either find myself yelling at the TV or nodding in agreement when the subject turns to my home country–Purgatory, for sure.

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When I decided to move to Paris, I knew that I would have concessions to make, namely regarding space. Gone are the wide-open spaces of Texas, where even in Houston and Dallas, a massive SUV can easily find a place to park. Small cars and even smaller apartments are the norm in Paris. For the most part, I’ve come to grips with my flat–a tiny IKEA temple. But, I’m not going to lie; there are those days that leave me asking myself, ‘What the hell am I doing?’

Leah Walker_Paris France1

In Houston, I had a closet only for sweaters. In Paris, I have shoes in my oven. Alas, I’ve almost made the transition, though not without a few tears. Making a distinction between my wants and my needs has been a process. The number of times I’ve stared out my building’s window at the city can’t be counted. It’s as if I am begging for encouragement from the Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais, and La Madeleine. And like the enchantress she is, Paris puts her arms around me and, once again, I become engrossed by her intoxicating allure. Her hold is seriously tighter than the hangers in my closet.

With a little help from my iconic friends, I’ve realized that I just don’t need that much to live. I’m fine without a car. I have metro tickets, an Uber app, and my own two feet. I don’t need every stitch of clothing I own. I can only wear one pair of pants at a time. It’s actually a freeing feeling not to be tied down by stuff.

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Henry James wrote of Paris, ‘The great merit of the place is that one can arrange one’s life here exactly as one pleases.’ I couldn’t agree more with his sentiment. For me, each day is another opportunity for exploration and discovery. I’ve made a conscious effort not to become complacent with my life in Paris, or take for granted this opportunity I was afforded.

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I know Paris has changed me, and like toothpaste out of a tube, there’s no going back. So, maybe I am exactly as my friend described—an American with a French heart. This is my hope, anyway. It’s like getting best of both worlds.

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  • Mike (NomadicTexan)
    October 23, 2015

    Excellent piece of writing young lady! I could feel your emotions coming through the post. I am in agreement and can’t wait to be in your position when my wife retires!

  • Marissa Tejada
    October 25, 2015

    Beautiful post, Leah. I understand how you feel. I’ve been an expat in Athens, Greece for six years and I find so many conflicts and joys about having these two lives. BTW, absolutely love the comment about the closet space. LOL. Totally get you there. Also, your perspective on world news and views on Americans. Living abroad has totally changed my life. Thanks for sharing your truthful perspective. 😀 PS. I LOVE PARIS.

  • Meg
    October 26, 2015

    Nicely written, Leah! There’s something awkwardly heartwarming also to say that we’ll never be French, no matter how long we live here. It’s rad!

  • Phyllis Cartwright
    October 26, 2015

    I loved reading your post. My daughter has been to Paris twice, but I am still waiting and dreaming! One day!

  • Rosemary
    October 27, 2015

    Fun to read!! I feel the same! I grew up with parents and brothers that all took French lessons. I give all my dogs French names…Bonaparte, Beau Regarde, Margaux, Sophie, Chloe, François. I lived south of Lyon for one year, only coming back to the U.S. when my hubby was fired. Tant pis pour moi!!! Good for you for reaching for your dreams!! I look forward to seeing Paris again, through your eyes!

  • Kathie
    October 27, 2015

    As a fellow Texan who spent a year in Paris and now lives in the “wilds” outside the peripherique (Bretagne), I can definitely relate to the state of being neither here nor there. After 13 years living away from the US, I now feel like a citizen of the world rather than a citizen of any particular country. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  • Doc
    October 27, 2015

    Hemingway once wrote, “I never had to choose a subject – my subject rather chose me.” Methinks you are in great company Ms. Walker!

  • Debra
    October 27, 2015

    I love this – you’ve captured my feelings about la belle Paris. I visit just about annually and when I’m not in Paris I’m thinking about being in Paris or planning my next trip to Paris. My dream is to live part-time in the city after my husband and I retire. I’m going to make it happen; stories like yours make me all the more determined to do that.

  • kathy Rowe
    October 27, 2015

    As i wrote in an email, you’ve put into words what so many of us feel. Paris is intoxicating. An American with a French heart, I”m joining that club. It explains a lot.

  • Raul (@ilivetotravel)
    October 27, 2015

    I love this post!! I spent half a year in Paris and I can relate to many bits of what you share. Unfortunately, I was working too hard but I still remember my time in Paris as a wonderful discovery of what life is about. Glad you got to experience that – it is something not understood until it is lived. Now, go learn French!!

  • the lazy travelers
    November 2, 2015

    paris won over both our hearts long ago, and no matter where else we travel in the world, we keep coming back to it again and again. paris, nous t’aimons!

  • Francesca (@WorkMomTravels)
    November 2, 2015

    I’m pretty ambivalent about Paris, as you know. But you’re making me want to at least give it a chance. And shoes in your oven?! OMG! xo

  • Karin
    November 12, 2015

    Leah, until now I’ve never met anyone who feels exactly the same way I do, but you capture my feelings perfectly also! I will never be French, but I don’t feel quite “American” anymore either, whatever that means, and sometimes I get confused by it. I am so thrilled to have shed my material things. No, I have no space for clothes anymore, but how many do I need? My studio is tinier than most hotel rooms, but how much space do I need to be happy? Let me know if you want to have coffee sometime, I’m in the 11th! ~Fellow American in Paris

  • Aaron
    November 12, 2015

    As an American living in France, I identify with every word you wrote. After 15 years I still haven’t really found my place here; I am torn between two worlds, but I’m now more French than American. For better or for worse I have changed for good. I do have some low moments, Sometimes I have nostalgia for americana and wonder what would have been if I had never come over. One walk along the Seine though and I realize I am where I am supposed to be.

    • T.
      November 13, 2015

      Aaron, your comment sums up my feelings perfectly. I’ve also been living in Paris for the past 15 years and although the transition wasn’t easy in the beginning, moving here was the best decision I ever made. Paris has become my home and I find myself identifying with the French much more than I do with Americans – so much so that I’ve decided to apply for citizenship 🙂

  • Leah, I can remember the moment when someone told me I had an Mexican heart…. it stays with me to this day…. so, in a way I can relate… I love catching up on Paris and France on your site…. I know who to turn to if and when I plan trip to France…. Keep on keeping on and enjoying the love in your french heart… Stay in love with Paris, Craig

  • Natalia varela
    February 12, 2017

    Leah have you ever stopped to think that maybe in another life you were French??? Anyway I loved every piece of your article. It reflects on my way of thinking as well. We don’t need that much to live and yet in America we have way too much stuff that we don’t need. That’s one of my resolutions for this year I want to simplify my life and I liked your inspiring article. Keep up the good work. I follow your adventures in Snapchat as well !

  • Lori
    February 12, 2017

    I am just reading this post now. It touched my heart! My friends say that I must have been a Parisian in a past life. I love all things French and I fulfilled a life long dream when I took my first trip to Paris at the age of 48 in 2011. I was forever changed. Although I will probably never get to live there, Paris will always have my heart. I can so relate to what you write here and can imagine what a struggle it is to feel like you don’t quite belong there and don’t quite fit in in the US either.

  • Andrew
    December 24, 2022

    What I can say is, “yes.”

    I understand…


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