French

What Home Means to Me Now That I'm an Expat Living in Paris

September 24, 2018
Actual view from Rebekah's Parisian home. Photo by Kate Devine

I find a special kind of pleasure in being alone in my kitchen on a Sunday. Market bags scattered, lettuce heads gritty and carrots caked in dirt, fennel destined for decapitation. Every part of the cutting board in use, a glass of wine I keep forgetting to drink somewhere, and the apartment quiet save the church bells that sound exactly the way you imagine they would in Paris. (It’s less cute than you’d think after a few weeks.) My phone buzzes with offers to come early and help, apologies for tardiness I had already anticipated, last-minute asks of what to bring. The answers are always the same: thank you but no, obviously this is fine, wine.

It’s the first of these questions that gets to the root of the matter: Sunday evenings are for dinner parties; Sunday afternoons are for cooking. These two activities go hand in hand, sure, but at chez moi, cooking for people and feeding people are decidedly separate affairs. The first, cooking: an act of service for others that doesn’t necessarily want said others around until the stove is off, drinks readied, and pants back on. The second, a communal act best played out when guests arrive happy, hungry, and without obligation beyond sharing a meal.

For me, the most pure manifestation of home occupies this cusp of space between the solitary and the group. That feeling where your skin is comfortable, your thoughts quiet and meandering and not asking to be pinned down or expressed. Where the walls and floors are clean and—for just a bit—yours alone. Here, the anticipation of a full house of people and laughter and cocktails has room to build. Sundays offer this in spades.


Hosting this way started long before I moved to Paris or could pour myself that glass of wine. When I was in grade school, I invited friends over for weekend lunches that were as elaborate as a 9-year-old in Wisconsin who didn’t want any help could handle. I’d spend the morning opening cans of mandarin oranges and splaying them out in artful spirals. I’d chill root beer mugs in the freezer, dig out the fancy-shaped macaroni and cheese boxes, and set the table with special occasion china. I relished the grown up-ness of playing house—the lead-up just as good as the actual affair.

As a young adult, I graduated to fresh citrus but lost the dining table in the move to Brooklyn. On Franklin Avenue, there was an IKEA workbench that I pulled stools up to, serving dinner atop colorful plates leftover from college. On Bergen Street, the countertop doubled as a desk—same stools, better dishes. When we were more than could fit inside and the weather fine enough, there were rooftops.

Regardless of location, in the daytime leading up, I kicked roommates and lovers out of those tiny kitchens, savoring the shift from playing house to making a home.

The lack of proper dining spaces made me a more agile and creative host. Rather than deter my want to entertain, it spurred it, teaching me to shape a dinner around people rather than furniture. To do this well, I learned to guard my solo kitchen time.

From what I can tell, plenty enjoy help. Friends who pick herbs or put a record on or set the table. I am often, happily, that friend. For me, however, the communal magic of a dinner starts when guests walk in and I put a cocktail in their hand. The picking and chopping and stewing and napkin-folding gives my introvert self time to shift the energy: solo to group.

So often, we equate loneliness with being alone and amplify the joy in being within a group. The foil is as valid: We can be joyful alone and lonely in a group. The time I take for myself on Sunday afternoons means I can be joyfully present when evening hits.


When the door opens, I am ready. My guests arrive as guests, what I hope for every time I extend an invite. As such, please, wear something special; don’t worry about messing it up by chopping or plating or shaking cocktails. End the weekend feeling treated, not put to work. Know your next drink can simply be asked for, rather than playing a guessing game at the bar. For the dinner portion of the evening, at least, let me top you.

When I moved to Paris, I brought my kitchen over one overweight bag at a time—the heaviest pans in my carry on, eyes averted from rightfully puzzled TSA agents. Once there, I struggled to reclaim a sense of home in other people’s kitchens, muddling the pronunciation of easily identifiable items at the marché, ordering insane amounts of cheese before learning my lb-to-kg conversions, and becoming familiar with the vocabularies of visa appointments and 150-year-old French plumbing systems.

For all its growth opportunities, France does Sundays right. The markets bustle, restaurants close, and the few shops that are open close early, prompting you to cook or be fed, or both. The move to Paris hasn’t always been the most comfortable but leaning into a culture that takes Sundays seriously is one of the easiest things I’ve done.

My current home on rue Gabrielle came with a dining table. But the kitchen has the same amount of square footage—ahem, meters—as those of my 20s and it’s where you’d find me Sunday afternoons if you came calling. But please don’t—I’ll see you at dinnertime.

Rebekah Peppler's next book, Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way will be released in October 2018.


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10 Comments

Atilla October 18, 2018
Just remember...according to the acknowledgements in the back of Ms. Peppler's new book, she prefers a world without cis straight men so accept these Sunday dinner invites with that in mind.
 
witloof October 8, 2018
Hello, did you know that you have misspelled Montmartre on your Instagram account?
 
Hana A. October 1, 2018
Hi everyone - thanks for your comments. We are looking into this and will report back, please standby...
 
Carolyn September 30, 2018
So disappointing to have a compelling piece like this to read but finding that the site's pages are STILL unreadable due to the text moving repeatedly. Is there really no way to fix this?
 
cosmiccook September 30, 2018
Yes, I have had cassoulet, with lots of variations. Try Serious Eats--Daniel Gritzer does a chicken version. Hey, it's a learning process, no one should be coming down on you!
 
cosmiccook September 30, 2018
I tried that and it doesn't work!
 
DianeZ September 30, 2018
It HAS become impossible to read, due to constant loading of advertisements and info bars with other site information. I can't get thru the article without MULTIPLE things popping up and just irritates me enough to leave the site. Glad to see I'm not the only one it bothers.<br />
 
Cynthia T. September 30, 2018
I had my finger on the text the whole time and did not have that jumping problem at all. I am also fascinated by anything about Paris. Have you had a cassulet yet? A friend in the mountains there says it is his favorite thing to eat and there are many variations. I may have misspelled cassulet. If so sorry.
 
cosmiccook September 24, 2018
Dianne, after 10 mins of TRYING to READ the article I gave up! Food 52 you either DON'T want readers or don't give a s%$&! PLEASE FIX THIS. IF SERIOUS EATS CAN DO IT SO CAN YOU!!
 
DianneV September 24, 2018
I used to love this site. But now it is impossible to read, due to constant loading of adverts. I can't follow the text,due to the jumping and just give up reading.