Franco File Friday: Bryan Pirolli (aka Where Is Bryan?)

21 October 2011

bartender

Bryan and I instantly hit it off when we met at a costume party two years ago. It could have been our Philadelphia connection or perhaps our mutual appreciation for Paris beyond the glitz and glitter (we’re right bankers, after all). Whatever it was, we’ve since spent countless afternoons nursing coffee, people watching and waxing nostalgic about American pop culture, among other pre-France memories. But who is Bryan, the man everyone seems to know around town?

Master’s student at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, journalist, skilled tour guide and overall renaissance man, Bryan made Paris his permanent home three years ago. When he’s not in class or schmoozing with the butcher on his weekly (daily?) chicken-run, he’s the Paris correspondent for SmartPlanet.com and the U.S. Community Manager for Colunching. He knows the peculiarities of the French university system and what not to miss on your next trip. More below…


Describe what you love about the French in three words. 
I live here.

What is the most striking difference between American and French universities? Which do you prefer? 
The French university costs as much as books do for one semester in an American university, to give you an idea. But you get what you pay for in France – no active student center, no free tickets to the opera, no private attention from professors (at least academically). Still, as an adult, I prefer the French system because in order to succeed you need to be invested and it’s less hand-holdy than the American system. And did I mention that it’s cheap?

What do you think is the biggest misconception about the French?
People think that Paris is France and vice versa. But people in Paris are not exactly representative of “French” culture. Walking through any of Paris’s Chinatowns, through the West African market at Chateau Rouge, or through the rue des Rosiers before Shabbat will challenge any of the French stereotypes. Nobody in those neighborhoods wears a striped shirt. Not even a beret. After visiting many smaller French towns, I understand that Parisians are to the French what New Yorkers are to Americans. All too often I hear non-Parisians say “je déteste les Parisiens!”… but they aren’t all bad!

Recommended spots in Paris for budget-eats? 
It’s kitsch and touristy but for French food, who doesn’t like a throw down meal at Chartier in the 9th? The price is right even if the food isn’t incredible. Otherwise, when I’m penny-pinching I either head over to Belleville for a bo bun with extra nems or to the Marais for takeaway falafel (always with spicy sauce). Both are fresh, satisfying, relatively healthy and cheap!

Most overrated and underrated Paris attractions? 
I don’t think any attraction is overrated, per se, but I would definitely cross off the Louvre if I were playing Sophie’s Choice with my itinerary. Among all the attractions, it’s the one that you spend the most energy in and that gives the least palpable “wow” that we all crave. Give me Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Musée d’Orsay and then we’ll talk Mona Lisa.

Among the dozens of underrated attractions, I don’t think people take advantage of visiting the Opéra Garnier. I have gotten more “wows” in there than from most any other attraction I have visited with tourists. I think it’s a stunning building and really throws you back into the grandeur of 19th century Paris.

Favorite French film or novel? 
Since I don’t know how to read and I’m not a cinephile at all, I feel this question is faulty. If I had to pick a film it’d be Disney’s La Belle et La Bête (Beauty and the Beast). That’s French, right?

*****

Catch Bryan’s expat adventures and Paris stories on Where Is Bryan?, on Twitter and at his newest home, SmartPlanet. You might just see us together in a food video together very soon, so watch this space.

{Photo 1 and 4: Lindsey Tramuta}
{Photo 2 and 3: Bryan Pirolli}