Paris — My mother always told me to make a list of the pros and cons when making a difficult choice. About a month ago, as I was nearing the end of my seven-month stay in Paris, I made such a list as I tried to decide whether to stay in Paris or return to Los Angeles.
* Irresponsible pet owners who never pick up after their tiny, spoiled dogs.
* The high price of nail polish and the difficulty of finding mouthwash, perhaps related to ...
* People with body odor in the Metro.
* The way Parisians desert the city in August to work on their tans and then deem the time for vacationing over as soon as they return, donning jackets and boots, regardless of the temperature. These are not a summer people.
* Leaves that go directly to brown, skipping fall colors altogether. This is the only thing that isn't perfect about the Tuileries and Luxembourg Garden.
* The pressure never to go out without looking like a fashion model, which could be why I sometimes hole up in my apartment, eating stale baguettes.
* Irregular verbs and gender-specific nouns.
* Tinny, banal French pop music and the blaring, two-note refrain of French sirens that makes me want to run for an air raid shelter.
* Fromage blanc, a cross between yogurt and creme fraiche, served for dessert with fruit compote, perfectly satisfying but less fattening than baba au rhum or creme brulee.
* Les Journees du Patrimoine, a weekend in September when the French proudly throw open the doors of monuments usually off-limits to visitors.
* Square Jean XXIII, adjacent to Notre Dame, where dogs (and their byproducts) are forbidden.
* Deyrolles taxidermy shop, just north of the Boulevard St. Germain on Rue du Bac, where you'll find exotic insects pinned in glass cases and stuffed lions, tigers and bears.
* Jogging across the Pont Alexandre III, built around 1900 in honor of the Russian czar.
* The $23 fixed-price breakfast at the Baccarat Museum on the Right Bank, overpriced but conducive to special occasions amid art glass splendor.
* The helpful, usually uncrowded tourist office underneath I.M. Pei's Pyramid in the Cour Napoleon of the Louvre.
* Ruschka blend from Mariage Freres (with three shops on both banks), purveyors of 300 varieties of tea from 20 countries since 1854.
* The mezze lunch at the restaurant in the Institute of the Arab World, a striking contemporary building on the Left Bank designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. Its glass facade is shaded by 240 metal plates that constantly shift to admit different geometric patterns of light.
* French junk from the Porte de Vanves flea market.
* The open-air train stations of Paris, where pigeons cruise under Belle Epoque glass straight out of Monet.
* Le Grand Rex, on Boulevard Poissonniere in the 2nd arrondissement, one of the city's few remaining super-widescreen Art Deco movie theaters, with plush, padded seats on four levels and Europe's first escalator. Almost as good for atmosphere is La Pagode on the Left Bank, all ersatz Ming Dynasty and the smell of dirty socks, and for serious cineastes, L'Arlequin near St.-Germain-des-Pres, where films are shown in the original version only, with no subtitles or dubbing.
OK, L.A. is a better movie town than Paris ever could be. (What is it about the French that makes them slurp up bone marrow but not understand popcorn?)
Still, Paris wins, and I will stay on until next spring, at least.
Frankly, it would have been hard for me to leave just as I'm getting good enough at French to understand the mailman. I often leave home without a Metro map and don't flinch at driving a rental car in Paris when heading off on a trip. I know good hotels and restaurants. And though I can hardly believe it, I get stopped in the street by French people, asking for directions.
I haven't yet penetrated the French, but I'm starting to notice things that support and contradict common impressions.
They are, I think, more complicated and ambivalent than Americans, less out-front, most responsive to wry humor and a coolness that aren't native to us.
They seem vain and superficial, unless you're willing to accept that their infatuation with outward appearances -- the scarves, high heels, perfect coifs -- reflect a cultural sensitivity to aesthetics, a habit of taking pleasure in beautiful things.
When the behavior of foreigners breaches their code of manners, which prizes dignity and reserve, some Parisians are curt and irritable. But they are far from rude in important ways, as when discussing the war in Iraq, always with greater civility than some of the e-mail messages I've received from Francophobes who seem to think my sojourn in France unpatriotic.
I have already cast my U.S. absentee vote for the November elections, an act that reinforced my deepest feelings about where my true home will always be.
I still have much to explore in the huge difference between flying through a place as a tourist and living there. The city's central location in Europe makes it possible for me to go to Berlin or Brussels for the weekend. But beyond all that, living in France gives me perspective, more ways of understanding myself and the world, which is what travel is all about.
Susan Spano also writes "Postcards From Paris," which can be read at www.latimes.com/susanspano.