Women Taking Leaps - Interview with Lindsey Tramuta
A little about why I asked Lindsey to join me for Women Taking Leaps:
Lindsey's blog Lost in Cheeseland captured me in one of my periodic high school French-nostalgia browsing sessions, surfing for a little bit of French culture to sooth my wanderlust. Everything about her perspective was interesting and vibrant. Paris came to life for me reading her articles in a way it never had. Even more incredible is that she is native; she is someone with an infinite propensity to adore Paris as a gift, not an endowment.
Lindsey's refusal to stay in one lane like “food” or “luxury” makes for a diverse, realistic portrait of her subject - the most romanticized city in the world - and she had to take a phenomenal leap to get there. Moving from Pennsylvania to Paris, becoming fluent without an accent in a second language, and publishing a critically-acclaimed richly-woven cultural volume.
I'm proud to introduce you to Lindsey Tramuta, as we celebrate her
Taking the leap to move to a foreign country and creating a resoundingly successful career epitomizing its culture.
I had the privilege of hearing a bit of your story at your book signing last year in New York City. Before this beautiful Parisian/Lindsey blended life that you live now, you were an American dreaming of Paris. Can you tell me a little about life before moving to the City of Light to follow your dream?
Actually, I was never an American dreaming of the fantasyland version of Paris like most people (and that’s okay!), I was enamored with the language. That fascination was followed by academic study and carried me through my entire education, right up to graduating from Temple University in Philadelphia. Even once I arrived, my experience was framed more by my home base in the 13th arrondissement and then the 11th arrondissement where my boyfriend (now husband) was living than any idyllic notions of life strolling the Seine or popping macarons. I was drawn to French literature and language and the love for the culture and its lust for life came after.
Would you say there a defining moment or a slow pull that brought you to Paris? And, that ultimately brought you to writing about culture full-time?
I don’t know if I’d call it a slow pull but it was a sort of ever-present looming. I excelled at French language acquisition and that course of study made France a constant in my life. Paris was the result of circumstance: I studied abroad twice and both experiences were in Paris but they could have easily been elsewhere, say Montpellier or Nice. that said, it’s not a hard city to become enamored with for a whole host of reasons. That’s what happened to me over time -- as beautiful and culturally rich as it is, Paris can be a very isolating and lonely place when you’re grappling with homesickness, an uncertain future, stark cultural differences, etc. The key is to give it time to fade and work through it but that takes time.
Writing about the tremendous riches in France overall came about after I had been freelancing on and off for a couple of years for The New York Times and other media outlets. I realized it would be silly not to pursue the stories I so badly wanted to tell when I saw just how hungry foreign readers were for them. It feeds my soul and helps educate travelers and that is why I continue to do it.
What was your greatest personal challenge in pursuing a career not just in writing, but in writing about a culture that is not native to you in a language that was once not native to you either?
It’s always about getting the story right. No matter what I’m covering, the challenge is making sure I have the full picture, the broad context, before making any judgements. That was especially important when I was writing the book. I spent 60% of my time speaking with experts and insiders in the food world who put the puzzle pieces together so that confirmed or clarified my own observations, and that was before even starting to write. On the other hand, sometimes the challenge is trusting my instincts.
On the flip side, what’s been your one of your greatest personal successes along this journey? - I’d love to hear an early one, early on in the Lost in Cheeseland days before you were Lindsey Tramuta, published author of The New Paris.
Getting my foot in the door at The New York Times for my first published story. It was over five years ago and tied to a very timely event in Paris -- the 15th anniversary of Colette. It would be a rather factual story, the who’s who, the why, the how. I could have published it on my website but the audience didn’t seem like the best fit and I wanted to aim higher. Who would be more interested in Colette, the visionary fashion mecca, than a fashion and style magazine? My dear friend Amy Thomas, a fellow writer and author, had just left Paris after having contributed to the publication during her stint in Paris and graciously passed along her editor’s contact details. She made no guarantees -- no one can -- but she gave me her blessing to pitch a story that she may have written herself had she still be living in Paris. It was the opportunity that changed everything for me. The editor commissioned the story, I fretted every day up until I filed the story, and then I was told to keep proposing ideas. Without Amy and that mentorship, it may not have happened at all, or at least not in the way that things have unfolded. She taught me to uplift other women and other creatives. There are so many diverse voices out there, coverage from Paris shouldn’t be a game of one.
Though you have written extensively about food, you acutely describe yourself as a ”travel culture lifestyle writer” - I can’t speak for anyone else, but that sounds like a dream! Immense respect is owed to you for putting in the work it’s taken to build what you have - you moved to Paris a decade ago and have worked hard ever since. I can only imagine what it’s like to put a decade into anything, and you started early! What did you do to supplement your skills and grow your network during your decade-long career-building journey?
That’s kind of you to say! Not defining myself as one kind of writer allows me the flexibility to pursue a wide array of stories, which keeps things interesting. I never feel like I’ve “arrived” and key to writing is reading as much as you can, particularly stories, books and reports that don’t fall within your wheelhouse. Much of the tech or political commentary I read is unfamiliar to me but because there is often a different storytelling style, different vocabulary, and radically different characters than in food/business, it expands my knowledge. Aside from reading, it’s important to write write write! There are fragments of ideas I have that may only live in my Evernote app but they are words that needed to exist outside of my mind. No matter how you look at it, writing is as much a muscle to train as any other endeavor.
There seems to be a push for modern content creation, writing, and social media to choose a niche. To choose one thing. Yet, you have found great success in pursuing an entire culture. What’s your perspective on the push for a narrowing creative focus and how do you still keep consistently through the breadth of your work?
It’s tricky but I think that unless you really feel drawn to a narrow subject matter (ethical fashion or baking or jewelry, etc.), you should leave room to explore whatever moves you at a given time. The beauty in covering culture is that so much falls within its purview, including food, fashion, and the arts. Reporting a story is when you go deeper and if you’re a journalist that is curious, you’ll absorb what you learn while reporting. With time we develop expertise, that doesn’t need to happen right away.
If you could dispel one myth about what you do - being a full-time travel culture lifestyle writer - what would it be?
That it is glamorous and endlessly exciting. I don’t think any job is! While I have had some incredible experiences for which I will forever be grateful, I work harder and more consistently than I ever have before. When I’m traveling for a story, even if to the most extraordinary places to meet inspiring people, I have to turn around and produce something. Is it enjoyable? Yes! But not without stress or pressure. And then there’s the idea of working remotely and how grand that is. I, for one, am not always productive when I change locations and I work better when traveling solo vs with other remote workers or friends. Having a mobile office sounds great in theory but absolutely does not work for everyone.
Okay, and I may have asked you this when we were in New York - if you could dispel one myth about being an American living and working in Paris today, what would it be?
That it came easily. I struggled for a number of years to find my path and found myself in unhealthy and unstable companies after completing graduate school. I felt behind my fellow college grads in the US, I felt lost and a bit hopeless. The journey wasn’t easy and it is still with plenty of complications. The lesson is, everyone is on their own trajectory and it’s not about how fast or far you go but when it is meant to come to fruition for each individual.
If you would, share a piece of advice for someone wants to take a similar to leap to yours, to move overseas and pursue a culture because they love it, not because they own it. What advice would you give?
Be open-minded and master the language as best as you can before arriving. I think the Paris experience, for example, for my non-French speaking friends is radically different from what other French speaking foreigners experience simply because they miss the nuances in behavior and culture. That isn’t always their fault, of course, but if someone has the access to classes or feel diligent enough to train themselves in a foreign language before making the jump, I would encourage it above all else. It’s easy to fall into an Anglo-only routine here (and surely that’s the case all over the world where English is not the dominant language) but it doesn’t foster the same connection.
Lindsey Tramuta's life in Paris has spawned numerous articles, a blog called Lost in Cheeseland that's been around more than half a decade, and a recently-published book titled: The New Paris. What is the New Paris, you ask? Lindsey moved to Paris to attend college and stayed, despite what you may think you know about American's living in Paris. In the decade since, she's become acquainted with the cultural rhythm of the City of Light, cataloguing its modern renaissance through food, craft, tourism, and beyond. Lindsey's hard work helped her build a massive network, connecting her with creative minds, established pillars, and the change-makers bringing modern flair to her adopted hometown. In The New Paris, Lindsey breaks down the different facets of a changing city, evolving to meet the rapidly globalized culture and reforming its identity beyond what we could have ever romanticized.
Learn more about Lindsey and The New Paris: