Monday, September 19, 2011

I hated Paris when I first arrived. My sister and I had been traveling for three weeks- Berlin. Bochum. Cologne. Rhine Valley. Munich. Switzerland. Amsterdam. Paris. And everything had run smoother than melted nutella the entire trip--- until we got on the train (or attempted to get on the train) from Amsterdam to Paris.

Flashback, shall we?

It’s 5am.
We had been storing my two very heavy study abroad bags at our friend Frank’s house while we traveled, but for these last train rides, we had to carry EVERYTHING with us to Amsterdam, to eventually move my life to Paris. And so we’re dragging multiple suitcases and backpacks through the Red Light District of Amsterdam at 5am, as the hammered and high and god knows what else, stoner tourists hoot and holler at the poor little blonde girls dragging their body weight in luggage. But I’m not even going to start with that rant.

Anyways, It’s 5:30am when we finally reach the train station.
Train leaves in 12 minutes when a woman approaches me.
“Do you have your reservation ticket?” she says.
“My res-valdselrke…what?” I say back.
“Your reservation ticket. You have to have a reservation to board this train.”
“Whhaaatt? My eurail pass has been just fine for every other train.”
“No, not this train. This train goes to Paris.” she says.
…I still to this day, don’t get it. But that beside the point. Next point:
I immediately panic.
I have 12 minutes to go make the reservation.
But considering my sister just left to go wander and get coffee and more chocolate croissants, I have to wait with the 324938 pounds of luggage for her slow and unrushed return.
She comes back.
I get to the service counter.
The train is already fully reserved.
I panic.
I think I cried.
I run back to my sister.
She’s speaking to the train workers.
They say they will let us on as long as we have a credit card to pay the extra reservation fee once we board.
We do have a credit card.
We get on.
We get comfy.
They come ask for our money.
I give them the card.
The machine won’t read it.
-No sympathy.
They kick us off the train.
We’re left somewhere in between the Netherlands and Belgium and France...
With 323923 pounds of luggage.
10 hours, 4 miserable train changes, and multiple hour-long layovers later, we arrive in Pairs…Only to get heavily ripped off by a cab driver on the way to our hotel.

Worst travel experience of my life…And this is coming from the girl who once attempted to camp in a 7-11 gas station in the Japanese Alps.

But now I have finally arrived. In France. In Paris. The place I have wanted to come since I re-entered the country after Semester at Sea. And so I sit here, stereotypically, at a café in the quatorzieme arronidissement, eating a quiche I have been craving all day, and sipping on the café au lait that I had to peculiarly order at 5:30pm, because ze French only drink café au lait in the morning. “Café… au lait?” she questions after I place my order. “Oui. Café au lait.” I confidently respond back, as if I know exactly what I am talking about. I don’t. I don’t know French. But I like to act like I do. And this act knows exactly how to back fire when I confidently order in French, and then reply back to their very French responses with blank stairs, wide eyes, and an open-staring, wordless mouth. I, however manage, and keep mumbling every french word that comes to mind besides “Parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English?) Because if say this, then I know they will say oui, and then they will start talking to me in English, and then I will never learn French, and then I will fail at life.

A bit dramatic, I suppose. But that’s just the way it is.

Anyways, I’m sitting here. It is Monday. And I am doing exactly what one would expect you to do when you come to France: Sitting at a café on a cobblestone side street, watching people pass by. And as I sit here, I have come to find many stereotypes about Paris to be true.

Let’s start with the crepes. This delicious, thinner than a pancake, lighter than a flower, fluffy, yet slimy treat with the perfect combination of carbs and sugar is everywhere. And unfortunately, I cannot resist the temptation. Growing up in high school French class, there were two activities that occurred every Friday: 1.) Watch Toy Story 2 in French. And 2.) Eat crepes. This frequent event caused me to assume that all the French did was eat crepes. Surely I am wrong. I would think to myself back then, but the unnecessary amount of creperies that exist in this bustling city prove me to be exactly right. And today for lunch, I got the meal that came with not one, but two, very delicious crepes. And if I keep this up, I assure you that my mid section will not be thanking me later.

But let’s move on to the next stereotype: The French are rude. This is both true and false. The French are rude compared to Americans. But here is a little something to ponder, are the French actually rude, or is it the Americans who are too nice? As I spend time here, I begin to think that it is the Americans who are just too nice. Here, you walk into a bakery, and they expect you to greet them. Yeah, I have the money and I’m going to give her business, but she has the bread, and to her, that is far more superior.

A girl in my program has been in Paris for four years, and has quite a few French friends who have visited America with her. She was telling me how she brought them to stores in the US, and found it hilarious when her foreign friends began asking, “Do you know that store clerk? Are you friends with her?” Just because the store clerks are so overly nice to customers when they come in the stores in the US. It’s just not like that in Paris. But I don’t find it rude. I find it genuine. And I now deem it completely unnecessary for the J. Crew store clerk in America to ask me how my dentist appointment for my root canal was. I think I prefer ze French way.

On another note, how many times do each of us have the half-ass conversation in America (particularly the south) that goes like this:
“Hi! How are you?”
“Oh I’m good! How are you?”
When really, both of you lost your wallet, got dumped two days ago, received an F on your term paper, and spent way too much money at the fucking Tin Roof last night. So in reality, you are feeling rather shitty. But you would never say that, because the other person doesn’t actually care. They couldn’t give two shits how you are. The greeting was actually just an over-extended, fake hello that we all deem necessary to function in our superficial society. How many times do we see someone on the street you haven’t seen in a year or so, and you both make the plans to hang out and go to lunch or whatever, yet you both leave the conversation, extremely certain that none of those activities are ever going to happen? I’m embarrassed to say that I too, have frequently had this conversation.

Another funny story my French teacher was telling me is how she taught a 2nd grade English class in America for a couple years, and received serious complaints that there were too many corrections and red X’s on each child’s paper, and not enough glittery stars and smiley face stickers. She responded that the work wasn’t good, so why should she put those things on there? But to Americans, that gold star and the URGR8 sticker is absolutely necessary in feeling special...and even if the work was bad, we must still feel we did at least something right.

Anyways, enough about these stereotypes. Let’s talk about me. One decision I made for Paris is that I am going to glorify all of my senses here. Paris is a gift to not only my eyes, but to my mouth, ears, taste, smell, touch….everything. So every time I go for a walk, I talk to my eyes like they are another living being, as if they aren’t actually attached to my head.
“Ohh do you see that?” I say to my eyes, “Feast yourself on that beautiful sculpture.”
I catch myself walking by Cathedrals; treating my eyes as if that beautiful 12th century church was made especially for them to look at.

Same story goes for my mouth.
I have been eating. Eating a lot. I get hungry 22 times a day, and my hunger always conveniently catches my attention at the exact moment I am walking by the new pastry shop with the fresh chocolate éclairs my tongue has yet to try. “What if that pain au chocolat is better than the one I had this morning?” I say to myself. “I better test it just to make sure.” This morning I went to a bakery that had been open since the 1820’s, and as I was attempting to guiltlessly order my quiche with mushrooms and extra cheese, I had an epiphany. The French are all skinny. There must be a reason as to why these people are so skinny in this city filled with crepes and chocolate and carbs and cheese and pastries and baguettes and more pastries. It’s because they have been eating this way for centuries. The food hasn’t changed. It’s not processed in chemical enhanced factories. It’s not created and stuffed in a microwavable stoffer’s box. It’s fresh. It’s real. And the quiche I just ate, is the exact same quiche they were eating two hundred years ago. And the people were all skinny then, right? So I’m going to eat my one baguette a day. And my pain au chocolat. And I’m not going to feel guilty. The end.

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