Monday, August 1, 2011

Je Parlez Tres Mal Francais

I spent three days in Paris this past weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) and I think it is one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever visited. The lanes are wide and picturesque, magnificent buildings (works of art unto themselves) are everywhere you turn, the food is rich and intoxicating, and every Parisian is an amazing dresser. And yet there is something off, something wrong, about this city; I think it may be me.

Nothing is more breathtaking than the Eiffel Tower at night
I felt very out of place, and not speaking the language was only a part of it. But while we’re on that topic, it really is amazing how isolated you can feel if you don’t speak the language. In London I feel somewhat capable; I can read signs, order a meal, decipher the Tube map, etc. In Paris, I feel like half a person; I can barely pronounce signs, nonetheless understand them! I am often reduced to sign language to order a sandwich. And worst of all, I can’t even tell if someone’s insulting me…or if I’m insulting them.

In front of the Palais de Justice
Because lets face it, I am the worst insult to a Parisian—I am a tourist. An American tourist who speaks no French, with a huge backpack on my back, taking pictures at every corner. Sure they would love to have my Euros, especially if I have the audacity to visit their great monuments. Go to the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Conciergerie, Saint Chapelle, the Musee d’Orsay, the Arc de Triumph. And then leave. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The most beautiful church, the Saint Chapelle
Not every person I met in Paris was mean or unwelcoming. But it is a little disheartening when, at every major tourist site you go to, there are several people holding clipboards, pretending to be deaf, blind, etc. begging you to sign their sheet, all in the hopes that they can steal your money while you’re distracted. And believe me, they’re everywhere.

Channeling Quasimodo while standing next
to the bell of Notre Dame
And then there is the sketchy man you see walking by you on the street; suddenly, you notice he’s switched directions, and is now directly behind you. You grab your mammoth backpack, aware that he might be trying to pickpocket you. And the worst thing is, he notices. And so he sticks out his foot, in the attempt to trip you. Thankfully you don’t fall, just stumble a bit. And then he proceeds to berate you (in French, no less) on why you’re suspicious of him, why are you holding your backpack like that, and other various insults that you can’t understand because you never bothered to take French in high school or college. And then he walks away. And though you’re not physically harmed, you’re left wondering why you came to this city in the first place, this city that doesn’t seem to want you or your kind.

But I still got to see and do all I wanted to see and do. Believe it or not, I still enjoyed myself in this somewhat hostile city; I still had a great time! And nothing gives a bigger middle finger to those snooty Parisians than enjoying their city, despite all of their plans against me J

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