C'est la vie...

C'est la vie...

November 15, 2010

Bonjour mes amis,

And welcome to Globestrutting: Paris Edition. Oh yes, I went to Paris for the weekend. But don't get me wrong, it wasn't all croissants, wine, and cheese (it was also eclairs, espresso, and escargot). Who am I kidding? Paris was great and I can't say that I'm sorry. It made for a wonderful mini-holiday.

 

View from the Eiffel Tower.

It did however, start with getting up very early (see? Something about it was hard). And by very early I mean about 2:45 am. A troubled sleeper I am, and with the excitement of Paris coming up, I hardly slept in the five hours I allotted myself for rest. I tossed, turned, and tried desperately to focus on the calm dark around me but couldn't help filling the quiet trying to remember the words in my head to frere jacques, frere jacques... How does it go again?

No matter, I suppose. There did not come a time during the trip when I needed to know the lyrics to that song. I would have forgotten them anyways as I was also fascinated at experiencing The Chunnel. For those of you who do not know, The Chunnel is the high-speed train tunnel that goes beneath the English Channel. I don't know exactly what I had in mind. It could have been the lack of sleep from the previous three days or so (who can be sure how long it was, when you hardly sleep, time is nebulose). But whatever the excuse, a small part of me envisioned zipping through a futuristic, steel and glass structured tunnel. I saw myself gazing out the train window as I zipped past clearly visible exotic fish and snapping sharks; thanking the stars for the invention of predator-proof glass. But it turns out, that The Chunnel is nothing like that. It's actually just... a tunnel. It's dark, and you aren't exactly aware of when you actually go underground. All of a sudden, you are just there and there is that uncomfortable pressure on your ears where you must keep pop... pop... popping them. So you sit in your seat, trying to nap, (although there's always someone's child in the train car making some kind of noise despite it being 6:00 am, shouldn't they be in school or something?) and repeatedly opening your mouth wide to pop your ears. It wasn't the underwater adventure I expected, but I suppose a train car full of constant fish-lip-movement imitators would have to make up for the sights of the sea that us big-dreaming chunnell-ers had envisioned.

But eventually I did actually arrive in Paris and the whole trip was great. Over the next two days I spent my time seeing the sights. I visited Notre Dame, took a walk around the city, had a picnic in a park, and found the only Canadian pub in existence (including in Canada from what I understand). I shopped for books, (Shakespeare and Co as well as the Abbey Bookstore), bought a French flag, and survived hypothermia on the top of the Eiffel Tower. I walked down the Champs-Elyses, saw went to the Louvre after sharing a bottle of wine, tried to visit the Picasso Museum and it was closed, so I went to a Communist Rally. In other words, I was a tourist. I took a break from the seriousness of being a traveller to be on holiday and it was worth it. I saw the big things, I ate the sweet sweets.

 

But I didn't completely shrug off my traveler's duties, I spent some time thinking about the differences between Paris and London. For instance, Paris is dirty. Now I find this very ironic because NOWHERE in London are there adequate rubbish bins for your trash. Even huge festivals seriously lack in the amount of garbage cans available. What you will find is that discarded beer bottles will be lined along the sides of railings and on the floor, usually out of the way and quite neatly arranged. In Paris, if there's no trash bin (and sometimes when there is) it's a free for all! I don't know how it all hasn't ended up in the river (heck, maybe it has but I didn't catch sight of it) because it was everywhere. So much so that Paris has a nice little... odor... at times. Which must be the reason for all of the bakeries, to cover up the smell of the garbage, dust, and other things. Well, it works.

What else is different? Well the food for one. Did I mention food yet? Yes. Paris has lots of food, lots of it delicious. Unlike most English cuisine, the French have quite a bit more variety. When it comes to lunch there are choices outside of the British menu which is comprised of sandwich, sandwich, or sandwich. All tasty, but not so often requiring much skill or creativity. Quoting my "Let's Go Travel Guide" I will say that in Paris, "when in doubt - eat." Oh so true. Just look at this picture and try to not to drool. But if you do, I'll understand.


 

You know what else is in France? The French! Right, the French! How could I go to Paris and not give any portion of this post to Parisians? Well, quite improperly I suppose. Now the French were not quite the way stereotypes make them out to be. Americans give many of the French a hard time, but we don't really hold onto it as a culture so much. However if you were English anytime before the 20th century, then you generally grew up believing it was a French snake that whispered to Eve in the Garden of Eden "ooh lala ma cherie, just have one taste of zees apple, eet ees alright!" Sure it is centuries later, relations have built up, tensions have died down and the English and French have grown to live together. But there's still this tone of resentment between them. When an English-person and  French-person interact you see the friendly faces, polite smiles are exchanged. There is a well-established feeling of respect between them as they stick out their legs to "accidentally" trip one another, whoever should walk away first. Just for a laugh of course!

 

But even as an American who has encountered her fair share of global resentment towards her nationality, I found the French to be quite kind. Having survived London for so long, I really felt I was quite prepared. This is not to say that the cultures are exactly the same, but I've come to understand the need to adapt to the social standards in place around me. It wasn't terribly challenging since I was in touristy areas for the most part, but the culture and people's attitude toward you is never completely hidden. I found the level of friendliness I encountered went up based on how well I pronounced things in the French language. When I struggled, the friend-factor dropped a few points. At the places where I didn't try at all (due to exhaustion at the end of the day mostly) I just encountered... well, nothing special, but nothing to sneer at either. Being abroad for an extended period of time teaches you that other cultures have other standards of behavior. Trying to assimilate into the culture and show respect for what has been established before you is appreciated, even in areas that are expecting high volumes of tourists. Paris, like London, is a home to many people - it's not just a tourist attraction. There are important parts of the culture that this corner of the world is renowned for like it's architecture and cuisine. But those things are made possible because of the French, who built them through common experiences and a common language. You do yourself a favor by trying to learn something about this history, practicing small parts of the language, and thus experiencing more authentic aspects of the culture. Some by work of your own and some by the openness of a people that choose to share it with you because they feel as if it's being appreciated.

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