I have been living at the Cité Universitaire in Paris for two and a half weeks now, focusing most of my time and energy on both schoolwork and understanding the people who inhabit this city.
My experience of Paris is remarkably different from the first time I was here about four years ago. I’m extremely happy that my first trip here allowed me to see all of the sights (the Louvre, Versailles, the Arc du Triomphe) because I am not plagued by the tourist’s burden of seeing the Mona Lisa, taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower, all within a short amount of time–of course, I am going to do all of those things, but in due time. I still have not been to the Louvre this time around, but I went to the Musée Rodin last night, walked down the Champs-Elysées, and made friends with a Portuguese waiter who spoke with Francisco, Beca, and me in Spanish. I see Paris as a city with the opportunity of having a thousand new and wonderful experiences, if you allow them to come to you unrushed.
I was warned by my French teacher that I would lack meaningful language-learning experience in Paris because if Parisians pick up on your accents, they will almost always begin speaking with you in English from that point on. My experience has been wholly positive in this regard–although my French is admittedly piecemeal, I have been met with an abundance of patience and respect (most of the French have been in my position too!). One of my favorite interactions of the past few days happened when I was waiting in line at a Greek crepe restaurant (salty crepes are called galettes): I asked the cook in front of me “Quel est le meilleur?” (Which is the best?) and my lack of subject allowed him to respond with pomp, “Le meilleur, c’est moi!” (The best, it is me!).
One of my good friends from high school, Stephanie, was off traveling from Warsaw to Amsterdam to Paris on her own, so in Paris she stopped by to see me. One of the things she told me, surrounded by people from different parts of the world who were staying with her at a hostel across the street from the pub we were sitting in, was how she was always struck by how similar people are–and there is not a vein of thought more fitting for Paris. This city, given life by a thousand different languages and nationalities existing next to one another and underscored by French language and culture, has done an amazing job at extricating the root of many cultures’ existences and made the city a home for all. Although there are a few notable exceptions to the ‘perfect amalgamation’ that I see, like the banning of headscarves/hijabs that is in effect trying to silence an aspect of Middle Eastern culture, I have seen very little evidence of widespread discontent between Paris’ residents.
I hope that my initial reading of Paris is correct, because it is a positive one. I will see as the weeks go on.