Today is the last full day here in Paris, but I have to write this post before I forget about this interesting and unique part of my Parisian experience. Over the last 6 weeks I’ve taken about 5 taxis around the city and tried to take the opportunity to strike a conversation in French. Now, testing my memory, here it goes.
The first cab ride was with a middle-aged Asian male. This person actually started the conversation with me first and inspired the rest of my conversations. I began feeling really comfortable speaking my subpar French. Even though I’m sure I messed up plenty of things over the course of the conversation. Once I told him I was an American student he was really interested in my studies, my stay and Paris, and the differences between Parisian and American culture.
This one with a North African woman, which surprised me at first because there are so few female taxi drivers around the city. Unfortunately she was not much of a talker and I really didn’t get to get to deep into a conversation. However, she seemed like someone hard at work as she said she drives her taxi around every single night.
Middle aged Arab man. Much much more social than the taxi ride before that. My conversation with him was great because I got to talk to him a lot about the United States and he described the suburbs he lived in outside of Paris. We got into a particular conversation about Brooklyn, in which he told me his image of the Borough was a place in which there are many shootings. He said all he hears about in the news is violence and murders taking place in New York City, which did not surprise my much at all as its always the negative news that makes it to airwaves first.
Middle aged Cambodian male. This was by far the most enjoyable of the cab rides as I learned so much in a mere 15 minutes. First of all, he said he was a cambodian refugee who fled to France to escape Polpot’s regime. He described the difficulties of growing up and being forced to come to France as a result of bureaucratic protocol as opposed to the United States where the majority of Cambodian refugees are according to him. He also said that he resided in a banlieue around Paris, which are suburbs that are notorious for their crime and poor living conditions. Surprisingly he said that the banlieue he lived in was good and that he was content living there. In general he seemed to like his job and his living driving around a Mercedes-Benz taxi, in style, and living the life of an immigrant in France. This is one conversation I will remember for the ages as it was a totally unexpected and enriching part of my experience.
After the number, this older white male was pretty disappointing because he seemed very on edge and did not want to talk much. I tried a few times starting up the conversation with my normal line “Est-ce que vous travaillez dans la nuit tous les jours?” or “Do you work at night every day?” It wasn’t to much avail unfortunately and I left very unsatisfied after the Cambodian pushed my expectations way up. At least he was nice enough to break my 50 euro note that no one else would take but the atm decided to give me anyways.
The Egyptian man working at the pizza place down the street. While I was waiting for my pizza I started talking to him in French, and soon enough to my surprise he started speaking english to me. He told me he lived in London for 5 years and that he moved to France because his wife is French. He was telling me about the incorporation of English in Egypt and how all the students learn English alongside Arabic and that French is absolutely useless there. He kept on saying how compared to English, French is so much more difficult for him to learn. However, I found it amusing that he was talking to me in Franglish and saying stuff like “It is trés hot oui?” Funny times.
About a week ago, Francesca brought a friend of her’s to class who works for Français de l’étranger or the French governmental service for citizens living abroad. He told a story about how back in 2006 during the Israel-Lebanon war, the French government provided transport to evacuate French citizens from Lebanon. However, they were not sure if Israel would attack the ships they were using to bring people back to France. The person asked what do you do in that situation?… Get 50 Americans on the ship and we will be 100% sure that they wont get attacked. True diplomacy indeed. Absolute genius.
A little under two weeks left and I’m still hanging in there. The lack of vegetarian food plus my own incredibly picky taste is making it really difficult. I honestly feel like I have lost a good ten pounds just because my diet has been insufficient. I have been eating tons of falafel and trying to get more decently tasting vegetarian food. If I ever come back to Paris, expect me to get a place with my own kitchen and bring a ton of Indian spices. The cuisine is the last thing I will miss about this place.
My last two weeks have been filled with some interesting adventures. With one of our classes we participated in “Paris les yeux fermé” or “Paris with your eyes closed”. At first I was really apprehensive. The whole idea of being led through the city completely blind with a guide was unnerving. Surprisingly, I became comfortable with my guide immediately as I was led to different places in the city. At first I was brought into a random house and conversed with people there. I quickly realized how much I rely on gestures and hand motions when speaking French. When I entered the house I thought the person asked “êtes-vous Français”, meaning “are you French?”, to which I responded “Non, je suis Americaine!” She broke out into laughter and said “êtes-vous avancer?”, which means “are you moving?” Absolutely lost in translation for a few moments there. At another point I was taken to a place where someone was tuning an instrument. She asked me what I thought it was an instinctively I thought she was tuning a guitar. She chuckled and said that it wasn’t and placed the giant harp on my shoulder. After letting me play it for a bit, she took it back and played a beautiful song. It truly was amazing to hear because all my focus was on my hearing. When she finished she said I was in the sole harp making shop in Paris. I was so surprised that I was led to such an amazing place. For the next adventure I was led by another blind man through a nature trail. It was amazing how he was able to show me around the place and really force me to use my sense of touch to understand the place. From branches, to plants, to walls I painted myself an image of what was the probably incredible greenery surrounding me. At the tour’s conclusion I was brought into a room full of dancers. At first I was really confused and didn’t know what they wanted me to do, until they proceeded to grab me and pull me around the room. It was a really different experience and I really could not keep up with what they were trying to do. Nonetheless, once I was finally allowed to see again after 2.5 hours blind I came to truly appreciate the gift of sight I have while also realizing how the sounds we hear on a daily basis tend to mesh and we don’t take the time out to observe them individually. When being guided to the streets I was able to distinguish cars, from kids playing on the sidewalk, to people engaging in casual conversation. I feel I was truly enlightened by the experience and that everyone should do it if they have the opportunity. It has really been one of the highlights of my experience in Paris.
I’ve also made some more observations about life in the city. Pharmaceuticals in Paris are incredibly cheap. Similar brands in the United States go for much higher and are much less accessible to the general public. Such perks of socialized medicine are evident, however I still can’t accept it as a better system. The French make a certain sacrifice in terms of much higher taxes for greater benefits and guarantees. However, in this society with a looming social safety net productivity is stunted naturally and they cannot keep up with the pace of the United States. There is much more of an urgency to get things done state side, while here it is much more laid back and people are generally content with where they are in society.
I spent three hours at the Louvre by myself just wandering around. I have never had a real appreciation for art, and I wish I could take a class on it to be better acquainted with the paintings. Regardless, I think the uneducated eye knows beauty when it sees it. There were so many amazing sculptures, paintings, and relics in the Louvre. I was able to explore the ancient Egyptian, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, and Italian painting exhibits in my time there. This included seeing Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, the latter of which was unimpressive as I thought the paintings around it were a lot nicer. The Christian themed paintings have caught my eyes the most during this whole trip. I’m fascinated by the different artists interpretations of the passion, and how it seems like each one has depicts it slightly different from the others.
I have visited the Arc de Triomphe at least five times already and each time it keeps getting better. I physically can not get over its historical significance and the plaques that are laid directly under it. There’s one plaque with this speech by Charles De Gaulle on British Radio during WWII and it was truly inspirational. The names etched on the walls within the Arc are truly a spectacle. To me, it is by far my favorite landmark in the city. Its remarkable how traffic is constructed to go around it. It signifies a development into the modern era while still maintaining the sanctity of such an important monument. Most recently I finally got the time to climb it. The view from the top is stunning, and I felt that all sides of Paris were at my disposal.
After witnessing Bastille Day, I see the pride the French take in the storming of the Bastille. Although it was not the beginning of the current republic, it still shows the French ability to resist oppression and pursue a new form of governance. The celebrations were likewise spectacular that included a gigantic fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower. Its so interesting how this year’s disco theme included so many English songs and only one or two French songs max. Once again, the English music continues to dominate.
I really want to do a comparison between the two societies, French and American, at some point. Something potentially with an empirical basis about democracy or social welfare and examine the opinions of the people each way. I think it would be an interesting experiment to conduct and report to write just because there’s such a contrast between these two states that are considered developed. I don’t think these differences are publicized or recognized enough. The stereotypes exist, but I think it will take some sort of study to really show how there is a disconnect on each side of the Atlantic. I continue to nerd out on this trip, but its what I enjoy most.
Now back to reading French literature and hopefully understanding it.
-The Roaming Goat
It my eighteenth day here in Paris and it just keeps getting better. Through the program I have hit most of the important/ tourist sites here so far. I’m so glad that the more touristy things and absurd theatre adventures are pre-scheduled by the program because its given me and everyone else so much time to explore the city on our own.
I’ve realized that its most productive for me to talk to younger French people here. They aren’t as turned off by my American-ness, but rather appreciate the fact that I’m trying to talk French to them. Last week I played poker and chilled with some French college students and it was truly one of my favorite experiences thus far. With me talking French, and the others talking in English back to me, all of us were benefiting from each other’s company in one way or another. We were sharing stories about college life, our travels, and studying. One of the guys was a French literature major and when I told him that we were reading Flaubert and Hugo in class he got extremely excited. Overall, I feel the easiest talking point with younger people here for me is sports. I love seeing how passionate they are about their soccer or rugby teams. They have so much national pride in them. However, I think they’ve come to grips with the fact that Les Bleus (their nickname for the French national team) would be dominating the futbol universe anytime soon.
One thing I’ve taken notice of during my time here is the incorporation of English in daily life here. Like the use of “stop” as opposed to “arrête” when riding the metro, or even with food, its common to see “chicken wings” or “cheesy ___” as opposed to “Ailes du poulet” or “fromage ___”. English is so integrated here because of the entertainment industry more than anything else. The clubs here play primarily English music, many of the popular t.v shows are english ones dubbed in French, and people seem to rave so much more about Hollywood as opposed to French Cinema. However, the older generation seems to hold on to their uniquely French films, which probably explains why the movie/theatre industry here is incredibly subsidized by the government.
A brief side note: I just had to run outside and move my drying clothes out of the rain. Some cultural things I could definitely do without.
When I first came here I was under the impression that simply being immersed in the environment would make my French a lot better. The cultural immersion has definitely helped, but I’m trying to make a much more concerted effort. I’ve made it a goal to try and read at least one newspaper article a day in Le Monde and fully understand it. I’m trying to tediously look up every word I don’t know and understand it in context. I really want to be able to become well-versed in the political and legal terminology here. Considering that French is a prominent diplomatic language a lot of the terms have cognates in English as well. I’ve at least become confident enough to finish my French minor. We’ll see where it goes from there.
When walking the streets of France the social stratification is glaringly obvious. There are parts of Paris that remind me of poorer regions of India just because of the presence of beggars on the side of the street and better off Frenchmen completely ignoring them. Its so difficult for minorities to get housing here, and they have to go through a bureaucratic mess of paperwork to show that are in proper standing to even reside somewhere. However, I’m sure its much better in Paris than in the French countryside. With the Front Nationale incredibly anti-immigrant with slogans like “France est pour le Français” (France is for the French), its definitely a prolific problem. The Roma are also marginalized so much here. Considering the recent deportations, they are often the poorest people you see on the street. Its an unfortunate cycle as the more they are pushed to the bottom of society, the more likely they are to be the ones that snatch another’s wallet. They legitimately cannot do anything about their social situation. It seems as if social mobility is virtually non-existant, and its an incredibly sad sight.
The French working mentality has confirmed my impressions of Europeans as taking their entitlement and social safety net society and being content with what they have. I see working class people drinking outside in a café at two in the afternoon. There’s no real sense of urgency here. When I talked politics with the college kids (the same one’s mentioned earlier) they were bragging about how they don’t have to worry about anything because they have social security. This environment has made me truly grateful for what I have in the United States. I understand now why the USA has been a global hegemon for the past century. Americans don’t solely rely on the government to take the initiative to better their lives, but rather understand their individual responsibility to make themselves a member of society. Capitalism for the win.
And with my absolutely shameless American plug, its difficult being here on the 4th of July. I wish I could just come back home for one day because I feel so out of place being in France on this amazing day. Happy 236th birthday America! You will always be the greatest! I would try to buy tickets of a scalper for the Springsteen concert in Paris tonight so I could feel somewhat American today, but I don’t think my chances are all that great.
Until next time,
The Roaming Goat
The first five days here have truly felt like a month.
I signed up for this program really not knowing what to expect. I figured I would take the time to study abroad and become conversational in French. I’m working on the latter but I can definitely see improvements. However, the majority of the conversations I have with French people revolve around “Je voudrais une crêpe du fromage.” I hope to change that over the next few weeks and become more comfortable starting the occasional conversation.
The city itself is remarkable. I feel that over these five days I’ve mostly seen the Paris that isn’t familiar to the average visitor. The neighborhood I live in is quite dangerous, however it adds a realism to this city. Although the Champs-Elysées and the Paris tourist attractions are beautiful, at its heart Paris is like any other urban area in this world. I’m really thankful that I’m able to experience it this way though. I feel that I am getting very cultured as many people have said that they’re not used to seeing Americans out here in the 19th Arrondisement. This experience is truly unique.
Over the last few days I’ve been trekking around everywhere with the other people in the program, going all over the north of Paris. We got equipped with a metro pass so its great to go on adventures around the city and knowing that all I need is a metro station to get back home.
Speaking of home, my hosts are nice people. Unfortunately, me and Jack my roommate tend to wake up after they leave the house and come back home after they are asleep. Likewise, we haven’t conversed all that much but hopefully that will change.
The nightlife here is truly a spectacle. It seems that every single night something is going on and clubs/bars are always raging. Beyond that, there was a music festival around the city today with all types from Jazz, Rock, Hip Hop, Pop, Senegalese you name it! The Parisian culture is remarkable and, coupled with the history, is by far the most enjoyable part of this experience. Going to the Notre Dame Weednesday had a huge impact on me. To even imagine that such an immense structure was constructed close to 1000 years ago without the gifts of modern technology is difficult. The architecture (especially the flying buttresses!) is astounding and absolutely took me aback. Afterwards we went on a boat tour down the seine and got a great view of the banks and the number of structures lining it. I can’t wait to get the opportunity to go there at night. This city has so many treasures.
It really hit me today on my way back to my house when I turned around and was surprised to see the Eiffel Tower from the top of the hill. No one ever talks about what the Eiffel Tower looks like on top of the Rue de Pyranées, some random street many miles away from it. It was so distant but the best view of everything I’ve had so far. Its just so different from the typical experience, and adds to the aura of the city. There’s something here for everyone to enjoy and the most exciting part is finding it.