P-A-R-I-S

I’m always looking for creative ways to document my experiences, so I will use an acronym to talk about Paris.

P is for People.

One stereotype we have in the United States is that French people hate Americans and choose not to speak English (even though they can) just to make our lives difficult when we visit their country. I was a bit skeptical of this claim due to my very pleasant experiences with French Canadians and straight-from-France French people in Montreal. I also heard a counter-claim from a friend who has spent significant time in France that French people will force poor French speakers to speak English because they can’t stand them butchering their language. This was somewhat more plausible to me — yet not consistent with my experiences either in Canada or France.

My experience was not sufficient to speak to all of these claims because I was escorted by an American friend who spoke enough French to get by (and insisted on speaking it even when it was difficult for the other person to understand), but overall I found the people to be friendly and helpful. Some tried to speak English with her at times, but they did not seem to chastise her French. If anything, they seemed to appreciate her efforts.

I would really like to learn French so that I can get the full experience — in French-speaking Canada, France, and possibly in West Africa some day. Unlike some, I don’t particularly like the language because of the difficult-to-pronounce vowel sounds and silent letters, but I recognize its utility.

Another thing about the people of France is that, like in Greece, I encountered far more immigrants (mostly African and Arab/Algerian) than expected. I like the diversity of Paris, reflected also by the various types of cuisine available (Turkish, Ethiopian, Indian, Chinese, etc.).

A is for Art.

While I did not get a chance to visit the famous Rodin Museum or the Dali Museum despite my intentions, the Louvre provided more than enough art and culture for the week. The size and scope (not to mention the architecture and the famous pyramid I remembered from the movie The DaVinci Code)  left me breathless and overwhelmed at times. I think it took us about 15 minutes to figure out how to leave. My biggest memory is the crowd around The Mona Lisa and how anti-climactic it is to see it, given all the signs directing guests there as if its something far more amazing. Maybe I’m just ignorant when it comes to art. Strangely enough, I think we spent the most time in the Islamic section. I remember skipping through Egypt quickly because I still had memories of the museum in Cairo, and all the European portraits got monotonous after a while.

My favorite art was the architecture and decor of the many churches in Paris (some pictured in the previous entry). The Church of Notre Dame was one I learned much about in my high school art history class, but I was not prepared for the massive size of it. I can’t imagine how it was built.

Of course, a panoramic vista of Paris is a work of art itself. I can only compare it to one of Istanbul, but I cannot say which I prefer…

R is for Rain and Ride.

It did not rain enough to ruin our plans (although it did make New Year’s at the Eiffel Tower a lot messier than it would have been otherwise), but the specter of rain was always there. The first day we decided to ride bikes through Paris, it began to rain just as we set off. I told my friend to keep going and hope that it would abate soon — and it did. It was an exhilarating experience  even though I injured my knee while peddling because the bike was not adjusted properly and could not be easily fixed (thanks, Velib!). Now I can say that I’ve biked through three cities: Washington, D.C., Paris, and Kyoto. It’s remarkable that I taught myself to ride at age 19…

According to my friend, who is a woman, French women don’t ride bikes or engage in other sports/outdoor activities as much as American women do. She says the culture is more sexist but less racist than in the United States. I haven’t been there long enough to gauge it myself.

I is for Indian food.

The only night I got drunk (I was only moderately buzzed on New Year’s) was the second to the last night I spent in Paris, and it involved my friend’s friend, two bottles of red wine, bread and cheese, another type of alcohol I can’t recall at the moment, an electric bike, and an Indian restaurant (not the Gandhi restaurant in the photo but one close to it). I remember the food being incredibility tasty and my acting like a fool as a result of that and the alcohol.

S is for Shannon.

Shannon is my amazing friend and great host in Paris. She helped make my first experience in Paris action-packed and organized. I hope I didn’t set her too crazy (she’s not a big drinker — although neither am I anymore). I enjoyed our time together as much as I enjoyed the sights and sounds. There aren’t too many people in life that you feel comfortable sharing almost anything with and whom you really trust. I won’t ever take it for granted.

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