Five years ago my little sister asked me, “Will you take me to Europe when I graduate high school?” I’d be famous by then, so with ease I responded, “Oh, absolutely!” So… a second job later, and a journalist who cancelled twice on me for an interview – here we are.
Paris. City of fashion. City of carbohydrates. City of Chic, the croque monsieur and elegant chain smoking.
Being an American in Paris who doesn’t speak French is like not speaking Swahili in Kenya and trying to plan a party by 5 p.m. — it’s horrible! I feel like more of a minority here than when I’m in India performing sign language to the waiter in order to get directions to the bathroom.
By looks, my sister and I could surely pass for French speakers… until we’re spoken to, which happens often by locals who become delighted when we say the extremely necessary and freshly learned phrase from Pierre who makes the breakfast at our hotel, “Je ne parle pas Francais.” (I don’t speak French.”)
It’s no secret: the French are snooty to Americans in France. I’ve been told this for years by everyone and their mother who has travelled to France. My sister and I decide to see for ourselves if this is true. But so far, I’ve had my twenty pound suitcase carried up three flights of stairs at the Metro by a ruggedly handsome French man in a black business suit and matching five o’clock shadow. (A gesture that has absolutely never happened in Los Angeles.)
I’ve been given a list of “To dos” from a local waiter sporting a well kept goatee who works at the El Tracadero – a local and very chic café with chandeliers and roses across the street from the Eiffel Tower. His advice was specific. “Ze best way tu discovah Pari is to get lost…Then you will find a Pari even the Parisians do not know!”
And then there’s Flavien, like the rapper Flavor Flav, he jokes. He works the night shift at our hotel and sits behind the antique desk wearing a black business suit (a fashion pattern among the men here I’m noticing), taking an occasional break to smoke a Gauloises Blonde cigarette.
I was writing in the lobby last night at three o’clock in the morning due to my severe jetlag. Flavien brought me a glass of orange juice and circled places on the map of Paris my sister and I must see: The Latin district, Versailles, Bordeaux for the wine tastings, The Louvre, just to name a few. And if we can do it… Nice is a must see.
From this evidence the French couldn’t be nicer. It leaves me wondering why I’ve heard otherwise.
My sister and I are drinking constant cappuccinos, manically smoking Gauloises Blonde cigarettes and ordering wine during the day, just like the French women do here. I have come to a realization: French women are thin not because they watch their diet (I’m convinced carbohydrates make up sixty percent of the diet here). The French walk everywhere all day long! This is a direct contrast to my driving in Los Angeles sixty percent of the day.
So today my sister and I are off to see if we can order lattes in a to-go cup, which we haven’t seen anyone do here yet, and then we find our way using the metro to Versailles. Wish us luck! Until next week…
Your American tourist in Paris.
Alice can be reached at AliceActress@yahoo.com.