While waiting to use the bathroom on an overnight train from Berlin to Paris, I received a variety of advice from a very nice French gentleman. He told me that if I would like to order tap water when dining to say, “une carafe d’eau”. He also told me that Parisians are incredibly rude. Turns out, both are correct. Rude doesn’t quite describe the level of animosity that emanated from the average Parisian that I had the grave misfortune of running into, figuratively or physically, as it is all fair game here. Am I greatly over-generalizing a couple million people? Yes. Do I speak an ounce of French? Unfortunately not. However, other countries I have visited were much more understanding, tolerant, and accommodating to ignorant foreigners such as myself.
My favorite encounter was with a beautiful and young French woman on the Metro. Not a word was spoken; we merely sat across from each other. A few stops down the line, I finally realized she was staring at me. However, this wasn’t a pleasant or even a nonchalant stare that I’ve seen so many times while using public transportation elsewhere in the world. It was the kind of stare a woman would give to her husband after catching him in bed with a younger and more attractive woman. The only way I could interpret this pensive stare is that she clearly wanted to disembowel me on the Metro but she didn’t have an object to do it with, making her even angrier and more frustrated. So I decided I would start staring back at her. She would have won world staring contests if she was aware of the skills she possessed.
Paris never ranked high on my “must see” list in the first place. Visiting Paris was pretty uneventful for me although I was excited to visit places like the Louvre and Versailles. As I walked around the city, I began to wonder how many non-French girls became disillusioned every year upon visiting the city. Their preconceptions of a bustling city of light filled with warm-hearted people enjoying baguettes and espresso, were replaced with a city of cigarette smoke, hawkers peddling cheap souvenirs, and even more grumpy Parisias than originally expected. From the time we arrived in Paris and until we boarded the plane to leave France, it felt as though we were under constant barrage from touts and gypsies. Keeping a constant high level of situational awareness to fend off pickpockets quickly became tiring. We weren’t deployed into combat areas, we were just on a simple vacation.
So what did I enjoy about Paris? The unbelievable architecture, the art, the history, and of course the food. This combination really made the visit worthwhile. To completely enjoy the Louvre you really need to plan to be there all day. There is entirely too much art to simply run through while snapping pictures. If you care about the exhibits at all you will need to dedicate some serious time in the museum. Versailles is a surprisingly shorter experience due to large portions of the chateau being off limits while under renovation. Aside from the hawkers scattered all over the front of Versailles, it is a pleasant trip and a much welcomed change from bustling Paris.