I write this post in my free time while at the study abroad class in Cluny, France and drinking a glass of chardonnay. I have learned so much at this course that I think I will still be trying to catch up when I get back to NJ.
Paris was a spectacular city that is really a city of light and culture. To quote another study abroad student that I have met over here in France, “Paris gives you a flavor of what France is about, more so than can many European cities to their respective countries.” The Parisians are admittly quite rude and downright annoying at times, but there are an equal number of people that are really very wonderful. Those Parisians who are not rude are often welcoming and give a big smile and greet you when they walk into their restaurant or boutique. Others glare and grimace at you when they notice your accent.
The biggest give away that we were from out of town was our backpacks that screamed tourist. Apparently, backpacks mean that you are an American. The French way of carrying possessions around is in a cloth bag similar to a reusable shopping bag. The reason the bag is important is the role of bags in European shopping culture. European stores do not give shopping bags when you check out but expect you to carry your own bag. If you do ask for a bag from the establishment, they will charge you a steep fee. Frequently, I saw people twice a day with a few baguettes or pastries sticking out of the corner of a cloth bag hanging on one shoulder.
Our first dinner in Paris, I ate at a restaurant called Café Central on a pedestrian street, and the waitress listened patiently to our broken French and then taught us some of the words we lacked. It was quite amusing to be trying to ask for an expresso and find out that the word expresso is not commonly used; rather the word café or noissett is used instead. Then you must specify how large and whether or not you want milk; most French waiters and waitresses will deliver your coffee without milk unless you ask. I found myself craving coffee and wishing that I could just get a cup to go which is not the way of the French. Unfortunately for the impatient American who wants to just get onto the next sight or the next street, you are obliged to sit for at least 30 minutes and enjoy a coffee.
On our second day in Paris, I found one of the several Starbucks in Paris. The experience that you get in North America is lost on the Starbucks of France. For one example, they serve freshly squeezed orange juice for a premium price. They had a very fancy machine that slices and then positions the slices for an automatic pressing. A medium cup of this beverage called Jus Fraiche will run 4.50 €, which is about $7.00. People then do not frequently leave with there beverage but sit in the Starbucks drinking as they would in a café. A few days later we found another Starbucks, and the experience was the same but even more people could be found sitting at small 18” diameter tables watching the world go past.
The world of the Parisian is one that is explored on foot with food making up the principle of the day. I started my day at 9 AM and didn’t return until 10 PM. Among the challenges of being in a foreign country where coffee does not run in the veins of the people, the bathrooms are few and far between. Those bathrooms you do find are paid for and often cost 1 euro which is the equivalent of 1.60 dollars. The trick that we learned after a few days was to go to a café and drink a 1.30 euro coffee and use their bathroom which was not crowded with tourists. I think about this and write about this because I believe in being well hydrated, and I cannot express enough how frustrating it is to find a bathroom when you drank a liter of water in the last hour. In one park I found a gentleman peeing on a bush and still another man teaching his son to peak on an iron fence.
The big lessons I learned during my time in Paris are learn how to order coffee if you don’t like being surprised by your beverage, don’t carry a backpack or risk being profiled, and don’t drink to much water if you don’t want to pee in the park.