The rumors are true: I have eaten my weight in cheese. There are certain cultural stereotypes that one should never question. Also cliché, I attended a crèpe party within four days of being in France.
Some may know, some may not, that until now my only experiences “in Europe” have been layovers in airports on my way to (insert one of six sub-Saharan African countries.) And in the interest of honesty, I should confess that Western Europe has been extremely low on my “to visit” list for most of my life. My primary reason for choosing to start this trip in France was language practice, as I have nearly ten years of French education under my belt. That’s a big reason I kept my budget small, too–the impetus behind this is academic, not touristique (I honestly don’t remember the English version of this word, or if it even exists. My brain might be dying.)
As it stands, France is pretty cool because, you know, history. I spent my first four days in Paris, living in the 18th arrondissement with Nicolas (uncle.)
–A quick aside: in the interest of keeping things simple (as usual, read: lazy,) the reader can assume that I am not related by blood to anyone that I mention as family. They, in fact, belong to three of my cousins and not to me. But it is also important to note that they are treating me like “real” family.–
Continuing on: Paris is a treasure trove of old stuff. It’s pretty amazing to see pieces of the 18th century and beyond around just about every corner. Sometimes it actually feels like too much, like the Louvre overflowed and artifacts were distributed around the city wherever they fit. But that’s the charm. In so many ways, Paris is just another huge city. It’s not what we call clean, the Metro is crowded at rush hour, there are trendy neighborhoods and there are neighborhoods in decline. There is gentrification and coffee and food and these things are expensive. The Parisian Difference is that, sometimes, you cross the street and all of a sudden the church you’re standing in front of is SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS OLD.
In the way of language, my listening comprehension is, if I may, getting pretty excellent pretty fast. Reading and writing remain my most advanced French abilities. Speaking is Russian roulette. Every once in a while I have mid-conversation moments in which I realize what I’m doing–marvel that I’m completely comprehensively speaking a second language–and then, because of that mental segue, get completely tongue-tied, cannot remember French nor English, and thus become mute, greatly confusing whoever I was talking to.
Or there are the days in which I’m feeling ultra progressive, keeping up with rapid conversations over an inter-generational lunch, successfully contributing when appropriate, and just being an all-around boss. And then, not two hours later, I have to ask the man selling tickets at the Louvre to repeat himself FOUR TIMES, all through the microphone, and the question is,
“Vous venez d’ou?”
Day 2, French I, high school stuff. Sometimes I am fourteen and there is nothing I can do about it.
Oh, and today I ate stingray.
Was it….good? I have a pair of stingray boots….your writing is absolutely delightful Gretchen. For arm chair travelers. So proud of you. Carpe the friggin diem!!!!!!!!!