Dolphins Overseas: An American in Paris
Bethany Dixon, Staff Writer
April 19, 2012
Filed under News & Features
Everything about going to Paris made for an exciting experience. I took the train to Paris from London via the Chunnel, a tunnel built between France and England. For most of the trip, the train is underwater, which is a very strange sensation – your ears almost pop more than when you’re on a plane.
There isn’t really much to see during the train ride, since you’re in practically complete darkness for most of the journey. The only light comes from the inside of the train cars. By the time we arrived in Paris, I was wound up with excitement from knowing that I had been underwater for an hour and that I was getting off a train in Paris. I immediately felt cooler.
The stereotypes about Paris are there for a reason. It is a beautiful city; it’s hard to imagine how old some of the buildings must be. As an American, it’s easy to forget that some streets are older than our entire country.
Every street smells like baking bread or melting chocolate. Parisians go out and buy their bread for the day every morning. We even ate warm croissants for breakfast each day. Every block of Paris looked like a photograph from a book.
I knew that I stuck out like a sore thumb. American tourists rush – we worry about missing trains and such. Parisians don’t seem concerned with how long things take. That’s one of the problems though. Parisians don’t love tourists, especially American tourists. So, of course, I found myself trying to win them over.
Shopping is an interesting experience. When you enter a store, you say hello to everyone in the store and they say hello back. When you leave, you say goodbye to everyone and they say the same to you. If you don’t follow this custom, you will not get good service and will be seen as rude by an entire store. It’s weird how quickly it becomes second nature. When I got back to England, I had to remind myself that I didn’t have to do that here.
Have I mentioned that I also don’t speak a word of French? It wasn’t really a problem though, since many Parisians are fluent speakers of English. The language barrier was never really a problem except, for some reason, whenever I was asked something in French, I responded in Spanish. I guess that’s because it’s the only other language I know. I’m not sure how much they liked that.
I relied heavily on playing charades when I was speaking to someone who didn’t speak English. In bakeries, it’s not all that easy to find someone who speaks English, so just point and use your fingers to count. It’s surprising how little you need to talk to buy croissants.
I hated admitting that I didn’t speak French, so as long as I understood what they were saying, I would just nod and smile. I call it the “tourist face.” It’s that blank, slightly confused and overly happy smile that almost every tourist can do. People figure out that you’re a confused person pretty quickly and that’s when they take pity on you. It’s how locals can tell the difference between an annoying tourist and a helpless tourist… They like helpless tourists a lot better.