I always thought Paris would be a great place to visit. After reading up on the American Revolution and how France helped us in our fight against those nasty oppressive Brits I felt the pull to check it out in person that much more. Of course I’d heard all the stereo types and when talking to friends in the rest of Europe it wasn’t uncommon to hear them say “if any other country pulled that nationalistic crap, people would be screaming ‘Nazis!’ but eh, that’s just how the French are.” It’s also pretty common to hear “Paris would be the greatest city on the planet, if it wasn’t for the Parisians.”
My first trip to France was last year, it was a spur of the moment trip and far from well planned. I’d be there for about 48 hours, just long enough to see some friends at a conference, briefly see the city and get out again. I can say with all certainty, everything that could go wrong did. The instructions I was given from the airport pointed me to a bus line that didn’t seem to exist. I tried to ask for help at an information booth and was fairly obviously snubbed because I couldn’t ask my question in perfect French. After an hour of trying to get help figure things out on my own I gave in and decided to take a taxi. I found a driver who spoke english and understood where I needed to go, but most importantly who accepted credit cards as I had only 10 Euros in cash on me. Te driver confirmed Credit Cards were OK and then loaded my luggage into his trunk. Upon arriving at my destination he changed his mind and demanded cash, which I didn’t have. He pointed out that my luggage was locked in his truck and if I wanted it back I’d better pay up. Eventually he drove me to a cash machine, with the meter on, and back adding an additional 30 euros onto an already 60 euro fare. Plus ATM and conversion charges. Needless to say, I wasn’t psyched and not much happened on the rest of the trip to redeem it.
I knew that was pretty much worst case and tried to not hold it against the city, but truthfully wasn’t rushing for a return voyage.
I just left from my second trip there and I can’t believe how much of a different experience I had. I love the town, had a blast seeing it and groked the metro in seconds. Two things I’ve been told which could have made a difference overall are that I spent a good chunk of the time with friends who actually live there, and the fact that America just voted the Republican’s out. The friends thing is obvious, but the other is more speculative. I don’t know if that would be so night and day, but I had a lot of European friends tell me recently that there is a general feeling that it’s OK to like America and Americans again now that Bush is out and Obama is on the way in, especially in places that *really* didn’t like Bush. Or at least they don’t instantly assume if you are American you voted for Bush like they did previously.
That’s beside the point. This trip to Paris I found the people I spoke with to be polite and helpful, dare I say friendly even. I didn’t even make it to any of the vegan restaurants that I located and never once did I feel like I was starving. I saw the sites I wanted to see and met new people that I look forward to seeing again. Overall it was a blast, and fully redeemed the city for me.
On an side note, I took French a few times in grade school and even though I never received a passing grade a lot of it came back to me on this trip. I also have been listening to the Michel Thomas audio French Lessons and I think I’m picking it up. I think for 2009 I’m going to actively try to learn the language, conversational at least. More thoughts on languages in another post coming soon.