Chapter Three: Paris when it sprinkles.

Lessons learned:

– A wild American tourist appeared and he was polite. Who’d a thunk it?… They do exist!
– When in Paris, don’t run for the Metro, the next one will arrive before you finish reading this sentence.
– The French use the phrase “ooh la la” 100% seriously to communicate surprise. Par exemple: *it’s raining* “ooh la la”…
– Do not pretend to know how to speak French at the outset of the conversation, the person will assume you speak fluently and continue the conversation and you will not understand and then you will have to shake your head awkwardly and then you will feel like a complete muppet.
– Sleep is not for the weak. Sleep is for the smart traveller who recognises how bloody exhausting it is to hop three countries in a week.

~~~~~

There’s not much to say about Paris that hasn’t already featured in Hollywood films and every woman’s fantasy about how her fiancé will pop the question. It’s beautiful, it’s historic, the food is spectacular and when you’re with the one you love, I imagine that the molecules in the air are comprised of more pheromones than actual oxygen.

Don’t get me wrong folks, it’s incredible. Breathing Parisian air means inhaling an incomprehensibly delicious mixture of cigarette smoke, expensive perfume and garlic butter… Until you’re on the metro, at which point your olfactory senses are assaulted by the smells of pee, bad breath and BO, all emanating from the seedy looking man you’re pressed up against because there’s so many damn people in the carriage.

For me, this time at least, Paris was much less about the romance (wah) and much more about the family (Ohana etc etc.) and to be perfectly honest, it was better that way. While I’m aware that not all of us have family to visit while we’re overseas, even if that’s the case, do your research, don’t see the city like a tourist, explore like a local. Of course, see the sights, visit the Eiffel Tower, walk the Champs Élysées, but don’t overlook the way that people live in the city you’re in. Eat a light breakfast, stuff your face at lunch, have a siesta, drink too much great wine (albeit responsibly) at dinner, then get up and do it all again.

It seems to me that French also have an unshakeable sense of superiority over tourists (actually everyone really). Most clearly showcased on multiple occasions upon which I would catch someone staring at me, probably because I was speaking English and not their beloved French, and instead of looking away as most people do when the person in question catches you looking, would maintain eye contact.

I don’t know what it is with these people, but they’re hardcore.

Be wary: when travelling in Paris, understand that pickpockets exist and occur right in front of you, carry a backpack for luggage because escalators are few and far between at the lesser known Metro stops and don’t make eye contact with the violinist/accordionist who hops on the Metro to regale you with tunes that really kick you in the face with the reminder that yes, you are in Paris.

Do things that you wouldn’t do at home:

About 10 years ago, on a trip that took my family and I to New York, I got a caricature done on 42nd street. I was only 9 and the drawing was a beautiful setting of me in roller skates and pigtails tearing through Central Park. This time, mum encouraged me to sit on the Pont de l’Archevêché while Vallery, a lovely street artist stared intently to my eyes as he sketched my face. I didn’t really expect what happened next. Vallery had told us that he would give us a discount – my sitting for him would draw attention and ultimately, he’d probably end up with a few more patrons. I didn’t think anything of it, but about 15 minutes into sitting, a tour bus of Portuguese families disembarked and flocked to stand behind Vallery, watching as he detailed my eyes and my nose (he was kind and gave me a bit of a nose job, thanks Val) and my lips. This was a real life portrait and as I panicked about what people thought of my face and what Vallery was sketching, a little girl who couldn’t have been older than 7 waddled up to me and in broken English, managed the phrase, “you are beautiful” and then scurried back to her mum who smiled at me.

That’s it folks, affirmation from a 7 year old with a Dora the Explorer back pack is as good as it gets in this life.

Let the city shock you – this is a little story about an American tourist (from Texas no less) who stopped on the street to help mum and I with exchange rates.
At first, I clutched my bag a little closer and did the full up and down inspection of this random guy who just felt like helping some strangers on the Rue du Cloître Notre-Dame. Who was this guy? Full Texan drawl saying words like “would you like some help?” and “I’d be happy to translate” was something that I never expected to hear. After about 5 minutes of talking about Australian dollars and the rates of conversion we finally figured out what we needed and he simply said, “hope you enjoy the rest of your trip”.

Now please, dig a hole for your jaw to drop a little lower because it gets better.

A mere hour and a half ago as mum and I were running dangerously late for our flight (read: flight departure was in an hour at this point… 3 hours before departure for check in is for losers) the express train to Terminal 1 at Charles du Gaulle was equally as packed as it was for the lovely experience of being pressed up against an oily haired old man. Struggling this time with a suitcase, backpack, handbag and a print of a can can dancer we picked up for next to nothing on the banks of the Seine: it’s safe to say I was ready to just collapse into a heap.

Now girls, prepare yourselves for this next part:

As people continued to pack on to the train a lá sardine can, somebody lightly touched my shoulder and swivelling my head around as best I could, I realised that a young guy about my age with Clark Kent glasses and green eyes had gotten out of his seat and was motioning to sit down. I didn’t really believe that men that age did such things, especially with a group of about 4 guys with him but hey, I can admit when I’m wrong. He helped me lift my bag around people and just smiled as I sat down, then in a perfect British accent just said:

“Is that better?”

It was at this point that my heart fell out my butt and I’ve decided to move to London.

That’s all folks, next stop is Athens where more family awaits and I’ll finally be able to swear at people in their native language.

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