I have now been in Paris for three weeks. It’s a crazy statement – wasn’t I just home packing and waiting for the moment the plane would touch down at Charles de Gaulle? Now I am in Paris, walking past Notre Dame each day on the way to class and taking photos of the Eiffel Tower every time I see it. I’ve figured out the cheapest place to buy crepes with Nutella and I’ve been to the movies (in French!) twice. It’s like a dream.
One of the most interesting parts of my time so far in Paris would have to be the metro. Oh, the Parisian metro. I love the metro because I can take it to basically anywhere in the city. It’s a bit confusing to figure it out, but once you do, you’re set to go anywhere. And what a cool feeling once you’ve mastered it! I feel so official when I swipe my Navigo card (monthly pass) and board the train with the rest of the Parisians.
What I don’t like about the metro is that there are a lot of homeless people in the stations, and it makes me sad. There are many homeless people all over Paris, really. I am from Boston and there are homeless people there, too, but nowhere near as many as I’ve seen here. Seeing people sleeping in the metro stations makes me realize that Paris is not just the rosy picture in the movies. The other issue with the metro is that it is often packed to the brim. Paris is a city of 2.2 million people, and many of them use the metro every day. At peak times, you can be squished in the car there with a hundred people you don’t know. For someone not used to it, it can be kind of uncomfortable!
Not everything about Paris is perfect, but it’s all about the attitude. At orientation, our professor told us that Americans are like peaches and French people are like coconuts. As Americans, we are friendly and smiley toward everyone. We let people get to know us quite easily. However, our hard inner center is not open to a lot of people. We let people in, but only to a point. French people are the opposite. They are like coconuts: hard to penetrate, but once you’re friends with a French person you’re always friends with them. French people are far more reserved than Americans. At home, I usually smile at people on the street, but here, that is considered strange. It’s not a bad change, it’s just an important cultural difference.
Paris is exactly as I expected in some ways, but in other ways there are aspects I just never thought about. I pictured the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and the churches and the beautiful architecture, because I’ve seen those images for years. But I never thought that the food would be so good and the beautiful architecture would be on literally every street. I had some expectations, but other than the ones I mentioned I didn’t really think about what my daily life would be like. I hadn’t anticipated that I would simultaneously remember more French than I expected to and that it is very difficult to converse with your host mother when you don’t speak her language that well. I hadn’t anticipated that I would make really great American friends in my program but also easily become friends with people of other nationalities just by going to a few events.
Paris thus far has been a study in contrast, but I am really loving my time here. All this to say, it is even better than I expected it to be in almost every single way!
(Beautiful photos taken by Eleanor)