03 July, 2008

Paris intimidated me at first. I didn’t know many people here, and I didn’t know how to get around the city or even buy food to eat or store in my little fridge. It was a little like the first day of the pre-orientation at Princeton, except I didn’t speak French very well, and that made things more challenging.

Yesterday I learned to treat French as a language as opposed to a code that you scientifically put together. It was unnerving to hear real people greet me in those sing-song voices (“Bonjour Monsieur!”) that you hear in CD players in French class – the whole thing was either very ludicrous or very magical. And while I got by at first in a few places with a “Parlez-vous anglais?” I realized that a surprisingly significant percentage of people here answer that with a no; maybe it has to do with me not being in a very touristy place yet. But it really gives me a chance to experiment with my language skills. And although I would disappoint my French teacher at Princeton because my grammar in spoken French is bad, it is highly gratifying to get my message across.

It is hilarious when you try to explain something to someone in bad French (supplemented with broken English) and they respond with a “Do you speak English?” Nevertheless I have decided to just use French from now on.

So I walked down the streets and a main boulevard close to where I live, and sat in a small café and ordered pizza. It was like looking out of a train window, as a saw a whole city, buzzing and shining with life, pass by outside. I was listening to music and eating my pizza, watching little Citroen cars (I like to call them Le Corbusier’s cars), irritated shopkeepers, families with children, old people with grocery bags, young people sporting crazy clothing styles.

Later at night, I took the subway to the very center of Paris, and walked around. I wanted to be ready for today. There were bars and merry people, but I didn’t stop. As the subway was going to shut down soon, I came back. The subway shot through the night and people around me spoke rapid French. I felt like an outsider and so I listened to my iPod and that cheered me up.

Earlier I had discovered the library at this place and was happy to find it has wireless internet. I am going there now to plan today’s trip – a visit to the Eiffel Tower.

1 comment:

Andy Chen said...

Paris sounds amazing. I haven't traveled to Europe since I was very young, but I remember it being very beautiful and culturally vibrant.

I think that feeling like an outsider is good sometimes. Really provides the intellectual and emotional space to reflect.