Well to start off with – I am in a whole other country, so of course, there are things that are “normal” here that seem different to me. That is due to my background coming from America and never traveling really out of it other than the Caribbean cruises.
Today we have a generous host via Couchsurfing.org, its a website that does exactly what it sounds like, and she allowed us to take a key to her apartment, to go and come back as we please. That is a rare thing we have found in Paris, most hosts want you out at a certain time, such as 9am, and back after 6 pm. Which is acceptable, since you’re in Paris and there’s so much to see and do!! Having a key alone, has been a relief to be able to just kick back a day.
Our goal today was to find a coffee shop, okay okay a Starbucks. Yes, how “American” of me. We have been walking A LOT lately, so we wanted a lazy day in Paris. I feel sort of guilty saying that, since shouldn’t we be exploring everything on every corner? Yet, we have been in Paris for over a week now, nearly 2 weeks, so we have done A LOT in Paris. We have had two hosts here that wanted us out for about 8 hours of the day every day, so we have gone to almost every tourist, non tourist hidden beauty and every cool looking place on a map that there is to go to here! From the Eiffel Tower, to The Louvre, to the Pont des Arts “love lock” bridge, to the hidden wall in Montmartre where it has “I love you” written in every language, to a 5 mile walk along the Seine River, to that small bakery and cafe that our hosts have suggested. No, by no means have we tackled it all. Okay, well, I feel better for saying we wanted to do nothing today in Paris after listing a few things we have done.. Either way our goal was Starbucks. Yes, again, a Starbucks in Paris. *crosses arms*
Now a list of the differences, or just plain ole’ “Parisian things” (that I find unique), that we have encountered today during our walk to Starbucks and have seen throughout our stay in Paris.
1.) There are cars, everywhere, parked on sidewalks. It’s normal, get over it. I had to. More than that, there are motorcycles on every sidewalk as well. I had my last French host, Pierre, (such a French name, I know) while he was showing us around Montmartre, try to tell this motorcyclist that he can not park his bike on the sidewalk. Well that did not go over very well, I heard the word “asshole” a few times in French from the driver. So – get used to it.
2.) Smoke is everywhere, exhaust is everywhere. Those are two normal things found in every country – but for some reason it seems to be a larger amount here. It could be that this is the first time I have walked this much in my life rather than using a car thats producing the exhaust, or it could be the tight narrow streets – either way – smoke and exhaust every other breath.
3.) Everything looks antique, unique, beautiful and ancient here. I feel so foreign in this sort of area, after all Europe has a few centuries over America in the history department. My eyes are not used to this kind of history. Most restaurants have their history on their menus, buildings have signs on them stating their age and there are plaques near monuments giving you their history – so you can always know that there are things here from the early 1900’s to the 1600’s. It is fresh for my eyes and it doesn’t get old. Granted, I have been here only 11 days or so but it hasn’t gotten old yet for me. The architecture is exquisite from every bridge, to every stone of buildings, to every corner of the museums, to every stained glass of the churches and to every curve on every monument.
4.) If people are wearing boots – their jeans or pants are tucked in them. Is this a new fade I am missing?
5.) 1 out of every 30 dogs are on leashes, do they have better trained dogs here? Is there a secret that America is missing? The dogs follow their owner with less than a ten foot deviation and will respond within seconds if called. What’s going on? I had a dog, named Jerzey – and if I let her off the leash, I had to get my fiancée to go get her. Maybe it was because she did not like me very much, but she would go running off into the wild as if I have kept her captured for years. Go Parisians!!, for have a kick ass method of training dogs here, I salute you firmly.
6.) Bathrooms cost money to use in public, something like 35 cents or so. You may ask yourself “What kind of crap is that?!??” I asked myself that too. Well, France gives you healthcare when you loose your job or cannot afford it. So, I’d take the fee for peeing rather than the lack of healthcare when I need it. I thought to myself the first few days here, that I would just find a restaurant that I could use the bathroom in and stood firmly on the statement of “I am not paying to pee!” Well almost every restaurant, cafe and store has a lock on their bathroom door, and there are two ways of retrieving the code to unlock the door. Those ways are either asking them for it, which they would say you’d have to be a customer, and the second method was buying an item and reading the code for the bathroom on the bottom of a receipt. So in a sense, only one way to retrieve the code, buying something. Just suck it up and pay the fee to pee. After all, in America peeing is free but 60% of Americans do not have healthcare due to the flawed system.
7.) The French people love it when you speak French, even if you suck at it and brutally mess it up while trying. The point is, they want you to try, they love that you are trying their language and trying to emerge yourself into their lifestyle, their culture and their language. Also 99% of The French speak English, but do not go in assuming that – they are more likely to say they speak English after you have tried speaking French rather then you going in like an ignorant tourist and asking in English, “do you speak English?”
8.) Most of the French people do look unhappy, and its not because there is a frown carving its way into their faces, they actually have a straight face with straight lips while walking down the street casually. Or should I say, speed walking casually, boy do they walk fast! Do not get discouraged and think they are annoyed with you due to the lack of a smile, that’s just their faces. They will be the first person to say “Pardon” if they accidentally walk into you, or the first to greet you while walking into their cafe, and they will be the first to politely ask if someone’s using that chair next to you in the local Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks.
9.) One huge difference I have seen, and quiet frankly scared me, was the military here in Paris. They walk around with assault rifles. Normally in groups of 3-4, all carrying assault rifles. Saying the words “Assault rifles” in the USA, is like cursing out the pope in Italy. There are such HUGE issues in America with guns, oh my, the strings of shootings and the never ending discussions about changing gun laws every time you turn on the TV. I asked my last host, Pierre, about their gun laws here in France, and I was rather taken back by his response. Only legit hunters, cops and the military can own guns. No man or woman trying to protect their homes can own one. I use that example, because typically people in the USA, when asked why they are purchasing a gun, their response is “to protect their home.” The accessibility of guns are far less, which has been a proven solution to any gun issues. I can’t even really say solution, for France has really never had an issue with guns. Even when it comes to self defense in French homes, if a man attacks the man who is breaking in – they both get charged. France does not condone violence and specifically anything to do with guns.
10.) Gratuity is included. At every cafe and restaurant in France. You can tip if you want… But only by rounding up to the nearest Euro or two. No waiter or waitress will give you an evil stare over here for forgetting to tip or just not wanting to, because its in the price of the meals.