A-broad, broadening my horizons
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I’m in Paris right now. Yes, at this very moment. Just came home from a concert of Vivaldi and Mozart at the Eglise Madeline, to find a nice little reminder that it’s my turn to post. Today. As in, as soon as possible. Oops …
Anyway, I’m in Paris for four weeks to learn French, explore the city, and squeeze in a little dancing. It’s the first time that I’ve taken such an extended vacation to one place, and it’s been a bit of an adjustment. Not only am I a virtual stranger here, I know next to no French, and have no prior experience with French culture. To say the least, it’s been a steep learning curve, mostly on the laughable side.
So why go to Paris, you might be asking. Well, I decided that in order to broaden my travelling horizons, I needed to learn French. This realization came to me in Morocco, which was the most foreign place I’d ever visited. Everything was strange. The food, the djellabas, the Moroccan Arabic and French languages, and all the other American people on my tour. Okay, maybe my co-tourists were a stranger than the Moroccans, but I’m trying to forget 90% of the Americans I met on that trip, so let’s not even go there.
Really, what I want most is understanding … of different people and places and cultures. And the best way I know how to do this is to experience it. And so it is that I am now in France.
Some of the things I have learned about France that I did not know before:
1) The 1st floor of an apartment building is equivalent to the second US floor. Luckily, the people in the apartment below mine didn’t have me arrested because I was trying to break into their apartment for twenty minutes before I half-remembered a passage from a childhood book that talked about a similar incident … except the children actually got into the house, and ate up all the food that the inhabitants had prepared for their own dinner. I did eventually get into the correct apartment, but I’ll spare you the next twenty minutes it took me to figure out how to use the keys.
2) It is customary to (air?) kiss someone once on both cheeks when meeting, greeting, and leave-taking. I like it. It takes a little getting used to, but no more than when I was in Italy during high school. So, if the next time I see you I plant one on both your cheeks, don’t be too surprised.
3) One is considered extremely rude if one does not greet a shop owner with a “Bon jour,” and take leave with an “Au revoir.” I just learned this today. Sadly, there are already about ten shopkeepers in Paris who have a horrible first impression of me. I’ve already decided to boycott these stores out of shame.
4) Before using familiar language, one should ask permission. This is not entirely new, since there is the same guideline in Italian and Spanish, but it takes relationships to a whole new level if one has to ask if one can be familiar. It just doesn’t sound the same in English … “Can I be familiar with you?”
So, these are just a few of my mini-adventures. And I’m learning. Learning about another Western culture that is not too different in many aspects from US culture, but distinct enough to keep me on my toes. Learning more about myself and what my expectations and assumptions are, and how I would like to modify them. And taking time to relax from my hectic everyday life to just get to know myself … how I’ve changed over the years, and how I want to direct my future.
I’d love to hear some of your stories. From what you’ve learned from being in a different space, be it in another country, state, neighborhood or state of mind. What have you learned that you wish you’d known before? What did you gain from this new understanding? How has your life changed because of your journey? What would you tell other travellers along the way?