January 30, 2013 at 3:55 PM
It’s been only a week and a half since I got to Paris, but it feels like forever ago that I stepped off the plane, delirious after a sleepless night.
The first couple of days were like freshmen orientation of college, but a lot more intense. In addition to a new city, I had to figure out a new language, a new metro system and, most importantly, new customs.
Sure, there are the little rules: it’s okay to drink the tap water and you must dress up for dinners with your host family. But it’s the bigger messages that stick with me the most.
Lesson No. 1: It’s okay to get lost.
As my close friends will tell you, I am incredibly anxious. I take it as a personal failure if I don’t show up for class at least 10 minutes early. If my roommates and I have to be at a party at a certain time, I constantly check the clock on my iPhone while silently urging my friends to hurry up.
Needless to say, getting lost and losing time are not in my vocabulary. I was hoping Paris would solve this problem, and it somewhat has. Most of the time, I have absolutely no idea where I am going, but I’ve realized that it’s part of the fun of being in a new city.
Just a few days ago, a few of my friends and I went out for a walk, aiming to visit the bookstore Shakespeare and Company. We got hopelessly lost, which would have made me panic in the United States. Instead, we stumbled across a huge gay marriage demonstration, “Mariage pour tous,” and got to witness a great moment in French history.
Lesson No. 2: People will know you’re American.
No matter how hard you try, no matter how good of an accent you can fake, French people will know you are American. Countless times I have asked French people for directions in what I thought was perfect French and they will talk back to you in English.
Maybe bringing my Sperry’s and New England style to one of the fashion capitols of the world wasn’t the best idea, but it’s still hard to blend in.
The most important thing is to accept it, and don’t dwell on it. Besides, it’s a good motivator to learn a language better.
Lesson No. 3: Stereotypes are completely false.
Before I left for Paris, everyone warned me that French people were incredibly unfriendly and, at times, outwardly rude toward Americans. I have yet to find that.
I have found it’s important to make the effort to speak in the language of the country you are in. When I speak French correctly, my host family and strangers can’t get enough of it.
For the most part, Americans in France are treated very well. At a café across the street from my school, the owner carries American candies, peanut butter and Fluff because he said he knows how much we miss it.
At the boulangerie — or bakery — across from my friend’s apartment, the baker’s face lights up when we come in, and he usually offers us baguettes for a cheap price. We’ve even been able to carry on long conversations in French with him.
I’m becoming less easily embarrassed and more willing to say difficult phrases in French already. If I learn nothing else, at least I will have accomplished my top goal: speaking the language without fear.