That one time in Paris...

So, I went to Paris. Some stuff happened. Here's the story, if you've got a few minutes.

Me wearing a beret in a French cafe on the Champs-Elysees
First of all, traveling as an American can be complicated. You may remember my post about trying to get a stay permit, and the big hurry with that was because of this trip to Paris, so I could re-enter the country when we came back. So the French have been complicating my life for about a month now. Not only this, but my process at the airport was different from every else's because, yep, I'm American. Also, the hotel clerk wanted to talk to me about Obama. I hate talking about politics. I don't even tell who I voted for (except when the newspaper calls for an interview). Note to self: Do not admit to being American unless there is a great and sure advantage.

Now let's talk about museums. First there is the fact that everything was in French. I know, it's France, but this is an international tourist destination and half the time I had no idea what I was looking at. What information I did find in English did nothing to help me appreciate what I was looking at. I don't care about how this chair ended up in the Louvre, I want to know WHY it's in the Louvre.

Another thing about museums -- maps did not help at all. Have you ever been to the Louvre? I'm pretty sure my hometown could fit inside of that place. It's like an underground city. A city where all the signs are in French, the map is in French, there are stairs where the map says there aren't stairs, etc. But I will say that at least in the Louvre the rooms were numbered, so as long as you were in a room, you could find yourself on the map. In another museum, the name of which is irrelevant, I got lost and couldn't find the exit. I learned on this trip that the Romanian idea of visiting a museum is walking quickly through each room, stopping long enough to take a picture of something but not long enough to know what it is, then leaving. I didn't stop to read every sign, and I didn't stay in any room longer than about 5 minutes, but apparently that was too long. After the first room I never saw the rest of my group again. Before I left, I wanted to find a scale model of the Bastille that was made with bricks from the actual Bastille, but none of the exhibits were marked and the rooms full of antique French furniture all started looking the same. I wandered through the second floor trying to find the staircase I had to have used at some point (I would've settled for anything that looked remotely like something on the map), but instead ended up at another staircase that led to an office where I was pretty sure I wasn't allowed. At some point I did find a guard, and I gave him my best "desperate lost American tourist" face, but he only spoke French. Story of my life.

I have no idea how I ended up outside, but I was relieved to finally see daylight and the Museum bookstore where our group was supposed to meet -- or so I thought. I browsed around the bookstore for about ten minutes before I noticed that I hadn't seen a single person from our group in over an hour, nor had I seen any museum employees in the bookstore. Still frazzled after running around like an American lab mouse in a little French maze, I started thinking of all the possible catastrophes I could've missed. Maybe the rapture happened, or an alien abduction, or the museum was closed and I had been locked inside all along... I sent up a desparate prayer to find anything or anyone I'd seen before, and immediately two other tour group members appeared, also frustrated and unable to find anyone else. Keep in mind that this trip was with Romanians, meaning everyone spoke Romanian all the time, including myself when I knew how. They tried to blame the language barrier on my waiting at the wrong bookstore, but considering that these two other Romanians also failed to find the meeting place, I'm gonna say it wasn't our fault. If the meeting place is said to be at the bookstore around the corner, and the closest bookstore is at the corner of the museum, does it not make more sense to meet there instead of at a bookstore three blocks away?!?! And how were we the only three who didn't get it Yeah, I still get a little irritated when I think about it.

Other than getting lost, I also managed to get in trouble with the museum guards a couple of times. If you ever go to France, you should know that by "do not touch," they mean don't touch anything. Not the plaques, not the wall, not the chain that is slightly-crooked at the end of a staircase, not the antique bench sitting out in the open... NOTHING. If nothing else, I learned that the word "no" in French is "non." For example, "Mademoiselle, non, non!"

Now let's discuss the metro. Sometimes the tickets don't work. Of course if someone's ticket isn't going to work, it's going to be mine. And because I tend to move a little more slowly and enjoy the view, this resulted in me being stuck on the other side of the turnstyle a few times. I tried pushing really hard, but of course that just got me dirty looks from the French. Then I tried jumping, but I'm short and my skinny jeans were a little too tight for gymnastics. So I used this opportunity to practice my French by yelling "S'il vous plais! S'IL VOUS PLAIS!" (Please! PLEASE!) and waving my ticket in the air hoping someone would help me. Imagine my surprise when I turned around to find a French man in my personal space offering to let me go through with him on his ticket. We got pretty familiar for a second, but I gave him an earnest "Merci! Merci!" (Thank you so much for saving me life even though my friends are only three feet away and I was never in any real danger!)

Ordering food was interesting sometimes. There was one dinner which required us to speak four languages: Romanian, English, French, and Spanish. Then there was the time the waiter supposedly spoke English, but when I asked about the vegetable soup he started slapping his thigh... Apparently he thought I was asking about meat. Oh well. I did find Cherry Coke and burritos, so I think that made up for more than a week's worth of complicated dinner orders.

Other than these misadventures, I liked Paris very much. Yes, it was exhausting to spend a week in a foreign country away from my usual foreign country. To quote a friend, "Vacation with nationals is never a vacation!" But I liked the city, especially the Eiffel Tower, much more than I ever expected. I'd like to go back, minus about twenty people.

I got kind of obsessed with the tower. It's beautiful!

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