I wasn’t supposed to love Paris; see I’d grown up constantly hearing about how it’s overrun by tourists, overrated, smells of piss, etc. But maybe be the biggest thing I keep hearing is about how straight up rude Parisians are, even from Frenchmen themselves.
But a friend told me I had to go, even just once.
So I did.
I cannot express how much I love Paris.
I first went to Paris with the family as part of a 2 week city hopping Euro trip which also included Barcelona, Brussels and Amsterdam.
They didn’t make a mark on me the way Paris did.
I returned for the second time on my own, after I left Spain and began my month long travel within the region with the French capital.
I don’t think Parisians are rude, and certainly not unnecessarily.
I used to hear other people complain about their experiences all the time, at which I’d always retort, “but did you at the very least greet them in French before you started speaking? Or ask them if they could speak English (in French) before you proceeded with your request?”
And I was always met with a resounding, guilt-free, no.
What is it about certain travellers that travel the world expecting everyone else to cater to them?
“But English is the international language, why should I bother speaking French?”
Uh, because you’re in their country? And it’s, I don’t know, respectful?
I mean, there are a lot of stereotypes made about city folk, but as someone who grew up in a major metropolis, I’m not always the nicest person if I’m in a rush, and I kind of always am, so I’ve never expected anyone else around the world to drop everything for a minute and help me.
Hell if my city was overrun by tourists speaking a different language and was constantly stopped in the streets, them expecting me to want to speak their language, I’d grow disenchanted pretty damn quickly.
And I’m writing this with the idea that I’ve always opened with, « Bonjour, parlais vous français? »
But here’s a story of when I didn’t, and I met the nicest stranger in Paris.
So the Parisian metro.
Covers a great deal of the city nicely, runs pretty efficiently, is part of the fabric of the city we don’t quite pay much attention to.
But here’s the thing, there are barely any lifts around.
I’d spent my first day climbing up and down the stairs just to get to my platform lugging 6 months worth of luggage with me.
When it came time to leave Paris and go to the train station, I’d braced myself for the towering flight of steps.
I got off the metro, looked up at the flight of stairs, took a breath, grabbed the handle of my suitcase, and started scaling the steps.
It was just past 9 in the morning, so I’d pretty much skipped over the peak hour rush and there weren’t many people around.
Just as I was beginning my climb, a man in the middle of the flight of stairs swung around and asked me in English, “hey, do you need help?”
Surprised, I replied, “uh, yeah sure, I guess if you don’t mind.”
He came down and proceeded to grab one of the handles.
I immediately remembered how goddamn heavy my suitcase was, and I felt bad, “I’m so sorry my bag is so heavy, I’d just come back from 6 months in Barcelona.”
We’d struck up a friendly conversation, he asked me what I was doing in Spain, yadda yadda.
In my head I was thinking, “this guy can’t be from here. This cannot be a Parisian helping me. I’d been trained to think the worst of them, this doesn’t make sense.”
”So are you... from here?”
”Yeah I am! And I’m really sorry we don’t have elevators in our metro it’s really old, it’s bad I’m sorry.”
“Man, please don’t apologise.”
I needed to get to the train station, and I couldn’t find a clear direction or signage to lead me to it.
“Where are you going?”
”I need to go to Gare de Lyon.”
”Oh, hmm I’m not sure which exit that is, let’s look around.”
Eventually he approached a member of staff on the ground, who directed me (us) up a flight of stairs which led to the gantries.
He didn’t look like he was exiting, so I fully expected him at that point to go, “well alright then, there’s your exit, I’m off.”
But he didn’t.
Instead, he went, “alright, here we go!”
He grabbed the front of the suitcase, I grabbed the middle, and we made it up the second flight of stairs and were steps away from the gantry.
”Alright, well I’m off to catch another train now, it was really nice meeting you, and all the best on your travels!”
And he headed down the flight of stairs and headed to another platform as I tapped out of the station.
I had to take a minute to process the fact a Parisian approached me, a traveller, in English and helped me up a flight of stairs, helped me find the exit I needed and helped me up the second flight of stairs even when he wasn’t even headed in that direction, apologised for the state of the metro even though it wasn’t his fault and wished me well.
I don’t know, he wasn’t even the only nice and friendly stranger I met during my time in Paris, he just completely went out of his way to offer help.