After a long period of technical difficulties (which I must admit is most likely due to my lack of any sincere agility within the sphere of electronics), I am back to recounting my time here in Paris! The first week was one of new beginnings, or de nouveaux départs as the French people like to say. Er, I guess I mean that IS what they say. There’s really no other way to say it in French, so it doesn’t matter if they like it or not, I suppose… Anywho, where is better to begin if not at the very beginning of it all!
The morning of September 1st was not worthy of any special remark to most people: fair weather, sunny, and people rushing from and to Chi-town. But if you looked closely into one of the cars, you could see a wee Latino lad (okay, who am I kidding, I’m quite large-in-the-barge) traveling with his family to say his last goodbyes before his plane. My family, especially my mother, was both happy and sad to see me go. It was going to be a long time apart, but she knew as well as me that in the end this was something I had to do. So with some tears and one last hug I walked through the terminal. What was to await me ahead?
The plane itself was… how shall I put this… oh yes, MY OWN PERSONAL HELL. I was for the most part content to stay seated for eight hours had it not been for a baby that found it quite difficult to not cry every five minutes for intervals of half an hour (and yes, I calculated the frequency because I was in there for EIGHT HOURS). Otherwise, I sat next to a nice, quiet old man whom I believed to be a follower of Islam as a result of my sly perception of his choice to eat halal. He spoke little French or English, but was rather polite nonetheless! I braced myself with 吉本ばなな’s キッチン (if you can read that, you know who you are) and did a combination of read and sleep. I thought we were never going to make it until the pilot, as French as French can be, said those magical words: Mesdames et messieurs, vous y êtes arrivés, bienvenue en France.
Now, you may ask me what my thoughts about France were before arriving, or what my first impressions were once I stepped on land. I would tell you I knew France isn’t perfect, and it’s true that the outskirts (as well as downtown) is covered in graffiti and some trash, but there’s a reason people come here. The allure of the architecture, the history, and knowing so many of the Greats walked and lived where I reside now came full force and I was not prepared. That’s when I realized: I am here, in Paris. Throughout the first week, which was solely orientation and I saw and did what many would consider touristy.
And I will not lie; it was all splendid. There really is something about travelling and just enjoying the sights, but soon after, we all were set aside by the directors of our program and shown the reality of our situation.
My directors, a man and a woman named Michel Bondurand and Laetitia Boisdron respectively, are well experienced in how students such as us react to study abroad. That said, they made it clear that Paris, like France and like any other country, will change as our perceptions change. We may think the new cultural experiences we go through are perfectly normal, but sooner or later comes the imperfect: cultural tension, aggressions, maybe even xenophobia, racism, or homophobia.
At first, I thought I was impervious. Nothing and no one could make me feel culture shock! I was smart, conscientious, and what I thought was my best tool: cynicism. If only I could go back in time and smack myself in the head (well, I technically could now, but I like myself too much to inflict pain on such a poor me!). In the first week, I’ve already had my share of blunders: misunderstanding the Metro, seeing gang activity at the Eiffel Tower, even one case of sexist remarks towards me where I politely turned down a man who kept pressing me and a small group of girls to eat at his restaurant. Upon my further declinations, he decided to spit out: “You act so womanly, man up why don’t you.” Where was my cynicism and my intelligence to help me now? Those moments hurt, they really do. They remind you you’re just another American in Paris. Another tourist… But even I know that’s a lie. I am not a tourist. I am me, and who I am is someone no one in the entirety of France has ever seen. I know it’s how you choose to react at these bad situations that inform the good.
And there truly has been so much good. I’ve made friends (both French and American), seen so many things I’ve only dreamed to see, and done things that I thought I could never do. I stood tall, I stayed strong. As a result, I have also found myself getting used to life here little by little. I’ve begun to show my true self, my beautifully weird self, and people are receptive! Though it’s only been the first week, I feel like I’ve been here for much longer. I am ordering food (delicious, lemme tell ya) in French, exploring the environs and taking it all in. Whether it’s the beautiful gardens, the waters of the Seine, or the small patches of vibrant Parisian life I find throughout the city, my time here has given me perspective from both ends of the spectrum.
In the end, I am neither tourist nor citizen. I am a student. Students learn, students grow, from both messy mistakes and huge successes. I expect to continue having both while in France, but at least now I have the tools to take the time to step back. And Etta- er, I mean Henriette- is quite happy to hear that. As am I, Miss Glasgow, as am I!
Gabriel Alejandro González Alemán
Ambassador of the League of Linguists to France
Ambassadeur de la Ligue des linguistes en France