[For the week of Sept. 8-14]
The French, especially Parisians, are well known for having a knack of letting themselves go wherever they please, with no special destination in mind. Such a lifestyle of course brings about a neologism; in this case, that word is flâner. Whether you are a flâneur or flâneuse (or neither, since unlike in the French language there does indeed exist more than the gender binary of masculine-feminine), Paris allows for the aimless to become the aimful, the lost to become the found! What a glory it is to have such a malleable word!
Now, you might have perceived a typo in my title. I would tell you that this is no error. For it is during the now two weeks I have been here that I have both “wandered” and become “lost.” The roads of this metropolis are as countless as they are without order (one could say chaotic). And Parisians seem to take pedestrian stoplights as loosely interpreted suggestions rather than the “law of the land” that I once thought it to be!
I needn’t even mention the trains. Let me take the time to divulge the curious: in Paris, there are several main modes of transportation: 1.) walking, 2.) on the road, or 3) the Metro or RER. All three are unique, and all three lead you to certain demise. Walking sounds pleasant but do it for a day and you now mother seven blisters on each foot. Go on the road (e.g. bike, car, bus, or even scooter!) and danger abounds at every (literal) turn when you must watch for pedestrians who fear no motorist nor know any rules. But now we’ve come to the Metro/RER, both subway systems that are very similar; to the point where I honestly still don’t know how to differentiate between either. However: it takes no person of lengthy experience to quickly realize the immensity of one’s error in deciding to hop aboard.
At one point, you are as cramped as sardines where one man’s… um, nether regions are nestled in one’s body where no one should have them be. Or perhaps you have to get off after fifteen stops and all the seats are taken in a car that doubles as a free sauna. Not to mention how the tiniest misunderstanding of a train map has all of a sudden led you into one hour in the opposite direction (more on that later)! From the way I have described trains here in Paris you have probably decided to take your chances and not take part in the madness… Sadly, it is (as the late Princess Leia put it) your only hope.
But as I have always sad, with the bad comes the good! I do think myself lucky enough to have gotten ahold of the wild beast. With its help I have gotten to all my classes on time and finally arrived to the correct middle school where I will be acting as an English assistant for three classes! To put it briefly, I accidently took the train all the way outside of Paris to another school that shares the same name (since apparently the names of war heroes are quite common for buildings)… But all the same, I feel myself slowly understanding the meaning of flâner. To truly get where you want to go, you must give yourself up to the city and just go. You know eventually you will get there!
Aside from my trials and tribulations with a mechanical monster, my French studies are going quite well! I enjoy my classes (some more than others) and have taken deeply to the subject matter: the history of Paris, Art and Poetry, and even French Islam! It also helps that I’ve begun watching French films in the theatre, the first one being Les Hirondelles de Kaboul, which I highly recommend as it brought me to literal tears by the end.
Needless to say, life here begins and ends with French, but it remains to be said that Paris is an international city. Its people come from all kinds of backgrounds and means which has provided me with not only European experiences. Just this Saturday I celebrated the Mexican day of independence à la mexicaine. I’ve even begun to attend church services in Japanese! Yes, I do find it quite funny that I am an American-born child of Mexican parents who is in France studying French while attending Protestant church services (in a mostly Catholic country) in Japanese. None of that previous sentence should make any sense. But now what other cities can say they boast such amenities?
I suppose that’s why I’ve become quite fond of this city, at least for now. I’m happy with the friends I’ve made (all the French, Japanese, and American ones) and I hope that our relationships continue to grow! Harriet (Etta or Henriette) is also very pleased to see me becoming accustomed to life in Paris, just as she has by fully assuming Parisian sensibilities… Oh my, Etta, you really are something…
Gabriel Alejandro González Alemán
Ambassador of the League of Linguists to France
Ambassadeur de la Ligue des linguistes en France