I met my sister, Tracy, and her family in Paris while they were vacationing for four days of wandering and site-seeing. It was my first time to Paris and it was great exploring with her because she studied in Paris for a year in college, knows the city and speaks very good French which took the stress out of ordering croissants. I was surprised to discover that no one I encountered in Paris wanted to speak in English which without my sister made everything incredibly awkward and embarrassing for this tourist who didn’t want to speak French. In this city – the local Parisian hipsters out-hipstered me — English is apparently too mainstream.
Living up to the hype of Paris is no easy task. Since the 1940s, American popular culture has oozed idolatry of the romantic café culture, art, historic architecture, food and “Frenchness” of everything: elegance, sophistication, history and glamour. When expectations are so high, living up to the hype is almost an impossible order and I expected to be underwhelmed; but I loved my time in Paris. It helped a great deal that my sister played the role of French-speaking tour guide who explained the significance, history and cultural perspectives behind what would otherwise be unknown. It also helped that we both stayed in the neighborhood of St Germain, one of the nicest and most accessible neighborhoods for exploration. Wide sidewalks dotted with lovely outdoor seating cafes, a comfortable 24 degrees and sunny skies, corner bakeries serving all varieties of breads and desserts warm from the oven. Everything was totally charming.
Until that one time. That one time, as I said goodbye to my sister and her family outside of the entry door to their apartment building. And they opened the door to go inside and inside the entry foyer a homeless man had taken a big, nasty, stinky, smeary shit against the wall. A hilarious reminder that beyond the glitz and glamour of tourist perceptions exist an alternate reality. Thanks for that too, Paris.