An American In Paris For the First Time- My Story
"I'm going to Paris."
It was sometime during April 2003, that I decided to take a trans-Atlantic trip to Paris, France. I had been invited by a friend living outside of Paris and I thought, why not? I started making plans, getting my flight arrangements, got my passport and started studying the city and area to see what I knew I wouldn’t want to miss. I was very excited and told everyone, "I'm going to Paris!" I told my family, friends, co-workers, sales people when I was shopping for the trip. Most responses were favorable and a few were, “you’re doing what? Don’t you know France hates America, especially now??” It was two years after Sept. 11, 2001, and we were at war. I didn’t think too much about those ‘few’ responses and felt very comfortable with my decision. Who believes the media, anyway?? My Parisian friend said it was ‘nonsense.’
I left America on July 4, Independence day. My flight left from Tampa International Airport and I had a connection in Philadelphia to make the flight over the Atlantic to Paris. I was flying out at night and could see fireworks from the plane. “Happy Birthday, USA. I’m going to Paris, kiss, kiss!” I write in another article, (Are French Men More Romantic?), about my flight, sitting next to a younger French man. It certainly added to the excitement and thrill of making a trip I had dreamed about since a young teenager. And it didn’t hurt at all that he was very attractive!
He taught me a lot about what to expect and basic French etiquette, which I definitely used while there and was thankful he had shared this with me. One thing he said is, ALWAYS greet by name if you know the persons name, and a friendly ‘bonjour’, even to a storekeeper. If I was saying, ‘pleased to meet you’, it would simply be, ‘enchante.’
Arriving in Paris
When we were over the Atlantic and flying over France, the view from above was simply beautiful. The countryside was so neat and orderly, farm lands laid out perfectly in geometrical exactness, it seemed. It looked like a giant quilt gracefully covering the land. I was growing more and more eager to land and greet my friend and be on our way.
Once we landed and I stepped out into Charles de Gaulle greeting area, there was a sea of people standing and waiting, many dark haired people and people from all different kind of cultures. I noticed right away I stood out, as I am tall, blond and I had on a dress! Who wears dresses anymore on a trans-Atlantic flight??? I did, because I wanted to look nice and it was as comfortable, or probably more so, than a pair of long pants. Even the airline hostesses said, thank you for dressing so nicely! And it appeared my French male friend appreciated it very much.
Adventures in the City of Light
Parisian Chic Everywhere
Fabulous Antique Flea Markets
An American Woman in Paris...
That weekend as we walked through Paris, I didn’t notice any hostility toward me or anyone else for that matter. Although I did notice there were not many Americans, I did see and speak with a few. And here I am, in a country where the dominant language spoken is French, one that I barely made it though in my two years of high school French. I could remember some of the basic phrases that a visitor should know while in another country to show respect and to be polite. But my French sounded NOTHING like fluent French. It was comical to even attempt a conversation that required more than two sentences, so luckily when French was necessary, my friend did the talking. Of course, we weren’t always together, as he had to work at times during the week, so there were times I was on my own with the language.
I do remember one particular time when I was shopping alone in the
small village of Sceaux. I was buying a thank you gift for my
friend and went into one of the only shops that was open during their
afternoon when many shops close. I was amazed at what could be
purchased for very little money. The shopkeepers spoke English and
helped me pick out a beautiful vase for the flowers I bought. Difference:
you can buy flowers for a man in France for a gift and it is perfectly
normal and acceptable. So, I had this gorgeous bouquet of flowers and a
beautiful vase walking through the village on a hot July mid-afternoon.
I saw a book shop with tables outside with all kinds of books laid out for browsing. Being a huge book lover, I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. I felt like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. I was walking toward the tables when an older couple walked past me, staring at me. I had on a dress (at that time, French women never walked around in pants, ever; either skirts or dresses) carrying the fresh flowers and vase. The man nodded his head and smiled. The older woman looked at me and scowled, waving her arms around in the air speaking quite loudly in French.
Hmmm, I had no idea what she said, but I did hear the word, ‘fleurs’, and knew immediately what she must have said. I thought, she must think I’m one of those crazy Americans walking around in the heat carrying fresh flowers. So I did what any smart American woman would do, and walked back to my friends home and placed the flowers in water. Then I walked back into the town as it was just coming alive again.
An American in Paris- J'ai Deux Amours- Madeleine Peyroux
Peaceful, Elegant Parc de Sceaux
Another difference that was very apparent to me was the children, of all ages. Being in the field of early childhood education, I notice young kids wherever I go. I like to watch behaviors, interactions between adult and child. The entire time I was in France, I did not hear a child cry, scream, talk back to their parents or throw a temper tantrum. It was amazing to me. You can’t walk very far in any American city before you hear or see a child acting up or manipulating Mom or Dad in the grocery line.
I remember one incident on Champs d’Elysses observing a young child entertain herself while waiting as her parents stopped to talk with someone. She was holding onto the street lantern pole as she circled around and around. She was singing a little song completely happy. I was enchanted. She wasn’t pulling on her mother's clothes or whining that she wanted to keep walking. Scenes very similar to this happened often.
We hear how the pace of life is slower in Europe than in the United States. I noticed especially whiledining out in Parisor having lunch, people were more relaxed and one could sit as long as they wanted without being interrupted numerous times by the wait staff. I only remember one time when I felt the waitress was being rather rude, but it didn’t bother me at all, as I had heard and read that sometimes they are rather 'brusque' in manner. And the tip is already included in the price. You do not tip in France.
A romantic French garden
One of my most favorite memories was time spent in my friend’s garden, his yard. It was surrounded by beautiful trees, a brick wall, a patio area with a beautiful Italian marble table. He lived in an old 17th century stone house with three floors, and there was an apartment built on to one side of the house. An older woman lived there. Sitting out in the garden in the late afternoon, I recall the scent of garlic, onions, potatoes coming from her kitchen window. I could hear her cooking, the sound of the utensils as she prepared her evening meal.
Then off in the distance from a house nearby or maybe from the apartments across the tiny, narrow street, I could hear the ethereal sound of a flute. Someone was practicing before dinner. These were comforting smells, beautiful sounds, no harsh noises or loud music. I felt so enveloped by all of these sensory pleasures, it was hard to imagine having to leave such a beautiful space.
Parc de Sceaux Garden Path
End of my Story
It was a beautiful space in time for me, part of my life I will always treasure. I think it’s valuable for anyone to spend time in another country, a different culture. It broadens our minds, our appreciations for both similarities and differences in our humankind, in humanity as a whole, and not separated by language, color, beliefs and customs. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in France, being an American in Paris. Flying back into the US, I looked forward to coming home to my country, even if the first sound I heard at the airport was a crying child! C'est la vie!
America is my country, my beloved home, but once you've been to Paris, she lives within your heart. As Jerry Mulligan said in, An American in Paris; "Paris... it's too real and too beautiful to ever let you forget anything."
Additional Paris Travel Information
- Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sceaux is a commune in the southern suburbs of Paris, France. It is located 9.7 km (6 miles) from the center of Paris.
- Paris Travel Information and Travel Guide - France - Lonely Planet
Paris tourism and travel information such as accommodation, festivals, transport, maps, activities and attractions in Paris, France - Lonely Planet