I’m in France. It’s real… it exists. It’s the place I’ve been dreaming of going to since I knew I could dream about it. I learned about their language and culture in my French classes in high school and since then decided that I was destined to go to this beautiful country. However, my biggest fear in going has been getting deemed a ‘stupid American’. Or being mistaken as rude. All of the stereotypes that plague my culture. Today my fear came true when my friend and I went to the top of the Notre Dame (which was absolutely beautiful. This year marks the 850th anniversary of the cathedral).
We arrived at the place where you’re supposed to buy tickets, and I walked up and said ‘two’. I know I probably should have said ‘bonjour’ and smiled and stuff, but I was so nervous. While I understand the language to a decent extent, I become terrified when I’m expected to speak it and I end up forgetting everything, including English. I also don’t know who speaks English and who doesn’t and I don’t want to be rude by expecting everyone to speak my language. In Germany, even in high tourist areas, some shopkeepers only spoke German. Anyways, after I said that the cashier looked at me with a hint of disgust and said something to the extent of ‘you know, you need to start by saying hello and being polite and stuff. you don’t just walk up and say two.’ I immediately thought ‘okay, I’m sorry I’ve been in your country for less than 24 hours and I’ve been hearing and speaking German for the past 6 weeks. I don’t know what language I’m in right now.’ Instead, I managed to squeak out an ‘I’m sorry’ and I payed and walked away.
However, it’s not just me and it’s not just him. People are people. We become apprehensive of stereotypes and expectations and become wary of those who are different than us. We tend to be suspicious of those who come into our home country, whether it be for vacation or other reasons. Maybe I should consider the possibility of the ticket man having a bad day. Maybe the ticket man also needs to recognize how scary it can be traveling to a country where people don’t speak your language.
After this happened I felt as if I needed to somehow redeem myself to at least one French person somewhere. As we left the Notre Dame we passed by a souvenir shop and I saw a dark blue beret (for 3 euros!) – just what my sister wanted. When I got to the cashier, I said ‘hello’ in French, responded to her questions in French, and carried out the transaction in French… confidently, politely, and with a smile. She didn’t even switch to English. It sounds stupid, but I was so proud of myself. I felt like I was myself again and not someone who was fumbling around with a language that I used to know so well. I spoke French in France. I redeemed myself and proved to myself that I really can do it. I hope that one day I’ll be able to become completely fluent in French.
My friend and I spend the rest of the day at la Sainte-Chapelle, le Musée d’Orsay, le Musée Rodin, and le Musée national du Moyen Âge (formerly known as le Musée de Cluny). My absolute favorite had to be le Musée d’Orsay. Walking into the Van Gogh exhibit was surreal, as was seeing the paintings by Monet. My mom has a copy of one of his waterlily paintings at home, and it was so cool to finally see the original in real life. I spent the majority of my time in the impressionist exhibit and I was happy as a clam.
I hope you all have a beautiful day wherever you are!
P.S. I think after tomorrow I’ll post some photos I’ve taken. I brought my DSLR with me and I’ve been a bit photo-happy 🙂