Last week, I received this message on my blog:
Having just moved here, you can imagine how happy I was to receive this. My girlfriends cautioned me to be safe meeting strangers, but I accepted the invitation immediately because: 1. he linked to his social media with implicit permission to stalk :p, 2. he suggested a safe neighborhood, and 3. he asked to meet both of us.
We met “T” at Le Siffleur de Balloons, a cozy wine bar with an extremely nice waiting staff. (Note: the coupon for 10% off a bouteille on Yelp is apparently invalid, but it did get us an apology + 3 free glasses of wine. I am slowly yet proudly turning into a wine-lover here.) Anyway, I’m glad I accepted the invitation because this guy turned out to be one of the friendliest people I’ve met in France. We closed the restaurant chatting for over 3 hours about our lives in Paris, previous cities we’ve lived in (Toronto is his favorite), and our travel aspirations. T made an effort to fish for any negative opinions about the city, but the only things we could really complain about were: the mounds of dog poop on the sidewalks (especially when it rains), the slow administration, and the smoking. I sat there thinking, “Wow, this stranger went out of his way to approach us due to a genuine interest about our stories and thoughts on his home country.” It made me sad to realize I never really did something like that back home.
In America, the French are notorious for being rude and snooty, but I have not found this to be true, aside from a few waiters in touristy areas (and weird men who follow me asking if I’m Chinese). People hold the doors open for each other in the metro, everyone says “bonjour”/”bonne journée” at the shops… and there are instances like these where people are just sincerely curious about you. T said that some French are shy to approach Americans, but most want to make a connection.
Last week, Tyler took me to an event called Franglish, a meet-up where you speak 7 minutes in English, 7 minutes in French, and then switch partners. It’s a lively atmosphere and many stay late to continue conversations over dinner. Here’s what amazes me: each week, the French slots fill up immediately, whereas English speakers can pretty much drop-in the night of the event. There are plenty of local people who want to meet expats. The French there called me “courageuse” for moving to another country and for making the effort to learn their language. I get self-conscious speaking French (since my vocabulary is limited to that of a child), so it felt great to hear this encouragement.
On the differences between Americans and French, a co-worker made an interesting observation over our after-lunch coffee: “The average energy level of an American is waaaaay up here, and us French are down here. Americans are always smiling; always excited; always happy. But oftentimes, it’s an empty sort of happiness. They’re putting on a show and it can be exhausting to watch.” I wasn’t at all offended by this, as I realized there was plenty of truth behind it. Interacting with people of a different culture constantly forces me to self-reflect and readjust in ways I never did in the States.
Exactly 2 months in, I am far from feeling “at home” in Paris, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel… and the journey so far has been incredible.