The smell of roasting rubber from the metro is a mere tickle compared to the hammering aromas of fresh bread, seafood and cheese. Looking up to the grey sky, you don’t feel so bad as you would on a similar day across the Channel.
You’re in Paris.
What can be whittled from this majestic stick of French that hasn’t been said before? The streets are wide, the food is delicious and the people are French. Walking the streets, you feel as if you were in one colossal museum – there are monuments, ancient buildings, lively artist corners and sophisticated types strolling in all directions. Like in England, the hangover of lost colonial power is apparent in France, but it’s done with so much style; you can forgive them their pride and lose yourself in a imperial reverie of wine and fragrant butter sauces.
Far from being snobbish, the people are warm and only too happy to help you with barking corrections if you give their language a go. Every day I witnessed tourists slobbering orders in English to stunned service workers. In a bakery I saw a man demand a baguette in Englis,h and attempted to indicate the width of the loaf he desired by flapping his arms like an irate seagull. The teenager behind the counter was either too offended or too amused to react. Just before things hit melting point, a woman standing in line translated, the zombie got his bread and retreated. If a French person did something similar in Australia they would be immediately sent to a detention facility and deported the following decade.
So determined to play by the rules, I stammered out what remained of my French language skills and surprisingly, I got by relatively well. Some were flattered that I’d taken the time as an Anglophone to even open a French grammar book (which is a bit of a polite exaggeration, but a nice compliment nonetheless). The folk selling trinkets beneath the Eiffel Tower and those trying to scam money weren’t so appreciative when I told them to ‘fuck off’.
In the areas where tourists tend to congregate, you can guarantee that someone will approach you to ask you for money at least once every fifteen minutes. I learned to ignore pleas of ‘Do you speak English?’, but there was one trick I’d never seen: someone pretends to pick up something from the ground in front of you, a ring or a coin, and then presents it to you as if you had dropped it. Insisting that you take the trinket, they congratulate you, then proceed to ask you for money to compensate them for having brought such good fortune upon your package holiday.
“Va te faire!”