NOTE: The Author would like to gently point out that his observations are his and his alone, and they are not meant to be some sort of factual record on what Paris is. This is simply a collection of observations on what he experienced for 8 days in Paris during the summer of 2011. It is meant to be an honest account of his feelings and experiences, but should not be taken as complete truth to what Paris and France are. How could it? That's ridiculous. With that... PREVIOUSLY: PART 1: TOUCHING DOWN PART 2: MEETING THE LIZARD KING PART 3: MY NEMESIS, THE METRO PART 4: BLUE SKY RAIN PART 5: THE GINGER WINS PART 6: KEEPERS OF THE CITY PART 7: THE TUNNELS OF DEATH
Naturally, after exiting The Catacombs, everything looks brighter. It isn't just the suddenly crisp Parisian air, it becomes a metaphor for everything that invades our senses. For the first time since arriving in Paris, I feel less like an outsider and more so a guest. This might entirely have to do with my mindset, but it remains true nonetheless.
Despite the agonizing wait to enter The Catacombs, we still have much of the day at our leisure. We could get lost in the quiet, cobblestone roads surrounding us. We could soak in some local flavor, participating in various untourist-like activities. Perhaps even play some bocce ball with the older men that flock to the Eiffel Tower parks.
Instead, we get back on the bus.
We pop in the ear buds, we plop down on the hard plastic shells they call seats, and the waft of stereotypical French music continues its dance inside our heads.
We first stop by the Musee Rodin, home to the works of an absolutely incredible artist known the world over, Auguste Rodin. If you're not an art aficionado, no worries. You assuredly know his most famous masterpiece, The Thinker.
I almost err at mentioning this absurb footnote, but for context, The Thinker is featured in the movie Night at The Museum. Which I'm quite sure is where Rodin always imagined it would rightfully appear.
The Thinker, to be fair, isn't very large. When you've had your eyes barraged with enormous sculptures at every turn of the head for three days straight, suddenly The Thinker seems less impressive. In contrast, the sight of Michaelangelo's sculpture David (located in Italy) had me staring for hours on end, totally immersed in its grandeur. The Thinker does not.
So I do what every other tourist does at least a hundred times a day- I pose next to it like a clueless moron, imitating its classic pose.
But somehow, in not appreciating this piece of art the way others do, I feel content, mostly because I'm doing it with Nicole. And in that moment, love surrounds The Thinker, surely a topic that has caused great thought in every man. To me, two people in love, flitting around its presence, becomes a more fitting tribute to The Thinker.
We move on.
The rest of the day is met with little to no excitement. We have many a cultural landmark to visit tomorrow. Because of this, the afternoon becomes a welcomed respite from the collective stops of Paris tourist attractions.
For dinner, we dine once again near the Champs-Elysees. Parisians and foreigners alike abound, bussing with the lights of the city. We strike up an interesting conversation with our server for the night, a young man who can't be much younger than myself. As we always do, on account of respect, we attempt to speak in French at all times. The waiter, pleasant enough, knows a decent amount of English and so makes a decision to converse with us in our native language.
Over the course of two hours, we speak on many topics with this man, Jean.
The tone has an interesting blend of kindness and contempt, a mixture I didn't know could actually exist.
Mostly, we talk about the differences in French and American restaurants. Obviously, being that I've worked heavily in this industry, I'm fascinated with Jean's ideas of what American restaurants are like.
Jean talks about the art of food, the skill of a properly prepared dish, and the beauty of a truly talented chef. He goes on to explain how insulting it is to be asked to remove an ingredient, or worst of all, substitutions. He says to do so is akin to removing an organ from a body.
Jean is making a lot of sense, but I'm still on the fence with his theory.
When he discovers I'm a writer, he asks how I'd react if a reader asked me for a copy of book, only instead of what I wrote, they'd like a copy blacked out of all Star Wars references. Or taking it either further, "could you remove all of the dramatic parts and up the comedy?"
After this last prosecuting statement, I decide to never order anything adjusted ever again, in his country or any other.
However, Jean also has some foolish ideas of what working in an American restaurant is like, obviously never having been to one himself. When I tell Jean that I've worked in the same capacity as he, and that we aren't that much different despite our cultural upbringing. Jean scoffs at this, saying he works six days a week. He continues...
"In America, you do not have to run the food. You do not have to greet a table. You do not have to bus a table. Everything is done for you."
Yes, this is true of high-class establishments. But clearly, Jean is not familiar with all the thousands of Mom and Pop restaurants lining the highways of our country. I've worked at a place where I was the bartender, host, expo, and server... all at once. Literally, it was just me and a bus boy running the shift.
And unlike Jean, I had to bust my ass for my wages. If I didn't give good service, I didn't pay the phone bill. In Jean's case, much as he showcased at times, he felt no urge to actually take care of us. You know, to give service. To be clear, we weren't in a hurry. As SUZ had pointed out to us, the French like to enjoy their meal. They aren't in a rush, a trait I find admirable. But waiting over 25 minutes to be greeted in a slow restaraunt isn't "taking your time", it's being apathetic to a guest. And that's the nice way of putting it.
In the end, we parted as untrusting friends. He learned a lot, and so did I.
Onto the streets of the Champs-Elysee we went.
As we strolled both sides, thoughts of cultural generalizations and stereotypes swirled around my mind.
It was clear that after three days, I had some serious misconceptions about what Paris was. And in that same amount of time, I understood their own mistakes in judging us.
Generalizations exist for a reason, but they're certainly not the rules by which to engage someone. I don't act that way, and so when I found myself on the receiving end of a ridiculous stereotype, I became defensive. Almost angry.
I wanted to take Jean to the Midwest, where waiting tables is far from an easy existence. I wanted to show him the differences between thought and reality. Most of all, I wanted to show him that all Americans are not the same, much as I knew all Parisians were not alike.
Regardless, I was finding my France adventure to be educational.
Tomorrow would prove to be another insightful day, as The Louvre awaited our arrival...