Paris : Day 12 – Partial [La] Defense

You might want to mark this day down in the annals of history, because I’m going to do something that I do with a frequency that loosely resembles appearances from Haley’s Comet : I’m going to offer a defense of Parisians.  I don’t condone their behavior that can be perhaps best described as “salty”, but I can at least understand it.  Sometimes.  A little.

Imagine, for a minute, that you are a native Parisian.  If it helps, grab a baguette.  Maybe don’t shower for a few days.  Once you’re in the mindset, think about all the things you need to do in your life today – maybe pick the kids up from school or activities, commute to and from work of course, maybe pick up some groceries or dry cleaning, attend a gang bang; you know, everyday bourgeois activity.

Think about how frustrating those things can be in and of themselves some days – the cleaning isn’t ready, traffic jam, herpes outbreak, etc.  Now insert into that everyday travail, about a half dozen clueless foreigners shoving a map in your face and asking you where the Louvre is, in a language you may not understand.

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Imagine your walk home talking twice as long as usual because you keep bumping in to people who come to complete stops on the sidewalk in front of you because they need to urgently capture a photo of one particular alley amongst the thousands of identical alleys in Paris.  Or being nudged out of the way by gaggles of Asian tourists who – albeit impressively – travel as a tightly knit photographing mob, following a leader wearing Adidas sneakers and holding up an umbrella.

Imagine that stop for a sandwich you wanted to grab on your way home from a shitty, late night at work, which you hoped would take five minutes, instead takes fifteen, because some spoiled brat American kid in front of you in line needs the entire goddamn menu translated to her by her mother, who took one semester of French in the 8th grade, and is telling her little girl there is a “sandwich….with…. lettuce….forklifts….onions…tomatoes…and…I think…hold on…. policemen?”

Now multiply this by each day of your adult life.  Yeah, after a while you get a little irritated.  Maybe, just maybe, you have an attitude with people that don’t deserve the attitude.  Maybe you put on headphones and completely ignore any soul near you.  You know, whatever you can to cope.

On any given day [with the possible exception of the month of December], due to the dueling truths of its small size and high density of tourists, Paris feels a lot like an amusement park.  Sort of like a medieval Disney World.  Because tourists notice that so many other people around them are also tourists, they start to view the city as a paid attraction in which they have a right to do whatever they want, and any local they see, they start to treat like an employee of said park.

One note about the perception of ‘Americans’ by the natives here – we’ve gotten a bad rap.  From my admittedly biased opinion, we are far down the list of most offensive visitors to Paris.  The worst by far – Italians.  Sorry, Dante.  I’m guessing this has something to with similar languages, cultures, and the ongoing battle for ‘best city in the world’ title between Paris and Rome.  But because virtually every tourist here that doesn’t speak French will speak English thinking that’s their best shot at being understood, a large amount of northern and eastern Europeans, along with Canadians, and even some South Americans, will be mistakenly assumed to be Americans.  Hence the quote marks above.  It’s not that there aren’t a handful of Fox News fans walking around Tour Eiffel yelling “where the HELL can I get a REAL coffee around this place?!”, but for the most part the Americans visiting here are well aware of the ‘ugly Americans’ stereotype and are trying to be on their best behavior.

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Of course I’d love to blast the Parisians for not taking the high road when us clumsy tourists get in their way, or tell them something along the lines of “hey, it is what it is, stop being a dick or move somewhere else,” but the reality is I’m sure I’d be the same way if I lived in Detroit and we suddenly had an influx of clueless French and Dutch burying their noses in maps as they stumble around Hart Plaza.

So on this one point, I have to give the Parisians a pass.  They’re just trying to get on with their lives and we keep getting in the way.  That said, in countless other ways they act like complete assholes.  Because they totally are.

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