Terra: A Whole New World – Paris, France
Traveling overseas for the first time is a very exciting experience for me. Of course, the second and third times are great too, but the first time has a certain je ne sais quoi, a newness, that the other times don’t.
I embark on my journey to France as an American who grew up in a world that speaks only English. Sure there are French and Spanish classes at school. I take French, and some of my friends speak Spanish to their families and in their homes. However, I do not have to use any language besides English in real world situations. I’ve been to Canada- to Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Even in Montreal, the second largest French speaking city in the world, it is easy to isolate myself in my own little Anglophone bubble. I speak only to my family, and there is no need to use French with shop keepers, since all of them will speak to me in English.
When I go to France, I have the comfort of traveling alongside my American group members. However, outside of that, most everything is different. The airport is has 50 languages and twice as many cultures. This is not such an immense shock, since it is not all that different from airports in the United States. However, the loud speaker greets me saying Bonjour and Bienvenue before ever saying good morning or welcome. This is a prelude for what is to come next, since I am about to enter into a world where the language most familiar to me is not the chosen one.
Once the whole group is finally out of the airport, we all file onto a tour bus ready to drive to our hotel. As we ride though the thin way left for us in the airport’s lot, I notice that the cars here are different from those in the U.S. Back home, I would expect to see more trucks and minivans. These are more petit, almost having the appearance of electronically-run cars.
My blood is pumping. I’m in Paris – the city of lights and love! This is the same Paris as in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Misérables.” It’s the home of Voltaire, and the French Revolution. Within this city lye structures such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arche de Triomphe. These are two among many others that I hear so much about, and have yet to see.
The famous city is an antique maze of intricate windows and vibrant shop fronts. Even being surrounded by so much business is different for me as a girl who was born and raised in a small town. There are people everywhere, walking this way and that. One carries a baguette. Two others link elbows. Every few hundred meters or so, I see a bike rack, and I imagine how it would feel to be riding through Paris on a bike rather than in a bus. It must be a completely different experience. I could swerve through narrow alley ways, the wind in my hair, seeing things at a ground level, how a Parisian might see them.
Our hotel is not fancy, but it is well furnished, with a few elegant touches, such as the marble surface of the front desk, and the hanging lamp with silver filigree. It looks much like any nice, modestly priced American hotel. However, any illusion signaling that I’m home is gone in a second.
“Puis-je vous aider?” asks the woman at the front desk. When my group leader responds to her in French, I realize that this is not just any vacation. This is an opportunity- an almost vital one. On this vacation, I am going to have to step out of my comfort zone, and use the limited French skills that I do have to communicate with people outside of my group. Before long, my group leader starts to call group members up to receive their room keys. After being given mine, I begin to walk triumphantly toward the staircase. I’m ready to leave my luggage behind.
Marcella Del Plato