Monday, May 22, 2006

mitigating factors

The sensitive American abroad learns at least a few phrases from the language of the country she is visiting. She listens carefully to its citizens and respects the information and instruction she receives. As habit and custom change dramatically across various borders, she pays close attention to what is going on around her so that she may follow suit.

I, on the other hand, relegated my travel etiquette energies to scanning the crowds for other ugly Americans. This is also an important skill to have when travelling abroad because even if you can't achieve the above-stated objectives at least you can mitigate your own failures by avoiding and/or mocking worse offenders.

My French, though existent, is atrocious. My accent is not existent. I was so embarrassed to say anything that nobody could hear me when I did so I'd just stare at Kurt until he took up my thread.

I would've done my best to listen carefully and respect information if only I had any idea what anybody was saying. The phrase book we had contained plenty of information about what to say but almost none about what they'd say back. So I spent alot of time staring and wincing at people.

The one moment I knew triumph in this arena was at the Duty Free shop right outside our gate where hundreds of Dallasites raring to go home swarmed about the cash registers. Each of the two cashiers must have said fifty times or more "Boarding pass. You must have your boarding pass." and yet every single person in line except me looked stunned when they couldn't make their purchase without it. In the end, the intrepid cashiers began pointing at me because I had my boarding pass in hand.

Actually, we did do a damn fine job of following suit in French customs in that we spent alot of time in cafes drinking coffee and talking politics, philosophy, art, and love. But we also shouted "UT Longhorns!" at a man in a Longhorns jersey as he stepped into a McDonald's.

We ate Lebanese food and polished off a bottle of wine in the park at the foot of the Eiffel Tower at sunset (French). We laughed alot and loudly (Not French - according to our exhaustive seven day study). We visited book stores and art museums (pretty French, despite the tourists). We went to the cinema (French) to see Mission Impossible III (not French).

We ate a lot of fries (French, not freedom) but we also ate some of the best Indian food in the Western world. This is not a very French thing to do if you look at demographic there with us (mostly Americans, Brits, and Asians - all patrons of the Lonely Planet Paris apparently), but it was also one of the coolest things we did.

We traversed green, light purple, dark purple, and pink metro lines to get there, got lost in a dark and seedy neighborhood, panicked slightly, found our way again, and finally arrived at a set of ten Indian restaurants packed so tightly inside a tiny covered alley way that the waiter for one restaurant, trying to draw us in to his establishment, nearly stumbled over the waiter for the next. Ultimately, we spurned the Queen of Kashmir in favor of the King and sat down to order at 10 pm (very French).


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