Beware the Gypsy Children!

Paris Travel Blog

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Hello friends! Yes yes, I'm doing it, I'm officially sitting down and writing my first blog from France. Le blog, as we say. Just kidding, we don't say that. Sorry it's taken so long but well, moving to France has been a little more difficult than I anticipated. True story, as follows.

The first thing I discovered about France is that it is exhausting in every way. My friend Jen, who studies neuroscience and is therefore smart, says that we're tired all the time not only because of jet lag, which I think I'm over, but because we spend all day thinking of what we want to say in English, translating it into French, saying it in French, getting a response in French, translatin that into English, realizing it doesn't make sense, saying "quoi??!" really loudly, hearing the same thing repeated again, etc etc. Apparently all these translations form connections in our brain... connections that are made while we sleep. Therefore, we have need of more sleep. Seriously, this is textbook stuff. In sum, I have been here for over two weeks already and have done something certifiably cool nearly every day, but I never took the time to write until now because always by the time I get around to it, all I want to do is sleep. Sleep, sleep, sleep. And right now is no different. Nevertheless I am gonna try really hard to take one for the team and get some of the past two weeks up here. Pardon me if I don't cover every detail of the trip so far, though, or if what comes out ends up being some france-anglo-finnish conglomoration. I'm really freaking tired. Also, I am apparently an enormous whiner.

Okay. so... like.. I'm in France. I got here and the first thing you should know is that while still in the airport I saw 5 nuns in like the first 15 minutes. And I thought to myself: jackpot.

Actually, before the nuns I wasn't even wholly convinced that I was actually in Europe. You see, I took a night flight and I didn't have a window seat, so I didn't actually see the ocean, though I've heard tell of its greatness. I had no proof, you see, no closure: I watched the whole thing on a little screen on the seat in front of me, too tired to really care, though I tried, I swear. It said we were somewhere over Ireland at about 9am, but that somehow didn't seem possible considering when I think of Irish travel I think St. Brendan, little boat, hand of God, etc. So, for all I knew the whole voyage could have been an elaborate hoax.

But then, well, I was standing there in the airport and there was a nun... and then another nun, and then another, and another, and then I saw one of the nuns try to run back inside the arrivals gate after she had already exited through the high-speed one-way automatic doors (if you've lived in France, you know how daring this maneuver really is), and then I watched her get whacked really hard by said doors, sending the awful THWACK resounding through the atrium. And then it hit me, like a nun by a door: I really am in France, I said to myself, and I just saw a nun get the crap smacked out of her. This must be real.

Everything has been a series of adventures after that, but you expected that, of course. Actually, there have been so many adventures my brain appears to be functional only between the hours of 11am and 4pm anymore. Fortunately, one thing I learned is that the people here can be really effing NICE, despite what the rumors say. For example, as I was lugging my 1,000lb ghetto old man wheelless ass of a suitcase from the Gare de Lyon to the Bastille to get to the program center day 1, (and then back the same way immediately after in order to get to the hotel, I seriously could have killed someone), every time we didn't know where to go (by this point I was travelling with a girl named Ali, who goes to UWM and who's alltogether great), some nice French woman with a stroller or a poodle would stop and ask us if we needed help. All you have to do to get the people of Paris to like you, I guess, is to carry your body weight through the streets of their city like Sisyphus--ie. you have to earn it.

Seriously though, you do have to do your part. The French in general have a particular love of all people who care about their culture, so if you start your sentences in apologetic French instead of English and use the formal "vous" whenever possible, you'll rarely have any problems. They will probably even go to twice the effort to help you out. You may even get tracked down across the street by your adorable waiter when you leave your scarf in the restaurant after lunch like we did today.. "Attendez! Atttendez! laydeez! laydeez!" Everyone knows I left that scarf there on purpose, right?

I live, by the way, with an infamous "Madame" in the 17eme arrondisement, so basically the northwestern corner of the city. It's kind of way the hell out there, but the metro makes travel easy enough. I'm still kind of up in the air about my dear Madame Gervais... as my friends here know, I've been keeping a relatively long pro/con list since the beginning. Pro: she is a FABULOUS cook, and I am more than okay with gaining 30 lbs while I'm here, seriously. Con: she is insane. Once she forced me to eat the runny yoke of an egg, and kept tapping me in the center of the forehead throughout. She also doesn't really speak French to me anymore because she is convinced I don't understand a word she says, which is true. I understand my professors when they talk about Charles le Brun and the walls of Medieval Paris, but I can't force myself to realize that she is asking if I took my laundry out of the bathroom. It's a mystery.

The first week of France was largely filled with varied orientations as well as copious amounts of free time with which to explore, though all we really wanted to do was sleep. Sleep anywhere: on the couch, on the floor, in a desk, in the metro, on the sidewalk, in the Louvre, you name it. There were a number of things I barely heard through my exhausted haze that week that came in quite handy, however, mostly about the metro. Things like, you have to open the door to the metro, it doesn't open by itself. Or, there are people who walk around and check your tickets randomly in the metro, and if you don't have yours they will fine you the price of your firstborn with interest. My favorite piece of advice thus far, however, was BEWARE THE GYPSY CHILDREN! Apparently, and I shit you not, there are gangs of scruffy "gypsy children" who live in the metro and are not, though they may appear to be, wholesome yet improvershed vagabonds escaped from a Dickens novel but instead professional theives who will rob you blind in a second (wait, no, that is a Dickens novel...). Anyway, I have yet to see these infamous gypsy children, but I scan the platforms for them eagerly though subtly, and when I do spot them no doubt the state of my purse will not be the issue, as by then I will have probably fallen onto the track with excitement.

Okay, I know I haven't said a word about anything I've actually DONE in France yet, but I think this blog is finally off to some sort of maybe an okay start. Tune in next time for more of the daring and dangerous story of Rachael Parker, the rugged and hansome foreign exchange student, swashbuckling her way across Europe!
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photo by: Sweetski