Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Mean French

One day in Paris, Jake and I explored the Marais. This is a great little area to walk around in, as it's very picturesque and chic with lots of boutiques selling stuff most people could never afford. I also wanted to take Jake for a delicious and inexpensive lunch at l'As du Falafel, which is right there in the city's Jewish neighborhood (NYT says it's delicious enough to turn you vegetarian for a day). I didn't have the address on hand, but the area is pretty small, so I figured we'd find it easily. I saw a woman eating a falafel that looked exactly the same as the one I was searching for. So I asked her if she could point us in the right direction.

As we started talking, I noticed falafel bits were smeared all over her face. She was eating it like a savage, which was a great sign. First, she told me that the place I was looking for was only the 2nd best in Paris, and her place was the best. She was so invested in us finding this particular restaurant, she wanted to escort us there. Her husband wasn't so keen on the idea. As they bickered about coming with us or not, more falafel bits seem to take over her face and her husband wiped them away. I insisted on just getting directions, and apologized for angering her husband. "Oh no no, he's not angry!" she told me "He just knows I want to go back to get another one, and he doesn't want to pay for it!" Finally we were on our way with just the directions, where we ending up waiting 20 minutes for the most delicious €5 falafel in the city. And we even saw the lady return while we were waiting in line! Don't tell her this, but I think this place and the place I was looking for serve exactly the same falafel, so they are equally good. Either way, it's evidence that you don't have to spend a ton of money to eat well while traveling.

Later that day, after walking and walking and walking some more, we stopped at a cafe for some drinks. We had a dinner date with a friend who lived in the 10th, a ways away from where we were. I was trying to find the address on the map the hotel gave us, but wasn't having much luck. So I asked our server if he was familiar with that area. Maybe he had heard of the street or lived close by and could tell us what metro stop we needed. "Ah, that map you have, that is only for tourists," he told me. "It is good for finding tourist things, but not for the little streets of the city." From his breast pocket, he removed a little red book like Paris Pratique. He located the street I was looking for in the index, then located the street on one of the maps. He cross referenced his map with mine, then made a mark on my nerdy tourist fold-out map where the street would be. Keep in mind Paris servers don't work for tips. Unless we decided to be particularly nice and leave a couple extra euros, this location service he provided was free of charge.

I tell these two stories to show that Parisians are not as mean as everyone says they are. Although, I had something that most Americans don't have, and that's the ability to speak French. But it's not like I just woke up one day and spoke the language. More like I woke up every day for 10 years, and sometime during that day, I worked on learning it. So maybe I feel like I am owed these extra helpful experiences because I earned them. If you go somewhere with a different native language, try to learn at least a few words. If you would like to talk to a random lady on the street about falafel or ask your server for directions and expect them to be genuinely helpful, I guess you're going to have to study the language for 10 years.

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