Disclaimer: This was my experience and was obviously influenced by where I grew up (Nairobi), cultures I’m exposed to and my expectations of Paris. It’s meant to be a fun post. It was written in March 2018.
1. PEOPLE’S KINDNESS
I was traveling to a new continent on my own for the first time, no parent or institution to protect me from that racist restaurant or that dangerous street. I was therefore obviously concerned about the treatment I would get. Little did I know that Paris would be my ‘most-friendly-people’ destination.
Scene One: I’m struggling to take a picture and a stranger notices and offers to help. Happened all the time!
Scene two: Someone is taking a picture of me in a crowded tourist location. I spot people coming and I ask the photographer to let them pass as the path is between us. They insist I should finish with my photo. I insist they should pass first. They do so reluctantly after a back-and-forth. Happened all the time!
Scene three: I’m at a beautiful small intimate restaurant with two of my French stranger-turned-friends. I order some type of steak and ask the waitress what accompaniments it comes with. She answers, ‘frites’ which my basic French interprets as ‘fried’ (which is also accurate). I ask her what specifically is being fried and she tries to explain but I don’t get it. So she walks to the kitchen and comes out smiling with a potato chip in hand. We both laugh and I order fries because surely all that effort must be rewarded somehow.
Photos taken by absolute strangers.
2. THE KISSING
I can say for sure that I have never been so frequently kissed. I met a couple of friends and lots of friends-of-friends and everyone kissed my cheeks. After the first few people, I stopped stretching out my hand and would just stand still and wait for it.
At mass, people also kissed at the Catholic peace-greeting ritual. I found it so amusing.
3. GRAFFITI ART
I just didn’t picture Paris to be the kind of place with graffiti art. There was patches of graffiti on certain walls including one that I saw covering the entire facade of a building!
4. IT COULD BE CLEANER
Some sections of Paris were a little littered, which I didn’t expect. The city is mostly clean, don’t get me wrong. Let’s just say Kigali is cleaner.
5. COMPLICATIONS OF THE METRO SYSTEM
While I appreciated the efficiency and the pocket-friendly nature of the metro-tram-bus system, it was overwhelming at first. Apps were suggested, I constantly had a map of Paris and the transport lines in my bag but I just wasn’t able to follow. I used a combination of poor map reading and lots of stranger-questioning to find my way around the next metro, tram etc.
6. TRANSPORT LABOUR STRIKE
On my last two days in Paris (March 2018), there was a strike by metro and bus workers. Coming from a country where public servants are constantly striking, I’d assumed this was an ‘African’ thing. Transport was paralyzed but a few trams and buses still operated.
It turns out that there are several pickpockets in Paris. My friends kept warning me to take good care of my belongings. The metro announcements also frequently reminded passengers to beware of pickpockets
8. CHILDREN PROTECTION
School going children are highly protected by the government. After school, guides are positioned at every road crossing to allow the children to cross the roads safely; never mind that the street lights are highly functional and actually observed!
9. FULL CHURCHES
Two activities that are a staple in all my travels are clubbing and attending Catholic mass. I did attend mass and the church was full! This wasn’t even one of the major churches, a medium sized Parish in the outskirts. It may have had something to do with the fact that it was Easter Sunday, who knows. I loved every minute of the mass whose music was led by a beautiful soprano and a trumpet.
10. HOW ABSOLUTELY FRENCH SPEAKING IT IS
Now I know what you’re thinking. It’s France! However, I had assumed that waiters, supermarket cashiers etc would speak English (as if French is spoken in Nairobi). I did not expect that the French I learnt for four years in high school would HAVE TO be remembered. I really struggled getting by in the first few days but my struggling french was sufficient to tell a story by the time I was leaving!
11. THEIR LOVE FOR BREAD
I didn’t know that people could love bread so much. I probably eat bread once in 3 months, but I understand that there are people whose days haven’t quite began until they’ve had some bread for breakfast. The French, however, will eat some sort of bread for breakfast, lunch and supper. Everyone eating on the streets was having some sort of bread. Bread is eaten with meat, with vegetables, and with more bread.
Until next time, happy travels!