I feel like day one in Paris was bound to be surreal, as it is for most foreign students who grace the narrow cobblestone streets as a city resident for the first time.
In a way, I felt right at home. Within 10 minutes of leaving my apartment today, I had already tripped over a dislodged cobblestone, and I immediately recalled the many times I had done the same over the rogue bricks scattered throughout UNC’s campus. I got my first Parisian coffee at a Starbucks (only in hopes of finding something cheap — turns out it costs 3 euros for a small black coffee!). Most of the cafe menus were translated into English. A couple of the sites I’ve seen so many times in books and in classes that they felt familiar and comforting, though still spectacular: la Notre-Dame, la Seine, la Tour Eiffel in the distance.
Having two roommates, fellow UNC students, with whom to explore made the day much more fun. We’re sharing a small apartment on rue des Tournelles, which is a breath away from the Place de la Bastille and Place des Vosges and a short walk (or run) from Notre-Dame. The 19th-century building has outdoor courtyards on the bottom floor and a steep, narrow winding staircase that rises far above our first-floor location. We even have our own “cave français” for storage, which is below us in what looks like an old wartime bomb shelter. Our own cave? That’s cool.
Once the three of us began our three-hour Saturday afternoon promenade, we could gawk and “oooh” and “ahhh” together. We saw places we remembered from our brief previous visits here, and we found cafes and patisseries we vowed to return to in the near future. Signs pointing toward the major museums and advertisements for upcoming classical music concerts reminded us that getting bored in Paris is not really possible. “I’m doing that” and “I’m definitely going there” were frequent.
There have also been moments where I was clearly reminded that I was a foreigner. Yesterday I walked up to a stand to buy a muffin in the airport, returning the man’s “bonjour!” and saying (what I thought was) clearly: “Euh, je veux bien un caffé crème et un muffin myrtilles, s’il vous plaît.” The man responded flatly with: “That’ll be 6 euros 70.” Seriously, is my French that obviously American?! Later that day, upon entering a grocery store and a pharmacy, people seemed to realize immediately that I was from the U.S. without me saying a word, and a few stared at me with what looked suspiciously like impatience. And I could only follow small bits and pieces of the native conversation I heard.
But honestly, I expected that. In many ways, I’ll gladly play the foreigner. I’ll hold city maps right in front of my nose and spend half an hour taking photos of the same Parisian view. I’ll look confused and ask passers-by in my broken French for directions. I want to spend days wandering this place without a precise mission or objective.
And I’ll definitely take good advantage of those 3-euro bottles of wine in the corner market just a few doors down from our little apartment.
Now, it’s 12:30 a.m. my time, and I’m going to try (and probably fail) to finally get on a French sleeping schedule. Bon soir à tous aux États-Unis!