Hannah Faleer - Paris, France
I had never expected to visit Paris. It sounds odd, but the French culture didn't interest me that much, and Paris seemed too big, too touristy, too much. But when I found myself standing next to the Opéra national de Paris, completely alone and totally lost, I knew I was in for an interesting ride. I had decided to take a summer history class abroad, and Paris just happened to be where it was set. My teacher eventually found me and a few of the other jetlagged students and walked us down to where we would be staying. Even then, tired, hungry, and feeling displaced, I was unable to keep myself from marveling at the beauty of the city. I must have looked like such a tourist, trying to see everything at once, looking everywhere but where I was going. When we finally made it to the tiny hostel, I collapsed on the lumpy bed promptly fell asleep.
The next day in the grocery store, trying to decide if the tub I was holding contained butter or cream cheese, it finally hit me. I was a foreigner that didn't speak the language. I had to look for pictures, similar-looking items, and keep my pocket dictionary with me at all times. The cashier and I had a conversation completely in pantomime. For the most part, it didn't seem to bother the French that I was utterly incompetent in speaking their language. They would try to accommodate me most of the time. In fact, from my first mangled "bonjour," many of them would promptly switch over to English.
Time flew by. In the mornings we had class, and in the afternoons we were given free rein to do what we pleased. We explored everywhere in the city, becoming experts at using the Metro, and walking so much that our legs were sore every night. It wasn't uncommon to span half the city in one day. We would begin at La Defense, ride to Notre Dame and eat sandwiches on the Seine, head over to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and explore Montmartre until late at night, when we would ride to Champs Elysees for dinner. We often ate dinner late at night; in fact, we once ate at one in the morning! In Paris this was normal though, and often restaurants would stay open until two or three at night.
Living in Paris was a huge change in my lifestyle. Everything I did was more relaxed. I stopped worrying about the future and instead focused on living in the present. I stopped wearing a watch because time didn't matter. We ate when we were hungry, went to bed when we were tired, and explored in between. My days were so full that for the first time, I felt as if I were truly living. I no longer mind that Paris is so big; it's an old, beautiful metropolis jam-packed full of culture and history. There is never a dull day. On one of my last days there, standing on top of the Arc du Triumph with a 360 degree view of Paris, I finally admitted something to myself. The city that I had never wanted to visit had turned into the city that I never wanted to leave.