Something I always find particularly comforting in a foreign city is discovering the local students’ lifestyles, as I’m sure international student travelers would do when they come to Sydney (for those who are planning on it, the best value for money is Thai in Newtown, Mexican in Surry Hills, dumplings on Quay St and groceries in the Inner West if you can be bothered). I like to think, then, that my experience is as financially attainable and authentic as it can be, at least for my age-group, and that I can perhaps pretend to be a Parisian art student until my average French fails me. Flock where the students flock, and the food is likely to be good, the drinks likely to be plentiful and the coinage not too steep.
On this particular afternoon, Alex and I had been Metro-ing back and forth in the heat, and bought three times the number of cherries pictured at Châtelet Les Halles for 4€ as our saving grace. Once down by the Seine, at least a kilometre of the right bank was dotted with University students, clustered in groups of four around twice as many cheeses, baguettes and a bottle of red; shoes off, legs over the edge, bikes against the back wall and no doubt deep in schoolyard gossip. Stationed between two such crowds, we devoured all ten thousand cherries and placed messy cherry-seed bets on the metric length of the Seine tour boats that slothed on past, amass with bored toddlers, DSLRs and sunscreen.
Which brings me to the question you’ve all asked the most since I arrived in Paris – whether or not the French are rude. Indeed, Paris is probably not the most accurate indicator of this, since it’s something like the second most holidayed city in the world and your concentration of tourists is probably just as high as residents during high season. That and, according to a happy crêpe-making friend we made in Montmartre, there seems to be a mass exodus of Parisians to quieter parts of the country, leaving a majority of students, working class and exceptionally wealthy in the main circle of the big city. In my experience, Parisians have not been any more rude than you and I would be in our home city. Ask and you shall receive directions, recommendations, food, whatever. Stand there and look lost, and you’ll just get trampled. Admittedly, I’ve always elected to either ask people who look my age or are five times my age (the middle ground there always seems to be on a mission or in a mood), and haven’t had any trouble on that matter. It seems to me that the stereotype rides on visitors being intimidated by the French’s effortless chic.
Which is a thing.
It really is a thing.
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