While this post is long overdue, much of its production actually did occur in the first week. Below you’ll find many of the things I experienced and learned as I set foot in Paris for the first time.
This is my first time in Europe, so I was excited to see and experience all the amazing things that people had been telling me. And now, two and some months into my stay here, I have to say that I see what all the excitement is all about. But it wasn’t like that from get go.
So much happened during my first week in Paris and the best way to recap it without giving you the blow by blow is to present it as a list of lessons I learned from each day.
Day One: Paris is like anywhere else.
My plane landed in Paris at 6am in the morning. We waited for about 30 minutes for our bags to arrive in the carousel. I exchanged money and headed to the exit where one could hail a certified taxi. I gave the taxi man the address of my airbnb and we headed down the highway. As I looked around, some buildings and typography reminded me of the drive from the Nigerian airport into the heart of Lagos. As we got closer to the city, I was reminded of the layout of Dakar, Senegal. Granted, the French had more than a little say in how Dakar developed, but I was still struck by the similarities. I thought maybe Paris would remind me of New York or another large U.S. city, but instead I was reminded of two African cities.
Of course I’ve since noticed unique aspects of Paris, primarily the architecture, but it should still serve as a reminder that cities are not that vastly different from each other even when the histories, cultures and people are all unique.
I got these two shots standing in the same place. I love how Paris can look like a city from one angle and a small town from the other.
I recapped my first day and my initial observations of the city here
Day Two: You can’t take food to go at restaurants. Even at home, Parisians throw out their leftovers after dinner.
Jasmine (my roommate) and I ventured out of our neighborhood with a friend of mine. She came to meet us where we were staying and we headed to Chatelet to meet up with one of her friends for lunch. It turned out we were too late for her friend to join us for lunch so we got on the metro and headed to another part of Paris to meet up with a different friend of hers. I felt bad because I had my hangry face on the whole time. We finally got to the Indian district of Paris. There were a lot of stores catered to aspects of Indian culture: clothing, food, groceries, etc. We ate at an Indian restaurant well down the street from the metro stop. The menu wasn’t quite what I was expecting (I really wanted Spinach paneer). It was perhaps a different region of Indian cuisine than what I’m used to. The cuisine was also quite Francophied. Everyone at our table (there were 7 of us) got naan with cheese. It tasted like a cheese filled crêpe.
My friend Mauricette and I.
Everyone also got main plates with rice, three kinds of beans and a stew. As we were working our way through the food, the waiter asked Jasmine if she wanted more rice. She said no at first then later called him back and asked for a small plate of rice to go – there was no way we could finish all our food after eating the cheesy naan. The waiter just said “nope, nope. We don’t do rice to go.” Or something along those lines. I thought perhaps he just meant they didn’t give extra rice for you to take home, but our new friends explained that we just couldn’t take leftovers, period. Our friends explained that that was the way it was in most restaurants in France. There is no concept of leftover and preserving food for another meal. Even in many homes, if food isn’t finished after dinner, it’s tossed out. And we thought Americans were wasteful (we are). Our friends explained that there were groups working to change this cultural practice and introduce to go containers in restaurants, but it was a slow process.In addition, I got to see what everyone was talking about in rude Parisien waiters.
When it came time to pay, we divided the bill ourselves (all fine) and one girl wanted to pay with her card. When the waiter – who knew we were dividing our meal – realized she was just paying for her food (a total of 10,62 euros), he took her card out of the reader and THREW IT AT HER, saying it has to be at least 15 euros to use card. Jasmine and I looked at each other incredulously. He just did what?! But our French friends were completely unphased. The girl just decided to pay for her food and that of the guy sitting next to her and he gave her his cash. On our way home, Jasmine and I couldn’t stop talking about how rude the waiter had been and we bemoaned stuffing our faces since we couldn’t take home our food and we wanted our money’s worth from the meal – which was incredibly delicious, by the way.
I still have dreams about the cheesy naan.
Day Three: They charge you extra for bread.
Kisori and I met in Senegal.
Wednesday, I decided to meet up with one of my friends that I studied abroad in Senegal with. She had just arrived in Paris for her year as an English Teaching Assistant as well. Jasmine was also meeting a friend who would also be teaching English. The four of us all decided to get drinks at a bar. After the first round of drinks, we got a plate of cheese and bread and most of us got another round of drinks. We finished the bread before we finished the cheese and asked the waiter for more. I think he had to go down the street for more bread, and he brought us four more slices. After catching up and wishing each other luck in our new positions, we asked for the bill. Low and behold, there was a extra charge for the bread. It wasn’t written anywhere, the price of the cheese platter was just 3.80 euros more than it should have been. That’s right, 3.80! The plate was only about 6 euros to begin with. With 3.80 euros we could have bought FOUR baguettes instead of the four pieces that we got instead. The waiter could have at least told us there would be a charge. You bet I would have been eating some plain cheese if I knew I had to pay for my bread – and I dislike cheese by itself; but I dislike paying 3.80 euros for bread even more.
Cheese & Bread!
Day Four: You have to pay for plastic bags à la supermarche.
On Thursday, Jasmine and I finally went grocery shopping because neither of us likes to eat out all the time. For the most part, most things you can find in an American grocery store, you can find in a French one. I have yet to see granola bars though – thank goodness I stocked up. The main difference is that instead of 12 different companies making the same product, you get an option of one to three companies per product. Although, if you consider the fact that there is a grocery store around every other corner, you still have plenty of options as to where to shop and what to shop for.
Jasmine and I did our shopping and did a pretty good job of sticking to our list; by which, I mean that we only got 3 or 4 items not on our list. The checkout line moved pretty quickly, as can be expected in most large cities where everyone is go-go-go! The lady asked if we wanted a bag and we said yes. The next thing we knew, she swiped the bag and handed it us. In case you can’t tell from the previous two entries, I’m a real penny pincher. And one of my goals for France
is to not go back to the states broke. In my head, and later to Jasmine, I just couldn’t believe I had to pay for a plastic bag. I don’t even know how much it ended up being, I was just annoyed. But the environmentalist in me is happy that I now have an incentive to always take a reusable shopping bag.
We went shopping so we could cook our own food.
Day Five: Parisians would rather sit out in the cold* and smoke than sit inside and be warm.
It is so so cold in Paris. (It’s gotten warmer since the first week – but now it’s cold again). My first week here was quite a shock. Particularly because Maryland was JUST starting to get to the cardigan level at night and here I was wearing scarves and a coat during the day. I couldn’t deal. Yet, almost all Parisian restaurants have a bit of outdoor sitting, and lots of people at them, even in the cold evenings! In my head, I just kept thinking “are they all crazy?” But I realized that most of the people who sat outside where smoking in between their sips of wine and beer. How you do both at the same time is beyond me. But how you could voluntarily sit outside in the cold is even more beyond me. Maybe the fumes are keeping them warm.
*I’ve since learned that many restaurants have heat lamps in their outdoor seating area.
Outdoor seating is a common site here.
Day Six: Paris is a completely different place at night. The noise, friendly people (Parisiens aren’t as mean as everyone says). The metro is very similar to the New York subway in that les sans-abri, come in and ask for money.
Saturday night, Jasmine and I checked out the nightlife in Paris. Most Parisian night clubs are known for playing EDM, House, Electro, Techno and the like. Since both Jasmine and I prefer whining our waists to jumping up and down with our fists in the air (seriously, how do you do that ALL night??), we knew we couldn’t leave our night up to chance. We tried googling a bit but that proved difficult and many clubs had outdated Facebook pages. We decided to go with a location that Jasmine knew well from when she spent a month in Paris studying “Black Paris” with her Vanderbilt classmates. It’s called 21 Sound Bar and it’s a small place with amazing music. The whole night was dancehall and reggae. We danced as much as we could then headed home.
When we entered the subway, I couldn’t find which one of my tickets was unused and a lady brushed past me and said something in French. I figured she was just in a hurry and kept looking for my ticket. She said something again and I realized she was waiting for me at the revolving entrance. She was offering for both of us to slide through with her ticket. Someone else was right behind Jasmine and offered the same thing and the 4 of us crammed illegally to the other side. We laughed and thanked them. The lady said “Welcome to Paris! See, we Parisians are not so mean!” And she was quite right. Where during the day, no one ever made eye contact, quickly brushed past you and went about their merry way, at night we struck up conversations with so many different people.
A totally different energy radiates through Paris at night. The air is electrifying and people are smiling and friendly. I think it’s moments like that that make people fall in love with this city.
It was also this night on the metro that opened my eyes to the homeless and poverty stricken of Paris. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been to the really busy and touristy parts of Paris*, but I just hadn’t seen that many people begging in Paris – not like in New York or Dakar, where here is someone at every turn. But during the two metros we had to take to get from 21 Sound Bar to our house, several people came into the metro car to ask for money – much the same way people do in New York. I was heartbroken; especially for this young boy – he didn’t look more than 19, who talked about how even a smile would be nice.
*Now that I have been here a while and I go many places via metro, I definitely see more people asking for money, much like any other part of the world. No place is immune to poverty.
Day Seven: A lot of things are closed on Sundays…which is odd for a country that claims to be secular.
In the bible belt of Southern USA, there are a lot of things closed on Sundays – but they embrace their bible belt-ness. Parisians embrace their secularity. In addition, the things that are closed are things that you still need on Sundays. In our neighborhood, a lot of grocery stores and boulangeries (where you get bread) were closed. It was actually quite annoying. But now we know not to grocery shop on Sundays.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the things we did our first week here in Paris. For example, on Saturday, we explored our neighborhood a bit and visited some local sites. We went to the Montmartre Museum and Scare Coeur Basilica. I put the pictures up on my Flickr
, but here is a sampling:
Doesn’t it feel like you are in a small town instead of a city?
So much greenry.
A bird’s eye view of Montmartre
This was the view from the museum garden.
The secret Garden
The view of Sacre Coeur was amazing.
I was obsessed with this street all lit up.
Over the course of December, I’ll be posting many more updates and pictures about my past 2.5 months here. Let me know in the comments or via email what you are most interested in hearing about.