A world of inspiration: The Hospitable Parisien

This week’s edition of ‘A world of inspiration‘ is brought to you by Ashley Bruckbauer who is from Dallas, Texas. Ashley is a recent college graduate who is specialised in Art History. Ashley shares with us a wonderful encounter with hospitable Parisiens (yes, they do exist!) on her first solo trip to this enchanting city.

The Hospitable Parisien

My first day as a solo traveler was unfortunately not all I had hoped. I arrived in Paris after the 12 hour flight slightly jetlagged but extremely excited about the adventures ahead. While in the taxi on the way to the apartment which would serve as my temporary home during my month-long stay, I phoned the contact person for the rental company who was supposed to meet me. After 30 minutes on the phone with three different people and a garbled story about a broken moped, I discovered I would arrive at the apartment alone. I was promptly left on the side of the road after the taxi driver unloaded my mountain of luggage on the curb. Nothing says “American tourist” like a hot pink Reebok carry-on bag.

Paris 052 Each excruciating minute of the 45 I waited on the street to be let into the apartment dragged on like a lifetime. Soon after my arrival one of the tenants in an apartment overlooking the street began throwing firecrackers at me, the small ones that pop when you throw them on the ground. Finally Fabien, my savior, rescued me by running up the three flights of stairs with my large suitcase to let me into the apartment while I huffed and puffed with my small carry-on. As he introduced me to how everything worked in the apartment and I began to get settled into my charming new digs, I thought to myself how everything was definitely looking up!

Unfortunately, after Fabien’s departure I discovered a major problem. The adapter I had bought for my laptop was not compatible with the sockets in my recently renovated apartment. No adapter meant no charger, which meant only about 3 hours of total battery life! As I fretted over the computer catastrophe, I realized I was hungry. Nothing but a bag of granulated sugar was in the apartment, so I ventured out into the streets of Paris. Did I mention I arrived on a Sunday? On Sundays, most everything is closed in Paris. Walking along the near-empty rue de Rennes, I became more and more depressed with each darkened shop. Finally, I found the one thing open: McDonalds. McDonalds? I left America for France to eat at McDonalds? I must say, as I sat alone eating my dry filet-o-fish sandwich at this American chain all I could think was “What have I gotten myself into?”

This encounter was Parisien hospitality at its best

Thoroughly depressed, I decided to go to one of my favorite places in Paris: the Eiffel Tower. I know, oh so cliché, but this iconic monument seems to have curing powers for the dejected American tourist. While sitting in the surrounding gardens enjoying a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower and beginning to feel slightly better about all my mishaps, a young Parisien boy and his father stopped to talk. I don’t even remember their names, but I do remember the young boy was very interested in my Ozarka water bottle. As I asked him his name and how old he was, his father sat down on the bench next to me, and began asking me about my own life in America and what brought me to Paris. I told him I had visited the city for the first time the previous summer on a study abroad program and that this summer I was here doing research for my thesis. He was very impressed with my art history background and proud that I was making a return trip to Paris to study French art.

We continued to talk about the city and art history and he shared about his own love for the magic of Paris, saying he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. This encounter was Parisien hospitality at its best and on a night when this American solo traveler desperately needed it! People often discuss how rude the French can be, particularly Parisiens, to tourists. However, this random meeting of two (well actually three) strangers offered me an alternative view of how Parisien pride and hospitality can intersect to make even the most downtrodden of tourists feel at home. Though I still hit bumps along the way and dealt with many not-so-pleasant Parisiens, this one showing of hospitality stuck with me and gave me the courage and the heart to continue on what would become one of the most challenging and rewarding journeys.

About this week’s guest writer
Ashley Ashley Bruckbauer is a recent college grad and avid art historian researching 18th and 19th century French and late-Imperial Chinese art history. Her goal is to eventually become a university professor of art history, facilitating intercultural understanding between Asia and the United States. She intends to soon depart for Shanghai, China where she will be teaching English to kindergartners while learning first-hand as much as possible about the Chinese people, culture, and language. Read about Ashley’s adventures on her travel blog La Vie en China?.

Follow Ashley on Twitter.

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14 Responses to “A world of inspiration: The Hospitable Parisien”

  1. velvet 14/10/2009 9:21 pm
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    Hi Debbie,
    Thanks for your comment.

    Best regards,
    Keith

  2. Debbie 14/10/2009 1:24 am
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    Great writing. My family and I had a great experience in Paris and the French countryside. Very nice people, contrary to what most say about the French. Thanks for sharing this piece.

  3. Bill 18/08/2009 3:06 pm
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    It’s been a few years since we were in Paris, but we had only good experiences with the people there. It made a difference, I’m sure that we weren’t there at the height of tourist season, but mostly it was that we had learned a few phrases in French (something we try to do everywhere we go). Not much – just a few things to be polite and to make the trip a little easier. We always opened the exchange with French (hello, excuse me, can you help me). We found that when we did this, Parisiens were invariably kind. In a crepery, the propietor gave me lessons in “sweet nothings” to say to my wife. At a department store, a clerk gave me directions – one sentence in French, repeated in English, and so on. Everywhere we went. When I would apologize for my (truly) pathetic French, they would always say “At least you’re trying”. I can’t recommend learning a little of the language enough. No matter where you’re going.
    As for McDonald’s….. well, the world is being homogenized. We’ve seen location sensitive versions of McD’s and Starbucks as well as garish, out of place chains as well. What can you do? At our immersion school in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, it was nice to stop at the Starbucks before class. The people who worked there were glad to have a job, the building it was in was still a historic building and the local coffee shops weren’t open that early. We try to shop locally when we travel, but it isn’t a hard and fast rule for us – just a preference. Everyone has to make up their own mind about globalization and act accordingly. Good article , Ashley. It took me back.

  4. jessiev 17/08/2009 4:40 pm
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    ashley – we’ve all been there, and so i commiserate with you on that one! sometimes it takes a while to get what we want. i love that you had such a wonderful conversation at the eiffel tower. and laughing at the bag of sugar! YIKES!

    hope things looked up – i can’t wait to read more of your journey!

  5. Ashley Bruckbauer 14/08/2009 11:19 pm
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    Thanks so much for all of the sweet comments!

    McDonalds does seem to be a trend in stories about the low-points of travel!

    Thanks to Keith for asking me to contribute. It was truly a pleasure and an honor.

    Best, Ashley

  6. velvet 14/08/2009 9:42 pm
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    Haha, thanks Vera! Look forward to Ashley’s contribution on the 24th!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  7. Vera Marie Badertscher 14/08/2009 9:31 pm
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    Beautiful writing as usual, Ashley. And Keith–I’m jealous because you got her first! Ashley will be guesting at A Traveler’s Library talking about the books that influenced her to shift her attention from Paris to China. Look for it on Monday August 24.

    I love the Paris story, and I recognize that hollow in the pit of the stomach feeling when it seems that travel was a really, really bad idea. Fortunately, something or someone generally helps us out of that pit.

  8. Andy Jarosz 14/08/2009 2:20 pm
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    Great story Ashley, and I admire your persistence in getting through your low point in Paris. I suspect anyone who has travelled alone has had that moment where your enthusiasm drops, and you wonder what you’re doing there. (Funnily enough mine features a McDonalds too!)
    But I absolutely agree that the best thing to do is to get out and put yourself in the line of opportunity for an encounter with new people – it’s the best way to lift your spirits.
    I look forward to reading your adventures in China!
    Andy

  9. velvet 14/08/2009 3:17 pm
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    Thanks Jen! Totally agree with you there.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  10. jen Laceda 14/08/2009 3:13 pm
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    Ashley is an inspiration to anyone who wants to learn more about our human group through Art (or vice versa). Really, what is the best Art? –the ones that make an impact on our society and in our hearts 🙂

  11. velvet 14/08/2009 2:24 pm
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    Thanks for your comment Andy. Funnily enough, I also have a similar experience featuring a McDonald’s! I was in my teens and alone in Hong Kong. It was really exciting but as I walked around, I started to panic out as I couldn’t understand a thing (everything was in Chinese) and I was starving. I felt miserable until I saw a McD’s! I ducked into it, had my Big Mac and felt loads better! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Keith

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