Where were all those snooty Parisians?

The writer found Parisians most agreeable, contrary to their reputation. And climbing the Eiffel Tower and getting a view of the city was an emotional and geographical high point of his visit.
The writer found Parisians most agreeable, contrary to their reputation. And climbing the Eiffel Tower and getting a view of the city was an emotional and geographical high point of his visit.
Posted: July 01, 2012

FOR THE INQUIRER

When I announced to friends that I had booked a trip to Paris last summer, many responded with those old Francophobe prejudices: "Parisians are rude" or "The French don't like Americans." I honestly don't get it. I never encountered a single impolite Parisian in the nine days I spent there. On the contrary, the locals were delightful and went out of their way to accommodate a couple of English-speaking tourists who made respectful (if laughable) attempts to speak francais.

In summer, Parisians are inundated with international tourists traipsing around their architectural treasures. In these crowds of organized chaos, I observed that tour guides, ticket sellers, waiters, and local patrons in neighborhood restaurants gladly help tourists by translating, providing directions, explaining the Metro, and even taking photos near the monuments. Twice in local restaurants, our friendly waiters offered to take photos of me and my traveling companion without being asked.

Locals even try to accommodate the occasional crass tourist. Parisians are proud of their rich culture and want people to come to visit — and, while there, maybe the visitors can spread some euros around, too. Yes, perhaps one of the reasons we encountered so many pleasant Parisians is that their economic survival depends on tourists like us, and that is fine by me.

While sightseeing, I was reminded of the "freedom fries" kerfuffle in the United States, when many Americans, at the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, rejected everything associated with France (even the fried potatoes that bear its name) because of the French government's refusal to support the search for weapons of mass destruction. Oh, what's that? There weren't any? Oh dear — who has oeuf on their face now? OK, but still, those Frenchies hate the English language, right? And American consumerism? Au contraire, Pierre! Disney is thriving in Paris! And just a five-minute walk from Mona Lisa is a vibrant Starbucks. The Seattle-based corporate machine is inside (not just near) the Louvre. You can order a Pike Place brew before venturing upstairs to see the Venus de Milo!

And everywhere we went — train stations, restaurants, bars — about 90 percent of the music we heard was by American and British singers, and the French were singing along. We English-only speakers are spoiled. We can get by in most places in Europe because the residents are multilingual. In one restaurant, French waiters, we were told, speak English to Hispanic kitchen workers. Airport employees greet travelers in the local language but quickly shift to English when they perceive confusion in the expression of the listener. English is the common denominator.

OK, so maybe France isn't perfect. It can be incredibly expensive. A liter bottle of water on the second tier of the Eiffel Tower was nearly $8 — big gulp. But I say, suck it up and go anyway. Climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower was an inspirational moment I'll never forget.

The French have given us exquisite cuisine, fine wine, great fashion, and the Statue of Liberty. Therefore, Francophobes, put aside your prejudices and visit the City of Light before you're too old to enjoy it the best way one can — by walking. Paris is magnifique.

Christopher Lawler writes from Cherry Hill.

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