Paris Vs. Budapest: Paris
Erin Thomassen | Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Paris may not be cool enough to have the sound “Buddha” in it, but it doesn’t have the word “pest” in it, either. The essential word in Paris is “par,” since Paris sets the par for all other European cities. Before you disagree, just taste the yogurt. A spoonful of Parisian yogurt is like a spoonful of silk, since it is made with whole milk and coconut flecks. You’d better enjoy it, since it costs six euros, but the high fat content outweighs the exorbitant cost. Since you can only afford to eat six ounces of yogurt for lunch, it better have 20 grams of fat, or tourists will mistake you for a starving artist on the Seine.
When I first arrived in Paris, I was not privy to these gems of knowledge, and the Parisians did a thorough job of letting me know that I was not one of them. Confuse the lunch menu with the dinner menu? No water for you, even if you ask three times and throw in a “s’il vous plait?” Little did I know that asking for water was a faux pas, since anyone who was old enough to order for themselves was supposed to drink wine. In fact, saying “faux pas” was a faux pas, since apparently no one says that anymore.
Soon enough, I realized Rosetta Stone had betrayed me. Only bumbling tourists exclaim “bon appétit!” and pay 15 euros for cheese at the Fromagerie. Seasoned Parisians serve their meals without fanfare and purchase their groceries at MonoPrix, a sort of French Wal-Mart. Disappointed and disillusioned, I was finally encouraged by a quintessential French scene: a young artist painting on the bridge.
I stood there and admired her dramatic brush strokes, only to be honked at by a moped that was blasting Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls).” I jumped out of the way, not about to let the girls who run the world also run me over.
As the week continued, my willingness to speak in French diminished as quickly as my bundle of euros. I wasn’t even pick-pocketed ⎯ at least, as far as I know. At this rate, I would be mute and in desperate need of money in two days. No wonder mimes thronged the streets.
So far, the city of Paris was nothing like I had imagined. Where were the croissants and cross-dressers? I only saw flocks of tourists snapping photos. I knew, though, that Paris was magical. It must be magical — It had a sparkling Eiffel Tower for goodness’ sake. A glance down at my hipster Toms reminded me that I would never experience the true Paris if I stuck to the mainstream Seine. I took a deep breath, broke away from the river, and ventured into the untraveled streets of Paris. Untraveled except for the people who live there, that is.
The problem is that Paris is pretty hard to navigate without the help of glass pyramids and arcs of triumph. I was not exactly eager to ask the youths smoking in the streets for directions, so I assumed a pensive air and wandered. I was not lost, just ambling, and what a wonderful city in which to amble. Every block displayed a new treasure. Look: a balcony covered in vines, and a forlorn, shriveled rose. It was the most romantic, historical walk I had ever taken, and it was made even more romantic by the fact that I was walking by myself.
However, one can only amble for so long, and after two hours, I was tired of convincing myself that it was cool to trip over the cobblestones that Napoleon tripped on years ago. According to the pyramid of needs, I could only appreciate the history of Paris once I had sampled the food it had to offer. The smell of freshly-baked baguettes wafted my way, and I contemplated pulling a Jean Valjean and nabbing some “pain.”
Unfortunately, I am a soprano and couldn’t hit Valjean’s note in “Who Am I?” So, I cast myself as Gavroche and pressed my nose up against the frosted window. The bread looked delicious — even yummier than the waiter who was wiping down the tables. He could tell I liked the bread more than him, so he spitefully pulled down the shades. Hubris.
Parisians: I strongly disliked them, but I also wanted to be them. I was back in high school, enviously eyeing the cool kids’ table. This time, though, the cool kids were eating foie gras. Paris is cool, and it knows it’s cool. When you hang out with it, you feel its coolness transferring to you, before you realize that its coolness only heightens your inferiority. Social climbers who come to Paris: beware. If you try to scale the walls of Notre Dame de Paris, you will end up looking like a hunchback.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.