Even though I’d been to Paris very briefly before, there were quite a few things that surprised or confused me during my experience here. Most are funny, some are strange, and one is just really stinky.
- Goats in the Garden?
My roommate and I were walking through the Tuileries Gardens and thought, huh that’s a really funny-looking dog in that grassy patch. Nope. It was a goat. In the middle of Paris. For some reason, Paris keeps a few goats in this park, who have little underground homes and walk around tethered to a post, as a way to keep the grass short. Saves a lot of trouble with mowing and adds a lot of cuteness. Win-win situation.
- Armed Soldiers
Because of all the terrorist activity that has been happening in France and the consequent state of emergency that the country is in, there are heavily armed military personnel who patrol the streets of Paris. This was jarring for me at first, in particular when I saw a 5-year-old boy walk with his head mere inches from the tip of an assault rifle while licking an ice cream cone. I became accustomed to them fairly quickly, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget how intense of an image that was.
- Parisian Drivers
If you think PA / NJ / (insert any other state here) drivers are bad, you have never watched traffic in Paris. You’ve definitely never been on a coach bus while you driver has a philosophical conversation, puts a CD in the radio, and shifts lanes all at the same time. You probably haven’t seen moped riders go twice the speed limit along the dotted line between lanes on the highway. Parisians drive SO terrifyingly aggressively but they do it SO well (so many near accidents, not even one tiny bumper-bump).
- Hanging out in the Cemetery
While in Père-Lachaise; a cemetery that houses Chopin, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and more; my roommate and I noticed people hanging out, relaxing in the grassy patches (not on graves) reading or talking to friends. This seemed extremely bizarre to me until I took a second to listen. It is one of the only places in the city that isn’t full of the sound of laughter, car engines, and discussion. When peace and quiet becomes an endangered resource, people must find creative ways around it.
- La Vie en Rose Does Not Smell Like Roses
Paris, despite how beautiful she may look in photographs, smells really quite disgusting in the middle of the summer. For those of you who know and love Philly (AKA Filthadelphia), I can assure you that this is worse. While I begrudgingly accepted my fate, lots of breath-holding and breathing through my shirtsleeve, this is the one culture shock that I never really got used to. It’s just that stinky.
- (Very) Public Displays of (a Lot of) Affection
Paris is known as the city of love because it appears that there are next to no rules on PDA. From making out over the dinner table in the restaurant to cuddling in the grass in the Luxembourg Gardens, the French love to show why they have earned their title of being the greatest romantics. This surprised me at first, mostly because I had never realized how conservative America is on that regard, but I quickly got over it. I even came to decide that the U.S. could use some extra love in the air too, à la française.