You can imagine my surprise when sitting in le Café Deauville, a fellow American who's lived in Paris for 18 years told me, "they look like Westerners, they dress like Westerners, but just imagine cows walking on the streets. It's that different. It's Calcutta." But when I heard it for the second time by a different American, who'd also lived here for an equally long amount of time, I began to get worried.
"What?" What can they mean, "cows on the streets." "You may as well be in China. Or India. It's that different."
I guess I am ignorant enough to not know the differences yet, but in the month since I arrived in Paris myself, for what may turn into my own long-term stay, I have had my share of shocks. For instance, the banks are closed on Mondays. And the ATMs won't give you money on Friday afternoons, or after closing hours on certain days (I have to check this out, but just hearing it was unsettling enough). And there really is nothing open on Sundays. It reminded me of growing up in the 80s in Upstate New York.
It's true that New Yorkers are really spoiled. And I guess I lived in the glorious metropolis for such a long time that I became one of those New Yorkers who was so far "in," I couldn't see my own stereotype that I had become. Actually, I was fully aware of my stereotypical "gotta have it now," "me first," "outta my way," attitude. I guess I was enjoying it too much.
There are other differences that make me realize I really am in a Foreign country. Like tonight (Thursday, January 10, 2008). I haven't had home phone or internet access since Christmas for a few reasons I'd rather not get into. The only internet cafes I have found are the ones where you pay to use the PCs in the fluorescent-lighted stool-seating coop. Wifi cafes have been hard for me to come by, but then again, I haven't been entirely too adventurous. (There's only so much walking around, lugging a laptop, getting lost that I can put up with. Actually, to my earlier point, I won't put up with it at all.) It's taken 1 ½ weeks for our new cable-phone-internet service to be operating. So, my boyfriend graciously SMSd me where I could find two Starbucks that have Wifi. Personally, I'm not a Starbucks fan only because I always prefer the smaller mom-and-pop shops over large corporations. But I was desperate. In an act totally uncharacteristic of me, I packed my laptop into my purse and made my way to the Metro. Two stops later, several paces later I came upon my Starbucks--with chairs stacked up and two guys mopping the floor. It was nine o'clock p.m.
Well, I had not done much exploring in my first month (more on this later), so I figured, I'm out. I may as well look around. I walked toward the Bastille. Observing café's, men lingering, girls flocking together smoking cigarettes and scooters scurrying by like the rats they resemble. I ambled down one street a few blocks. I'd found a petite section of cafes, Chinese, Japanese and Indian restaurants, lounges and one tchotchke shop. I didn't need to venture further so I turned around and retraced my steps. Upon arriving at my home metro, which has been under construction for a while, the India-analogy came full circle for me.
As I walked up the stairs I heard loud crashing and scraping sounds. Upon arriving on the plateau before the escalator, there were about 12 men--all dark skinned blacks, probably from Mozambique--breaking up the charcoal grey concrete floor. And then the promptly put three of the concrete slabs on top of a foam cushion on their head and proceeded up the escalator maintaining complete balance the whole time. Outside on the curb was an industrial container.
OTHER "CHOSES" (THINGS) THAT ARE DIFFERENT:
Coca-Cola and Diet Coke
Everything is served with a raw (or nearly raw) egg on it
Ham, turkey and chicken--depending on the store, restaurant and the quality
Everytime I turn on the 2nd burner on my stove, I blow a fuse for the whole apartment.
I have no oven.
I have no toaster-oven (toaster).
The bathroom needs a complete renovation.
There is mold on the walls in the bedroom.
There's no pooper-scooper law… My first week I stepped in dog poop twice!
Dogs are not allowed everywhere or in restaurants, unlike popular belief.