As I mentioned in my previous post, I did not fall in love with Paris, but it taught me a great deal about the world. Paris was the first place I visited that was culturally different from Australia. It was an eye-opening and intriguing experience. In Australia when you go to the shopping centre, you avoid eye contact with sales people at stalls in the middle of the walkway, you walk past them and that’s that. In many European countries, including France, people will follow you around trying to sell you all kinds of souvenirs for cheap prices. Saying no, or avoiding eye contact with them, does not deter them; they are persistent. Before travelling to Europe I was warned by several people not to buy from these people, as it is illegal. No amount of people warning me could prepare me for the reality. These people are everywhere. Not just one or two at every landmark, but 20 to 30. You cleverly dodge one, and hey there’s another one, and another and another. This was something we had to get used to very quickly. Although these people are found in other countries, I found it to be the worst in Paris. Although it feels rude, it is better to just ignore them. I also found that we stuck out like sore thumbs and it was obvious we were tourists. Be prepared to be called Lady Gaga over and over by people trying to sell you things; they are not shy. Be wary of pick pockets and gypsies too.
Thinking of waiting at a pedestrian crossing for a car to let you pass? Don’t. You will be standing there for ages. We quickly learnt that road rules didn’t mean much in Paris, and begun copying the actions of the locals. I don’t think I have ever been in so many taxis that felt it was appropriate to swerve in to other lanes and speed up to get around cars; but of course, that is normal in Paris. Prepare yourself for what I can only describe as a giant accident waiting to happen; the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe. I have never seen something quite like it in my life. There are no road rules there. There are no lanes. People just drive around wherever they want, however they want. There’s a truck in your way? No problems, drive as close as you can to it with the nose of your car almost touching the side of the truck, and wait for it to pass before continuing on your way. I am surprised there are not more accidents there, however, apparently once you are in the roundabout you are no longer covered by insurance, so this must be a good incentive for people to drive a little more safely while passing through. Mind boggling stuff!
I have always counted myself as very lucky to live in Australia. It is a first world country, that is welcoming, and relatively peaceful (aside from crime you would find anywhere in the world). Although we see news stories of attacks and wars on the television screen, the reality of it is miles away from us, and it is not something we can ever truly understand without experiencing it first hand. Shortly before we left to go to Europe, there had been attacks in France and we were slightly cautious going there. One thing I did love about Paris was it’s ability to handle this terrible situation. Most shops were manned by a police officer checking your bag before you entered, and armed soldiers and police officers stood guard at every monument. The presence of these soldiers and police was eye-opening, but made us feel more relaxed and safe.
It is not to say that I did not like Paris, I did. I enjoyed my time there, and loved visiting the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, walking up and down the Champs-Élysées, eating croissants and delicious pastries. I just feel that I spent enough time there, and I am in no particular rush to go back. I much preferred other areas in France, such as the French Riveria, and would sooner go back there. I wonder if I am the only person who feels this way?