I love the French language, and I love Paris. The first time I visited the City of Lights was in the early ’80s. I had such a good time that I overstayed an extra night without even realizing it. At checkout time, I questioned the front desk clerk as to why I was charged an extra night. The clerk said “But today is Monday.” I was supposed to have left Sunday. Hence, my return plane ticket to London was wasted. I regretted for not keeping a travel journal because it’s all a blur now. All I remember was going to the train station to get a ticket to Calais, took the hovercraft to Dover, followed by a train ride back to London. I was glad I did not leave home without my American Express.
I’ve been back to Paris a couple of times since that first trip. The last time I visited was in 2003. It was the year America launched a military attack on Iraq, without the blessings of the French. Relationship between the two countries deteriorated to the point where we were boycotting everything French. Even the name for French Fries was changed to Freedom Fries. Remember those good old days? 2003 was also the year my husband’s aunt was celebrating her 80th birthday. Many relatives were returning from various countries to help her celebrate this major milestone. Our friends tried to discourage us from going, but I was not going to let politics get in the way of a party. Or a trip to Paris.
French was my husband’s first language. It was the medium of instruction at his elementary and secondary schools, and he completed his high school education in Grenoble, southeast of Paris. But after living in America for 25 years, his French was getting a little rusty. At the Charles de Gaulle airport, when he asked for directions on how to get to Paris, the guy at the information kiosk said “Would it be better if I spoke to you in English?” We were stunned! Since when did the Parisians willingly choose to speak English? And since when were they so friendly? Times sure have changed!
Another nice surprise was our hotel. It was a typical Holiday Inn-type hotel, with nice amenities and included an American breakfast. You know, the type with all-you-can-eat cereal, fruits, pastries, and yet another shocking discovery, American coffee. In a big cup. With refills. In the 80s, I stayed at a hotel with no amenities, and you had to share a bathroom.
Our relatives had a Japanese restaurant in Clichy, a suburb northwest of Paris. One day, we happened to congregate outside the restaurant. When all the relatives get together, it is natural for us to speak in our native tongue. Some young French guy walking by had the audacity to demand us to speak French!
Every time I visited Paris, I enjoyed the food, the museums and admired the beautiful skyline, buildings and architecture. On my next visit, I am sure I will be pleasantly surprised with more changes, and all for the better.