Over the next four months, I will be living la vie parisienne, living in an apartment just south of Montmartre and taking classes at the University of Paris and New York University. All of my travel adventures, fears, and awkward malentendus can be found here every week. Last Sunday, it finally hit me that I was on my way to a foreign country alone.
I left my teary-eyed mom, dad and twelve year-old sister at the gate in Norfolk International, and went to make my way through airport security.
From that moment, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing a familiar face for quite some time. I didn’t know when I would see a friendly face either. But despite my sudden fears and situational loneliness, I was soon on my way to Charles de Gaulle airport.
I arrived at the hostel around 9 a.m. Paris time. Even though I didn’t say anything when I walked in, the man at the reception desk took one look at me and said, “Hello.” Either I look really American or looked really scared at the moment, either way I found myself relieved that he spoke English.
Really, this is silly of me and somewhat embarrassing. I’ve been taking French classes since I was nine, so one would think I’ve grasped the concepts of salutations and how to talk at hotels, restaurants, etc. However, real life is a hell of a lot more scary and intimidating than a pre-recorded tape chock-full of vocabulary.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve learned French vocabulary and thought “When will I ever use this?!” though I know now that if you’re planning to go somewhere and are learning the language, you will need everything.
The sad thing is, throughout my entire first day I didn’t eat anything because of the anxiety of taking to people and being afraid of saying the wrong thing.
The next day, everyone else from NYU arrived. It was so nice to talk to people, some French and some American, and have friends to go out and explore with. It was kind of like freshman orientation all over again. We became instant friends in a foreign place, so we would walk around in groups of 30 to do everything.
However, anyone who has ever been to Paris, read about Paris or seen “Paris, je t’aime” knows you aren’t supposed to make eye contact with people on the subway. But that doesn’t mean the French won’t glare at you.
As we made our way to the NYU Center for the first time on the ever-efficient metro, my classmate yelled, “Oh my God it’s the Eiffel Tower!” near the Bir-Hakeim stop, exposing our international identity. This caused several scowls from the blasé French commuters.
I didn’t come to Paris to be a tourist. I came here to live. While in the comfort of UMW I readily have my camera by my side, doing so in Paris undoubtedly makes me look like a tourist. However, in trying to hide my nationality and immigration status am I missing out on capturing memories?
Taking pictures in Paris is a guilty pleasure for me. I want to capture everything, from women singing Edith Piaf in the metro for money to break dancing in Saint-Michel.
On a tour of the city, I shamelessly walked around with my Nikon. I figured I should take pictures while I could, already being in a tour group with the guide screaming in English in front of the Louvre.
I have four more months to live here. Four months to learn how to order food without hesitation, to explore Montmartre, the Latin Quarter and the rest of the city, and four months to take pictures of everything I see.
To read more about Anne’s Paris adventures, visit her blog here.
Photo by Anne Elder/Bullet