It’s been lovely, puzzling, frightening and fabulous. This last full day in Paris was in many ways uneventful, and while it’s impossible to draw conclusions about a culture from a mere week’s experience, I have wound up learning a few things about myself. Since the intent of this trip was NOT one of self-discovery (I do enough of that as a part of my religious path, thanks) I am frankly a bit annoyed. I wanted to learn about everybody else, damn it! It’s the same frustration I feel when I attempt to speak French and someone just decides to switch to English. I realize it saves time, but it still frustrates me.
So – the strange thing I have learned about my place in the world is this: I am more of a white ethnic/not-quite-white in Europe than I am in the US, where the status has changed in my lifetime. People look me over, look genuinely puzzled, and then ask me what language I speak. A few times, after it’s clear my English is far far better than my French, I’ve been asked if I live here or if I’m going to live here. A German tourist just thought I was another member of his German tour group, someone that fits in in Germany – but still causes a bit of a frown to the native Germans. (I am Polish-American, 50%, and while modern Polish women are thin as rails, I look like … well, the women who got out at the extended beginning of WWII/during the Great War Redux.) Whatever I look like, I am not taken for “American.” This is in part because I made a point of not wearing denim at all, and I did bring some of my nicer clothing. This is also quite possibly because the few fellow fat women I’ve seen dress terribly, and seem to live in a perpetual state of sweat pants and apology. I swear if I ever start a plus clothing line, I’ll call it Dignite’ or something related.
Mike is resolutely ignoring my comments on this, and he would. He’s so solid white-privilege American he could walk around handing out apple pies and no one would blink. This is not me impugning his character – it’s just how it is for him, and he will never, ever understand what it’s like to live at multiple cross and conflicting cultures like I do. Just as there are experiences, skin tones, and various languages spoken in clicks and trills that just aren’t going to make it into my ability to comprehend.
I’m positive that the subway incident was a racial one, and while people here are primarily lovely – even forgiving of me being another damn tourist – the ones that aren’t stare, frown, look disapproving, and then look surprised when I look them in the eye.
Honestly, most of the trip I’m not jabbering about people’s reactions to me. Paris is huge, dense and aerobic: you must exercise just to get out the door in the morning. It’s artfully designed so you live huge chunks of your life outdoors. It’s also beautiful, impersonal, and very much about focusing on the pleasure of daily life and keeping your damage behind closed doors, or putting it on a canvas or piece of paper where it’s useful.
I like it here. I could go back, for a visit. Maybe for a year to take classes – but it’s not like New Orleans, where I could live and write for a few years. It’s much too stressful and takes just as many allergy pills as home does.
Other than the odd reactions to my person I’ve found myself unable to ignore, it’s been a mild trip. Chatted with a lovely gay couple from New Brighton at lunch after we valiantly fought off a bee together, and Mike and I missed entrance at the Catacombs. Wish my French were better, and still want to visit Prague and Madrid.