Back in America, I was told the worst thing about Paris was its people. Fighting my way through the Sciences Po administration and the grumpy appariteurs only seemed to confirm the worst stereotypes about the French. Here is the story of how I proved them wrong.
So it is springtime in Paris. Two weeks ago you could see countless arrangements of flowers at every corner.The vines are falling down the walls built up around the gothic cathedral Notre Dame. As an American it is wonderful to pretend to be the stereotypical Parisian and head out with a baguette, cheese, and a bottle of wine form Lavinia. Sit back, watch people, and just enjoy the sun. It makes one wonder how so many business people and families take off in the middle of the day to just sit around and drink wine. Whatever this culture is, it is captivating and demands your participation. Paris has been a truly magical experience for me ranging from the history and people to food and soirées. To think that it will soon end grips my conscience continually as I battle my desire to elope here forever. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end so I am trying to enjoy my last few months here.
When I left the USA, I was told that all French people are mean and rude and boring. I was quite skeptical of this claim but proceeded with caution anyway. I arrived and one of my first experiences was travelling to Bobigny to look at an apartment. I was speaking English with a friend when a street “thug” threw up his hands and yelled at me « SPEAK FRENCH ». “Well shit” I thought, they are mean! Thank God I was wrong. School started and I made an attempt to talk to some Frenchies. Astonishingly, they were awesome, such nice people. I have met few people at Sciences Po that are not willing to be my friend, go have a beer, or just sit around and talk shit! I knew those Americans were crazy. So now I have many friends at Sciences Po and many outside of school that I have met at bars. Paris is a surprisingly social city, even though you usually have to make the initial effort.
The only true struggle I have with the French, and not necessarily the French at Sciences Po but in general, is their acceptance of MY French. Sometimes I try so hard to speak French and I will say everything correctly but maybe with the wrong emphasis on one part of a word. Technically this can change the whole meaning, but given the contexts of the situations (say buying a sandwich at a sandwich shop), it should be fairly easy to figure out. Nope, not for the French. They will act like you just made ape noises at them and scratch their heads. In America, if someone speaks with an accent, you try as hard as you can to understand them. If you cannot understand them, you blame it on yourself, not on their inability to speak the language. Another reaction to the situation described is often the language switch. Not sure if they are trying to seem intelligent with their ability to speak English or if they switch because they do not want you to butcher their language. Either way, they switch to English and respond to your question with an accent that is 10 times worse and 10 times harder to understand than the accent you just had. Unbelievable.
It surprises me with how content I am with my stay, the people and the city. I have had so many problems with the school and the culture, but I still love this damn place. The first thing I had to overcome at Sciences Po was the battle for power outlets. Anyone that has brought his/her laptop to the school knows exactly what I am talking about. You walk into every study room in the school to find every chair occupied and 10 people waiting around the power-outlets, chargers in hand varnished like a knight with his sword. The moment you hear that distinctive noise of a charger being removed, everyone ambushes the electrical plug! Luckily, I have found that though it is noisy, my best luck is in the Gymnase (still have not found the significance behind the name). Second thing at school, the sneaky guys downstairs. You forget your student ID card, forget entering the school. If you sit on the floor, they will come to you and tell you that Sciences Po students are too good to sit on the floor. In effect you search frantically for a chair only to run into the problems described before, no chairs. As if that were not enough, you will be in the middle of a lecture when sneaky man walks in the room, takes a stroll around the class, and then proceeds to leave. Was there a purpose ? Probably not. Do they have power ? Absolutely. They fix the overheads, which are never broken, just the extremely intelligent teachers are stuck in 1957 and can’t figure them out for the life of them. Finally, if your class proceeds even a second after 21h15, they will yell at the teacher to leave the building. These guys obviously don’t like to work late !
Overall, there have been a few run-ins, a few disturbances, and some struggles with housing, people, and the school. Honestly though, I cannot get enough of this place. The people are beautiful (Sciences Po girls anyone ?), the food is ridiculous, and the history is mindboggling. There is not a single day where I do not experience or meet something or someone new. I feel like every day is an adventure and right now I do not want this adventure to end. I think after this that America will just not be enough for me anymore. I have a new hunger for life, and I want to feed it here in Paris. Vive la France et Vive la République…
For more from William : http://www.williamkeck.blogspot.com/