Monday, September 10, 2012

Six Thoughts after a Week in Paris

Le Palais du Luxembourg
So my family and I arrived in Paris a week ago, Monday September 3. A few observations from the first week . . .

1. We can get to any country much faster than our forebears of one or two centuries ago. For that, I am willing to put up with the occasional inconvenience of air travel. Such as getting on a flight in Philadelphia (late) at 6:45 p.m. with (too much) carry-on luggage and two very tired little children, only to be told around 7 p.m. that we all had to get off with all of our things because the air conditioning wasn't functioning properly and we might have to switch planes, and then waiting another hour or so in the airport and then getting on again (all the time with the same two exhausted children and excessive number of carry-ons), before finally taking off three hours late. That's not fun, but it sure beats a month of sea-sickness and possible shipwreck and subsequent death.

2. In any culture, new, familiar, or home, stereotypes are truly helpful (which I suppose means that they are necessary). Parisians tend to be less friendly but I have fewer examples to the contrary from my first week here. The kind woman at the town hall who gave me information about day cares in the 13th arrondissement. The man in the metro today who held an extended conversation with my two-year-old. Et-cetera.

3. So let's not dwell too long on the stereotypes, but rather on the important generalization that people are people whether American or French or Mongolian.

Notre Dame de Paris
4. On a similar note, clichés can be quite enjoyable. I now own a watch that I bought a block from Notre Dame for 6 euros and that has the Eiffel Tower in the center. So what? It was cheap, I like the way it looks, and it works.

5. The key to clichés, of course, is too make them your own. It's my watch now, not just another piece of jewelry with a cliché on it. When I taught creative writing to high school students, I told them to avoid clichéd settings . . . unless they made them fresh. For example, there are probably no settings more cliché for a short story than Times Square or the Eiffel Tower. Yet if I tell you about the time I went up the Eiffel Tower several years ago (haven't been up yet this time around) and thought I was going to throw up because I hate heights, and I said so out loud to my friends, and then realized that everyone else on the elevator understood what I said because, hey, they were also all Americans, okay then the setting becomes a whole lot less cliché.

6. I love worshiping with people from various "tongues and nations." I have that in America, since I attend a church with a lot of international university students, and where we also assist in the Hispanic ministry. But it's wonderful to experience it in another culture too.

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