Paris, a Whopper of a City

Passengers arrive at the 	Gare de LyonI closed my booklet on conversational French and looked out the train window. I really wanted to enjoy Paris, especially the food. It was one of the most intriguing places in the modern world, but the negative crap I’d heard all my life about Paris continued to ferment inside my mind and was really stinking up my day. Even Luc didn’t like Paris. He’d rolled his eyes every time somebody mentioned the city. How bad could it be? Would these five days be a total nightmare? Would I find a city full of meanies that delight in dishing out discomfort on innocent visitors until they’ve been properly humiliated, like seventh-graders freshly drenched in a toilet bowl?

Getting yelled at was something I dreaded. My teachers used to call me out for screwing around. God, I hated that feeling of looking up and seeing a pair of angry eyes penetrating me in front of the class. I just knew my red face was frozen in a goofy gaze of shock. I hated that shit and was glad that part of my life was pretty much over. Yes, pretty much – back home, just hours before taking off for Europe I had a similar experience when the counter girl at the airport Burger King was rude to me. I was struggling to pull cash out of the money belt tucked down into my crotch. It probably looked like I was giving myself a wedgie because the two wise guys standing behind me kept snickering, which was distracting because I wanted to turn around and smack them upside their noggins, but it’s hard to be a Bad-Ass when you’ve got your hand down your pants. To make matters worse, the counter girl rung up a Double Whopper instead of my Whopper Junior. Normally, I’d have settled for the bigger burger, but I didn’t want to stuff myself before taking off lest the partially digested ground beef and processed cheese be spewed across my fellow passengers. This girl slammed her hand on the counter then walked away from her register in search of somebody with enough authority to re-ring the order. What a scene. As she waded through the wrapper-littered dining area, I heard exaggerated sighs from those in line behind me. This generated such an array of feelings inside me – frustration, embarrassment, helplessness – suddenly I was twelve again.

I worried that in Paris, I’d have experiences like this the entire time.

* * *

On top being jerked around in front of my wife and kids in Paris, three more would be added to the mix – our friend Marit and her two teenaged kids – the ones I thought of back in England when I first heard of the Madrid train bombing. They still planned to meet us in Paris, travel with us for ten days then fly home from Barcelona. I had a week or so before I’d have to deal with Spain, thus freeing up some nervous energy to keep worrying about Paris. I popped a French version of Tums into my mouth as the train slowed for the last stop before our station. The people boarding the train were notably different from the folks we’d seen in the northwest of France. These people were formally dressed and well put together. They seemed well mannered and carried an air of non-pretentious confidence.

A woman’s voice spoke French over the intercom and I deciphered the name of our station. I took one last glance at my French survival phrases then tucked the booklet into my jacket. The train slowed and the five of us stood up to gather our packs. We let everyone pass before we tumbled into the aisle. As people made their way by us, each seemed to be making a guttural sound through their throat and nasal passages. I assumed they were grunting at us in disgust, then realized they were saying “pardon.

I took a deep breath as we jumped down onto the platform. A high-tech looking train glided to a stop next to us and stole our attention. “A bullet train!” Chris yelled. He’d been waiting to see one and started heading toward it.

“Careful.” Donna called. She and I followed after him. I’d taken only a few steps when I heard a female voice frantically yelling at me “Monsieur! Monsieur! I looked back, bracing for my first Parisian encounter and wondered how I managed to piss somebody off so soon. It was coming from a young woman wearing a white uniform standing in the doorway of our train. In one hand she held a broom.

In the other hand – the one protruding toward me – she held my camcorder.

NEXT: Seduced by a City


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