Paris: 7eme arrondisment
I have to admit, as far as Paris went, I knew relatively little.
It didn't really matter that I was from Grenoble--that's in the south of France, Isere, in particular--or that I spoke both French and English. In Paris, anyone who isn't Parisian is a stranger. Anyone who doesn't know the slang is an outsider. And anyone not wearing the lastest fashion is poor.
I was wandering around the 7eme, trying to find somewhere to eat. Of course, it wasn't difficult, but every restaurant I came to was filled to the brim with tourists. This signaled that either the food was bad or the service was worse, so I continued walking towards les Invalides, looking for a small, peaceful refuge.
Curiously, most of the tourists were, in fact, Chinese, as the Chinese had recently begun to take an interest in our not-so-humble little country.
It was Saturday, and the open air markets were set up, their colorful stands overflowing with vegetables, fruits, and honeys, as well as fresh poultry, eggs, meat, and flowers. The sun reflected off the canopies that protected the basket-toting shoppers from the sunlight.
I walked into the market, looking for a vegetable stand. A man stood behind a display of gleaming eggplants, fresh carrots, and juicy tomatoes, watching me curiously.
"I 'elp you, mademoiselle?" He tried to use English with me. I looked down at my jeans, white starched blouse, and leather sandals. I was not Parisian, and therefore a foriegner. I was curious if he'd believe I was American.
"Yes, I'm hungry. Une livre of carrots, s'il vous plait?"
He nodded at my Franglais and went to fetch a bag.
I looked around at the market. It smelled wet, like it had been watered, and it was full of people bustling from one stand to another. A woman carrying a heavy load of celery, eggs, meat, and flowers passed by, her eyes carefully watching where she walked, never meeting the gaze of anyone else.
That's just how you do it in Paris.
I thanked the man in French as he gave me my bag, and he smiled at me.
"Americaine?" he inquired.
"Francaise?" He looked up, something like alarm in his eyes.
"Ouai, evidemment, mon accent--"
"Donnez-moi la sac...." He took back the carrots, dumped them out, and chose different ones to put in, returning it to me. "Ceux-la, ceux sont les carrotes pour les americans. Moins fraiche."
Those are the carrots for Americans. Less fresh.
"Les Carrotes Americans." I raised an eyebrow.
He explained that he thought I was American because I didn't dress French. Or at least, not Parisian, he said, with a quick apology. I understood. Where else in this country are you judged instantly based on your appearance?
I left him and walked into the sunlight munching carrots.
Few words remained to express my isolation in this metropolis.
i was a pauper in the prince's castle. A mountain girl visitng a busy, unpredictable hell.
There were no American carrots at home, and my vegetable seller would never have thought of such a thing anyway.
I missed the mountains. It was time to go home to a place that considered me French not by what I wore, but by what language I spoke, where my loyalties lied, and what football players I supported.
Vive la France.