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Je Ne Sais Quoi:Tongue-in-Cheek Observations of Paris

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I first landed at London's Heathrow and was subjected to an assault (and I mean that in the best way possible) of voices belonging to Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Africans, and of course, Caucasians, all speaking not in the accustomed Californian accents, but, instead, British ones. The first time I heard an Indian speak not in an Indian, or even American, but an English accent, I was giddy with excitement.

In any case, a day in London went by quickly, and, by the next day, I soon found myself across the Channel and in France. The mere initial sight of everything - signs, pamphlets, names, and 'bienvenue's - in French is quite a shock in itself. Back in reality, however, I remembered that my French skills are approximately equivalent to a two-and-a-half year old Quebecois' (Parlez-vous Franglais?).

Language aside, Paris is not like the romanticized photos and stories. It's dirty and there's a peculiar smell to much of it (j'adore).

There is one particular sight worth elaborating on. Where the Avenue des Champs-Élysées meets the Place de l'Étoile, there is a crosswalk with a small section about a yard and a half wide to stand in and take pictures of the Arc de Triomphe, and, in theory, not get hit by a car.

To truly understand the severity of this, however, you must understand French drivers. Any and all traffic laws are loose guidelines. The objective of driving in Paris is not necessarily to get somewhere, but to scare as many jaywalkers and pedestrians as possible, as well as to try your luck by purposely going for near misses with your fellow drivers. Often times, your scare ends in a hit, and your near misses end in collisions, but these are all a part of the game. Only encouraging this is the government, which has apparently deemed not to put lane lines on half the roads in Paris, including the giant roundabout at Place de l'Étoile. It's not at all uncommon to see bumps and dents on cars. To stand in that thin crosswalk section, you must accept that you may lose your life at any moment.

Interestingly enough, when not on the road, the French are relaxed to the point of apathy. If you are to go to a restaurant, an hour can easily stand between your arrival and the arrival of your food. On top of this, if you're French yourself, you take at least as long, if not twice the time, to eat your French-portioned meal. Following this, the diner will then linger and chat for another equal amount of time. So, essentially, a French dinner easily requires three or four hours. Not a bad life, actually.

Despite the insanities of the drivers, people, and city itself, or maybe because of it, Paris has a certain je ne sais quoi.



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