One might make the assumption that European countries are really not all that different from America, right?
We both drive on the right side of the road, we drink way too much caffeine and we have a fine-tuned ability to ignore each other on public transportation.
Over Thanksgiving break I spent a week in France, specifically Paris, and can report the glaring discrepancies that made me feel as though I was wearing a “Made in America” stamp across my forehead.
First of all, there are virtually no rules of the road.
Mopeds, Vespas and scooters intermingled with trucks and European brand vehicles on busy intersections in the heart of the ancient city. By scooters, I do not mean electric or small motorcycles, I mean Razor scooters. You know, the kind that felt as though you were shot when it hit your achilles tendon.
The walk signals are not like those here in the States either. In France, there is no warning when the signal will turn from walk to don’t walk, no countdown and no flashing lights. One second you are crossing very casually and the next you are getting honked at by multiple handsome Frenchmen on Vespas with baguettes on the back.
But the biggest culture shock I experienced was dining in restaurants. Tap water is not a thing in Europe. If you ask for water they will bring you a fancy brand such as Evian, open it for you and pour it into a glass as though they are saying, “There, enjoy that $3 water and stay hydrated.” I learned the hard way that if you want a glass of tap you must say, “Can I have a carafe of water?”
The French like to savor their meals. They take their time with everything involved in eating. This means that they take a long time in asking for your order, and when you’re finished you have to approach them for the check. The waiter will not come offer it because they do not want to rush the diners.
Now, allow me to dispel some rumors and answer some FAQs since my return from my European sojourn.
Yes, the food and coffee there are amazing. I ate approximately two croissants, one crepe and drank two cafe au laits a day, and they were all decadent. Cafe au lait is their version of coffee. If you just order coffee they will bring a shot of espresso, so cafe au lait is espresso with milk instead.
Their baguettes are the best bread I have ever had in my life. I lived that week like Oprah, announcing “I love bread” everywhere I went. I would eat chunks of baguette for breakfast, dessert and a midnight snack. In France, it is never the wrong time for a baguette.
The biggest rumor about the French is that they are mean to Americans. This could not be farther from the truth. In some of the more touristy and populated areas, there were some Frenchmen who were more harsh with the foreigners and less patient, but I thankfully was staying in a very residential area. The small cafes on my corner and the convenience store workers were nothing but kind to us.
The restaurant owners did their best to convey the menu and help us order what we wanted, and were always gracious when we tried to express our gratitude in their language, offering a “Merci” in response to a delicious meal or assistance with the public transportation.
Yes, I hit all the tourist spots in the city of Paris. You name it, I visited it. This list includes, but is not limited to: Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Catacombs, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, the Conciergerie and Disneyland Paris.
The most drastic difference we observed between the Disney theme parks in America and the Paris extension is the intensity of the rides. The classic rides that they recreated, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain are much more fierce than we have.
On the Phantom Manor, their title for the Haunted Mansion, I was genuinely scared at some points. There were lifelike skeletons hanging in graveyards, a corpse bride looking into a mirror that featured the shadow of a skull and, in one scene, there was simply an empty noose swinging listlessly back and forth. And, of course, all the rides’ narration was in French. Thank goodness I know all the words by heart anyway.
When asked what my favorite part of the trip was, I must admit that my answer is fairly lame. The moment I will remember best, an image that is burned into my memory, is the view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
Construction on the arc began in 1806 by Napoleon as a tribute to the strength and “triumph” of his soldiers, according to the Arc de Triomphe’s website. Construction was on and off until it was completed in 1836, the website said. In the end, the arc was dedicated to those who died for their country in various wars, particularly the Napoleonic Wars, according to the website.
The website said the arc is also home to their Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of World War I, paralleling our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
Standing at the top of that arc was one of those moments that becomes the divide between before and after. The rest of my life will be in search of a something that makes me feel the way the view from that arc did. The view was never-ending, vast and complicated. It felt as though all roads led to that structure in that moment.
Abby Brone is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.