It never occurred to me that Parisians, who seem so fashionable and luxurious, could be so different from Americans, but believe me, they are.
Everyone in the city is always dressed up, no matter the time of day. Even when people go running, their outfit is matched perfectly and it looks like they could stop in a café for lunch after they finish. People waiting in line for their baguettes at the boulangerie at eight o’ clock in the morning are dressed perfectly, and anyone who dares to enter wearing sweat pants is glared at.
When I arrived in France just one week ago, I assumed that the people would be sort of rude to me, a stupid American. Thankfully though, my experience has been the complete opposite. Almost everyone I have encountered can tell right away that I am not French, and so they start speaking to me in English. In America, not many people speak two languages, let alone fluently.
Of course, one of the first things I did was visit the Moulin Rouge in Pigalle, with all its visions of glamour and sex and beautiful women. I quickly found that the Moulin Rouge is just one building on a street full of sex shops. There is a six story building called the “Sexodrome,” and I can only imagine what it’s like inside.
During that same day, I also visited the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum. It currently houses a feminist art exhibit, which I thought would be something I would really enjoy. Turns out that most of the exhibit was pictures of naked women or of people having sex. There was even a video of someone’s backside.
It’s not that I am a prude — I can handle nudity. But is seems that Paris, specifically the museum and the Pigalle, is on a different level. Our tour guide in Pigalle said that Paris’ red light district is more of a pink light district compared to that of Amsterdam. And nobody in the museum seemed bothered by the graphic images — not even the children. While I am very grateful to have this opportunity in Paris, I don’t think I will be going to Amsterdam until I build up my tolerance a little.
I suppose the most exciting cultural difference, however, is the drinking age. or lack thereof. In the United States, students are always needing to flash their IDs to prove how old they are, but in France, students are always flashing their IDs to prove how young they are so they can get discounts on things like entrance fees for museums and tours, and pitchers of beer during happy hour.
And though I am still adjusting to being in a new place, I am hopeful that one day I will feel like Paris is my home away from home. Of course that probably won’t happen until I am about to leave.
Alyssa Mease can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.