For years I believed I hated cities. The bustle, the smells, the sounds, the congestion, all of it, just not for me. Yesterday I took a day trip to Paris, only to be slapped in the face by the City of Lights. “Wake up lady, it’s not me you hate. It’s Them.”
She was right.
It’s not the cities themselves I dislike. They are beautiful, magical and delicious. Has it really taken me this long to figure it out? Or is it just more couth to say I hate cities instead of saying what I really hate — the people. Okay, so hate is a strong word. Let’s just say I often clash with the people I tend to find in cities, particularly the massive hoards of tourists. Which is insane, because I am technically a tourist myself, have been for 6 months, and I am willing to bet at some point I’ve played the role of the American Idiot. I’m sure I have public habits that other people cringe at, shaking their heads in disgust when I accidentally burp out aloud, forgetting my surroundings for a moment and that others might not appreciate such behavior.
So this isn’t an “I’m better than they are” thing. It’s just a thing. And I don’t mean to hate on American tourists, but we seem to be the most ridiculous of them all, though I might just be particularly sensitive to our behavior. To be fair, I can’t actually understand the stupid things people are saying in Chinese, Italian, French, German, etc. We’re most likely all just a bunch of idiots, saying the same stupid shit in different languages.
Three days ago I decided to hop on a train to Paris, because hey, that’s the kind of thing you can do from London, so why not? Last minute tickets were loads of pounds and I found it was half the price to book a tour, complete with a round trip ticket, queue-skipping access to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, plus a boat cruise down the river. I hate nothing more than wasting time in queues. Despite my aversion to tourists, I thought this was a no-brainer.
Five incidents supporting the use of brains at all times:
1. At St. Pancras train station, it was easy to find the tour group. I just had to listen for a bunch of people complaining about everything. You know how when some people talk, it always sounds like they are asking a question? Everything Angry Wife** said sounded like she wanted to murder you dead. After I boarded the train to Paris, I could see her coming from 40 seats away, scowling and bitching about something or another. She reached the seats behind mine, which happened to have an obstructed window view and loudly complained, “Of course we get the crappy ass seats. Figures.” Lady, you’re on a train to Paris. Maybe if you weren’t such a crotchety bag about everything, the travel gods would shine down upon you.
2. The packet we were given in London before we boarded the train explained everything pretty simply, including the request to please use the bathroom on the train since we’d be boarding the bus as soon as we landed in Paris. We spent 45 minutes in Gare du Nord waiting for everyone to come back from the bathroom, with one woman (later referred to as Photo Op) arguing, “But what if we didn’t want to go to the bathroom on the train? We paid a lot of money (not that much money) for this tour and we should be able to go to the bathroom wherever we want.” Le sigh.
3. The tour guide instructed us to stay on the hop on hop off bus we boarded. He was going to kick every else off at the next stop so we could continue our journey. He made it very clear that everyone else would be getting off, but we MUST STAY ON THE BUS. When we reached that critical moment, two members of the tour tried to get off the bus. The tour guide had to go round them up.
4. A French woman came up to me and Photo Op asking directions to the Galeries Lafayette, the popular shopping area which we had literally just passed on the bus tour, but before she could finish, Photo Op waved her hands and loudly enunciated “No French, only En-glish,” and the French woman repeated, “Um, yeah…the Galeries Lafayette?” I pointed her in the direction from which we had just come.
5. Photo Op, who thought every single second was a photo opportunity (I had to escape her quick when we stopped anywhere or I fell into the trap of taking photos of her in front of EVERYTHING), fell behind somehow as we walked back to the bus that would take us to our train at Gare du Nord. The tour guide noticed she was missing and asked her cousin and travel partner where she was and the cousin just shrugged saying, “She does this.” He told her to go look for her, which she pretended not to hear. Since the guide had nine other people to care for, I offered to go look. Cousin came with me (pretty sure she just didn’t want to be alone, which is fair) and we eventually found Photo Op, who by that time was in feral cat mode, eyes wild with fear. She bitched about how it was everyone else’s fault the entire way back.
That said, the tour itself was actually pretty spectacular, well worth the money. After the boat cruise, I asked Photo Op if she enjoyed it (because I could hear her complaining most of the ride), and she said yes, aside from the loud girl in the back who talked nonstop about nothing, whom I had also noticed (I definitely have to get a baguette before I leave. You know? A baguette! What?!? I’m posting this on Facebook right now. Dude, I thought you liked him, and you’re just now telling me to break up with him? You’re tired?? Wake up! We’re in Paris, man!). And then she said, “It was nice, but you know, someone always ruins it for you.”
Huh. Funny, because Photo Op had kind of been that person for me and it was interesting to discover we shared a viewpoint. That’s when Paris slapped me. I can’t let other people cheapen my experience. I can’t continue to avoid cities because I can’t deal with people within them. I need to figure something out. I was all prepared to hate Paris, but Paris opened my eyes and made sweet love to me for ten straight hours. The people, of course, played their standard role to perfection. But tourists come in all sorts of flavors. The old, the young, the foodies, the partiers, the beach bums, the historical nerds, the clueless, those who just don’t seem to enjoy traveling and treat it more like an annoyance, a chore, rather than the luxury it is, the complainers, the lovers, the dreamers. I just need to find those last two.
I did fall in love with this beautiful young couple on the lift up to the second platform of the Eiffel Tower. They caught my eye, mostly because they were locked in this emotional embrace most of the way up, kissing, but not the gross, tongue-licking aggressive kind, just really genuine, gentle kisses. I know it’s rude to stare, but I didn’t care. I stared. They were seriously beautiful. It’s not that I particularly want to be her (or him for that matter), I just wanted to be. I wanted to be whatever it was they were feeling right then. Due to lack of resources, I did the next best thing. I got a double scoop of delicious French ice cream near the top of the Eiffel Tower. And let me tell you, I enjoyed the shit out of that ice cream.
So to all you big cities out there, I apologize for the years of stereotyping, pre-judging, and general dismissal I’ve tossed in your direction. It’s not you. It’s Them.
And to all of Them, get ready. I’m stealing the cities back.
**Angry Wife actually deserves her own post. Stay tuned for Awkward Encounter.