It’s time for a little nonsense. A moment of pure irrelevancy and no redeeming social value.
We’re off to Paris in a few weeks, and as much as I’m looking forward to it, there’s a smidgeon of apprehension. It has to do with language, and the Parisian reputation for snobbish sophistication. I could get along in German OK. We’ve been to Italy several times. Italian place names and directions are clear enough, and Italian hospitality can’t be beat. I’ve had waiters patiently help me order in Italian, and have a good time doing it. Nobody expected me to know Turkish or Greek. Can’t understand a word the Brits say, but reading’s not a problem. We drove a Jeep around Costa Rica for a couple of weeks, feeling very much at ease. Most Asian countries post English subtitles under important signs, and every kid wants a chance to practice their English. But Paris?
I’m lost. Have no idea how to pronounce even simple words. Basic phrases elude me. Signage is a total mystery. There’s a certain fear of being seen as another barbarian American not worth the time of day. We once drove from Barcelona to Paris, and had a wonderful time in the countryside where we experienced outstanding hospitality, but Paris was another matter. No one was rude, but, not unlike New York City, there was a sense that it was OK if you wanted to be there as a gape mouthed tourist, but don’t get in the way of locals doing things the Parisian way.
The guide books tell you to try to not look like a tourist, which is ridiculous. Of course you look like a tourist. You are a tourist. However sophisticated your reputation back home, it evaporates the moment you get on the hop-on-hop-off double decker bus. To date I’ve spent time in twenty-five countries, lived in a few big cities, and worked in others, so why this minor anxiety about Paris? It’s all about language, and the anticipation of being illiterate in The Language from which we get the term Lingua Franca, the language every decently educated person is expected to know if they are not to be dismissed as bourgeois trash.
So here I am, working my way through Fodors, grateful that my wife is planning our day trips, and practicing my sophisticated posture.