It all started about two weeks ago…
On January 8th, 2021, I turned 18 years old. The plan was to leave for France for 4 months on the 10th of January, but with the new variant of COVID-19 sweeping across England and other EU countries, the odds of new travel bans and restrictions seemed to be lingering around the corner. My flight itinerary was canceled multiple times due to my connection flight in the UK. How horrible would it be to arrive in London, expecting to soon be eating a fresh French baguette from a local boulangerie, only to be duped and sent back home to the US?!
On January 8th I not only woke up a little older, (however, not much wiser) but with the news that the UK was not going to go through with their plans of a travel ban for people coming from the US. With that being said, my mother and I made the call to just go for it. Instead of waking to a day with one’s favorite birthday breakfast, layered out in the kitchen, or plans for a small Covid safe gathering of friends and family members, I had the delight of two Covid-19 tests all in one day. One for breakfast and one as an afternoon snack.
Getting swabbed up your nose twice a day had to be one of the best birthday gifts I had ever received. Of course, that is only because my tests came back negative. The story would have been a bit more exciting if the results came back slightly different. With successful Covid tests, packing, and little last-minute trip arrangements, my birthday day could not have been better. With the trip only drawing nearer, I could not help myself but begin setting an expectation of what a day my first day in Paris would be like. Of course, when I arrived, I noticed that my expectations were a bit different than reality.
First Few Visual Expectations of Paris:
Expectation #1: Infinite number of small Boulangeries on every street corner continuously emitting the most delicious smell of warm baked goods. Check.
Expectation #2: The sunny Paris weather I had previously seen on Instagram. No Check.
Expectation #3: Classic Paris bars and cafes open. No Check.
Expectation #4: No one in the streets of Paris. No Check
Is Paris Dead?
I do not know why exactly, but I was rather expecting to be greeted by pleasant, sunny Paris weather. Instead, for the last week, it has rained and been overcast every single day. Occasionally, there is a rare appearance of a sliver of sunlight, but honestly, if this keeps up, I might have to consider taking vitamin D supplements in the near future. Other than the weather, my expectations of Paris’s daily social presence in the streets really surprised me. Although many of the small classic Parisian businesses like the iconic café’s, and bars which used to be bustling with people on every street corner are closed, Paris has adapted. Local parks and areas that offer outdoor seating have become extremely popular spots for people to eat and gather socially.
Paris is not dead. On the contrary, it is alive and well. I expected the streets of Paris to completely dead, and empty. Maybe one or two people would be walking their dogs or returning from the Boulangerie with baguettes and pastries warm in hand. Instead, as I walk through the street to either get to the climbing gym or explore tourist attractions like Montmatre, I still must quickly weave through people just to avoid getting hit by bikers who speed by. Though it seems strange, I think that Paris is more than just alive. It is simply gently thriving and growing. But really above all, Paris is taking the time to just breathe. (Do not worry, people are still wearing masks.) There is no doubt that the pandemic has affected the small businesses that the economy of Paris so importantly relies on.
However, with the lack of tourists who typically overflow the streets of Paris, it has allowed for Parisians to breathe, relax and discover themselves within their community. The silence in the streets gives a tourist like me the time to observe, and notice things like the smallest piece of street art on a corner of a brick wall, to the behavior of Parisians, all the way to the architectural patterns of typical buildings. With tourists flooding the streets, you would not even have the time to appreciate the different textures of ancient brick and stone under your feet. One would only submerge and sink within the crowds.
I believe that the people of Paris have found a little comfort knowing that when they walk into their local boulangerie or take the metro home, mostly everyone they see are members of the same community who can all empathize together, the hardships the pandemic has caused.
New Earlier Curfew
After a few days in Paris, an announcement about an early curfew was made.
On January 16th, the forced nightly curfew that started at 8 PM to 8 AM in metropolitan France, was now changed to 6 PM to 6 AM. For Paris, this meant that everyone needed to be in their houses by 6 PM. Unless you were commuting to and from work, school, or training place; or carrying out the essential business trips you could simply roam around at night. At first, I was worried that my days of exploration would be cut short. Luckily, my host family owns a rock-climbing gym, therefore I am legally able to continue to climb and train even after curfew hours.
Storm clouds still hover over Paris and the entirety of France. Even with the new early curfew enforced and talk of another confinement for the people of France, due to the rising numbers in Covid-19 cases. Still, I have not ceased to stop learning about French climbing and social culture. There are so many little traditional and untraditional aspects of the Paris lifestyle that is unfamiliar to an outsider like me. If you said that I was an uncultured French teen, I would completely agree with you. The problem is that I am not sure if I am doing things correctly half the time. The cashier at the local Boulangerie isn’t going to tell me that I am making a fool of myself, so I don’t have the best perception of all the mistakes I am making.
On a recent pastry run, I did something very “not French,” ( An American mistake), and luckily my French friend Tristan was there to let me know what my foolish mistake was.
My order was one sandwich and one Chouquette. Most people wouldn’t notice this mistake. The kind lady who handed me my two food items was a little surprised. NO ONE orders just one small, airy, (but delicious) sugar sprinkled Chouquette. Tristan let me know afterward that pastries like Chouquettes are typically bought by their weight (grams.) I’m not sure my one Chouquette even registered on the scale. All I must do now is go buy more Chouquettes and work on my lbs. to grams conversation. Ending up with an absurd amount of little pastry sugar puffs wouldn’t be the worst way to start a day. All I know is that 1 lbs. is definitely not equal to 1 gram.
Another example of my speaking French at home in the US is completely different than trying to have a normal conversation with a kid my age. I am definitely not up to date with the advanced, urban vocabulary of a Parisian teen.
“Wesh” meaning: Wesh, or wech, is a slang greeting, used by most young people in an ironic way to say “Yo, what’s up.”
“Wesh” can also be used in response to anything depending on the tone of your voice when you say the word.
2. “Kiff” meaning: Verb used by youngsters to say they like, love or dig something.
3. “Frérot” meaning: Brother.
4. “Mec” meaning: Dude.
5. “Meuf” meaning: Girl
6. “Grave Sympa” meaning: Really cool and sympathetic.
7. “Péter” meaning: exploded, or tired. In a climbing context it is used when you are physically tired and unable to continue climbing.
8. “Dément” meaning: Insane.
9. “Un truc de ouf” meaning: “It’s an insane cool thing.” OR. “It’s a crazy bad thing.” OR. “It was great!”
10. “Captes” meaning: Understand.
11. “Taré” meaning: Stupid person. Crazy
12. “Être Au Taquet” OR “Être chaud” meaning: Be on fire or ready for action.