Lessons about Independence and Culture in Paris

Bridget Gervais
March 10, 2020
As a traveler you "have to" see the Arc d' Triomphe.

My entire life, I have been sheltered, not going anywhere without another human being except, work, school, appointments and the occasional honor band in High School. This weekend, I found myself in Paris, a city I enjoyed a lot. Prior to the weekend get-away, I was haunted by nerve-wracking anxiety of pick-pockets, getting lost without internet connection and the Coronavirus. This trip helped me realize that I have a harder shell than I thought. I was able to tell people “no” and walk past them without feeling bad. I could read a map without being forced to use the internet. Lastly, I learned that although Paris preys on tourism, it is still possible to eat and travel cheaply. You can find crêpes, baguettes and other quick-serve sandwiches for only a couple euro.

My favorite thing about Paris though was the street musicians. At almost every big subway station, there was a street performer. Performers ranged from a saxophonist to a man playing a xylophone-like, likely African instrument with gourd-like mallets. There was even an octet of men playing various instruments including guitar, two clarinets, an accordion and even a double-bass player. I was frankly impressed that the man had the ambition to move his instrument into the subway station. In total, I gave about 13 euro away to street performers, either as a tip/donation or to buy a CD from them. Every single performer seemed grateful, even if I only gave them 1 euro. I wanted to practice French and know that I respect street performers, therefore I said: “trés bonne” (very beautiful) to most of them. I only began learning French about 2 weeks ago via Duolingo.

Through these observations of street performers and people of Paris, I began to see a noticeable difference in roles of African and black citizens of France. In almost every main tourist stretch, there were men selling light-up Eiffel Tower trinkets. These trinkets ranged from 20 cents to 5 euro in price and almost every man selling these trinkets, was an African immigrant. Some of the guys selling didn’t appear to be more than fifteen-year old. Another common scam that I saw a lot, was the ploy where women walk up to you with a clipboard, asking if you speak English and getting you to donate to a “blind and deaf” organization. All of the individuals doing this, appeared to be immigrants as well. That makes me wonder, ‘how are these individuals able to support themselves?’ If one is selling trinkets for only a dollar, the same trinket that the guy 5 feet over is selling, they can’t possibly be making a living.

There is even a difference in cultural appreciation that can be seen through street performances. While the octet with the string base had at least 20 euro that was given to them, the African man playing a traditional African instrument had very little, in fact, I think I was the first person to give to him. Frankly, I believe he was the most talented of all the street performers I had seen and I regret not giving him more. There are many factors that could have played into these monetary differences. The octet could have been at a better station, been there longer or had a more receptive audience. There are many factors, although it is clear that races are treated differently in Paris and music is responded to differently as well.

Bridget Gervais

<p>I am Bridget Gervais and I am a Junior studying Music Education at Drake University. When I am not studying or practicing my French Horn, I enjoy reading, going on runs, cooking/trying new recipes, exploring and, of course, playing Christmas music on the Piano.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
Drake University
Des Moines, IA
Music Education
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