Arriving at Paris

Gwen Lee
January 19, 2016


I left off my last entry getting out of the airport. Here's how it went down.

The minute we got to the main area of the airport, we were escorted by a man saying that he had a taxi for us. Although there was a door labeled taxi (warning sign) that most people had left out of, this well dressed man led us to a far away exit of the airport (warning sign two) to another man, the actual taxi driver (strike three). Tourists are gullible. Everyone from every country will take advantage of that. Marvin and I didn’t know what the taxi system is like in Paris. We didn’t even think about all of the oddities and hopped into the car, happy to be out of the airport.

Multiple mistakes occurred right then. My first mistake was hinted at when a well dressed man had led my friend and I to a different part of the airport to a different driver. After learning about the taxi system in the city, I am pretty sure we took a fake cab to our homestays. This is illegal and Marvin and I could have been fined, along with the cab driver, had the police stopped us.

Official taxis are big cars with more than two doors and they all have signs on top of the car that say "Taxi Parisian". If the sign is red like the one above, the taxi has a passenger in it. A green sign means that it is up for grabs. Also, you cannot hail a taxi cab here. You need to wait at a taxi station.

Not only could we have been fined, but after comparing taxi prices with other classmates later, I found out that my friend and I were definitely overcharged for our ride. We were tourists and the well dressed man took advantage of that. Both Marvin and I each paid sixty euros for the ride. Another friend of mine paid fifty euros for a similar ride that she didn’t share. We should not have had to pay more than she did especially when my friend and my homestays are less than ten minutes apart. It was a bummer to learn so I hope you don’t fall for a fake taxi like we did.

A real taxi would have a meter running on the right of the steering wheel, not just a GPS.

Second, we were supposed to wait at the airport to meet with an IES Abroad assistant to let them know that we arrived safely. I had forgotten about this completely. Marvin later told me that he was too tired to say anything about it. I only realized my mistake later when my host mom told me that she received a call from the program asking if she, my host mom, knew where I was and if I was okay. Of course I was fine and getting settled into my new room but IES Abroad didn’t know that.

I really appreciate the IES Abroad program because their utmost concern is their students. What with speaking such little and accented French, their care and continuous support for us is extremely awesome for a newcomer. I sent an email to the program director later apologizing for my mistake and she was really understanding about the whole situation.

On the plus side, I had remembered to call my host mom to tell her that I had gotten into a taxi and was on my way to their apartment. Hearing her voice for the first time was when the reality of studying abroad finally set in. I had tried to picture my experience here back when I was in New York from the few details I had received about studying abroad. After getting the email about which homestay I was placed at, I googled the address of my new home. I googled the address of the program center. I even tried to find my host family on Facebook, to no avail. Due to the lack of sufficient research, I googled “typical French family” and used that to imagine my homestay. When the email said that the family had a dog, I imagined a tiny dog due to stereotypes. I pictured the host mom as the fabulously dressed and well mannered Madame Chic from Jennifer L. Scott’s book, Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic. (A good read I would recommend to qualm your pre-study-abroad-in-Paris jitters.) Due to previous, often flawed, knowledge of the French, I created clichéd images of my homestay win my head. Her voice through the phone was the first detail about the homestay that was real. She has a kind voice with a slight French accent. She said “Bonjour” and welcomed me in English. She told me that she was waiting for me at the home, excited to meet me. Her welcome through the phone set the tone for the rest of my introduction to the new city. I stared out the window of the taxi in amazement and wonder. I was already in love with Paris and I hadn’t even taken a step into the city.

Charles de Gaulle is outside of Paris so the drive took a while to get to Marvin and my homestays, both of which are closer to the center of Paris. The ride to my homestay was like riding a tour bus without the guide talking loudly into a microphone. Looking out of the window, I watched Paris awaken. The sun was rising and Parisians did as well. I watched as a man pushed open his French windows that had white wooden sills. He stuck his head outside and took a deep breath with his eyes closed and his head tilted back. It was like a scene out of an old French movie. We drove through tunnels that were littered in French graffiti.

French graffiti outside of Paris! Most of them were bubbly block letters of words I didn't understand but they reminded me of the tunnels found in the States.

Motorcyclists sped off and cut us at every turn. All of the ivory colored French style buildings put the skyscrapers in New York to shame.

French architecture makes for a classic looking city. The buildings' aged look made them endearing.

We drove by the Tour Eiffel and it was just as magnificent as it looks in the postcards. The infamous boutiques of brands like Gucci and Prada had glass storefronts which lit up the streets showcasing well dressed mannequins posing fashionably. Seeing Paris early in the morning while the streets were still quiet as people started getting the city ready was breathtaking.

Check out the romantic cobblestone streets and the beautiful ivory buildings, all around six floors maximum. Another observation: French walk signs for pedestrians are green rather than white and sometimes in big intersections, cars that are turning won't stop for pedestrians so be warned!

I forget about all of struggles arriving to the city when I think about the drive to my homestay. My anticipation gave me adrenaline. When the taxi drove off, leaving me standing on the street with my luggage by the door of the beautiful building I will be calling home for the next four months, it felt like a scene from a movie. I felt as fabulous as Audrey Hepburn at Tiffany’s. I gave the building a once over in complete amazement knowing that I would get to live in this charmingly beautiful apartment. Everything worked out. I officially arrived at Paris. Here’s to starting a whole new chapter in my life.

À tout à l’heure,


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Gwen Lee

<p>Salut! Je m&#39;appelle Gwen. I am a sophomore at Babson College and currently about 11% fluent in French. I hope to remedy that while wining and dining in the beautiful city of Paris. I am majoring in Business with a focus in Marketing. Follow along my stories to experience the ups and downs of studying abroad à Paris!</p>

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