I arrived in France last Tuesday after a somewhat pleasant but practically sleepless overnight flight. While descending into Paris Charles-de-Gaulle airport, I saw the City of Lights from my window on the right of the plane. It was at that moment that I had this surreal realization: I was finally in France after being away from the country for five years.
My uncle picked me up from the airport, and it was there where I had my first meal in France: a croissant with an espresso, a classic. Simple, yet perfect. My uncle then drove me to his apartment in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, which is in the east of the city.
When we were driving in the city, I remember thinking the whole time, “Everything is so much smaller here than in the US!”. The cars, the roads, the coffee cups, most of the buildings, and especially, the elevator of my uncle’s apartment building.
My uncle made me a spaghetti Bolognese and I devoured it. Traveling makes you hungry. It also makes you tired. I ended up crashing on my uncle’s bed (that he lent me during my stay). I slept the entire afternoon until around 5pm when me and some of my uncle’s friends all went out to dinner in the city to a small and vibrant Italian restaurant (with the best pizzas).
That whole dinner, I remember just observing everyone in the restaurant: the Parisians. I observed how they talked, what they talked about, their expressions, everything. It seemed to me that they have a different way of carrying themselves. They are so subtle and calm but could get animated at some moments too. Smoking is also so much more common in Paris compared to the US. The Parisians love to sit on terraces with friends and family and drink, eat, and sometimes, smoke.
The next day, my uncle went to work and left me his keys, along with directions for getting to the Place de la Bastille from his apartment. He said I was free to do whatever I want, to do a balade (a big walk) in the city, and that he would be back at the apartment by 4.
That day, I did what I always dreamed of doing: I walked around Paris all day. All. Day. Long. I made it to the Bastille. From there, I tried to get to the Place des Vosges near the Seine, but I got lost (as I usually do). Since I had no phone connection, I depended on the street maps I could find at the bus stops every few miles. In this way, this walk not only allowed me to live out my dreams of seeing Paris. It also forced me to be resourceful and to fend for myself in order to find my way around the city.
In cliché-Parisian-fashion, I then had a saucisson and butter sandwich by the Seine. I then walked all the way to Notre-Dame (which was in a much different state than I had seen it in 2017). After, I walked around the Latin quarter, one of the oldest parts of Paris. The highlight of that day was when I took an espresso at a café right in front of Notre-Dame (stuff you would see in movies). I felt like I was in a Hemingway novel (if you don’t know who Hemingway is, I highly recommend you try to read some of his books. The man traveled a lot and lived in Paris).
During that day, I came across so many people in stores and on the street, including the bouquinistes (the people who sell cheap books by the Seine). Communicating with people for directions or for advice on what book I should buy added to my sense of independence and self-initiative. It also allowed me to come out of my shell more.
There I was, in a city that I barely knew but mostly saw in movies and read about in books, and with no car or person to guide me. Maybe this is the “life-changing” effects of going abroad that people talk about: I threw myself into a city and found my way around, and then eventually found my way back to my base (after walking in the heat with little water left in my bottle). By doing this, I discovered bravery that I did not think I would find in myself.
I still cannot believe I did this. Within me, I felt growth and maturity (as well as pain in my calves). My day in Paris taught me something. Sometimes, life forces us to be resourceful in order to familiarize oneself with new experiences and surroundings. This is how one grows bravery and confidence. My younger self would have never believed that I would have done something like I did in Paris.
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<p>My name is James Dolley. I am soon to be a senior at The Catholic University of America in Washington DC. I am studying history and French, and also pursuing a Master's degree in Secondary Education. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, reading, working out, and exploring the city, especially new restaurants, cafés, and bookstores.</p>