My renewed faith in the French

Paris is undeniably one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a destination that is on almost everyone’s list of must-sees.  I am fortunate to have visited the City of Lights on three different occasions, an enviable status, I suppose. Despite my love of the city’s architecture, rich culture and historical/fashion intrigue, I often wonder why I ever returned, considering some very unpleasant encounters I had with Parisians along the way.

My first visit in 1993 was with my good friend, Anita, a former work colleague and professional travel agent. Our trip from Atlanta to Paris was a four-day whirlwind of mandatory museum visits, essential neighborhood strolls and compulsory binges at sidewalk cafes and patisseries. We meandered through the Jewish quarter, climbed the steep steps of Montmartrebought overpriced lingerie on the fashionable Champs Elysees, and even toured the storied Père Lachaise Cemetery to see the graves of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. Along the way, we met many Parisians, and we tried our best to speak our high school French to blend in. We even wore black jeans and black sneakers so as not to be conspicuously American, but were tolerated, at best.

That is, until on our last evening, when a rude waiter verbally abused Anita. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, or what we ate, or even why the argument ensued. I only remember him unleashing all his Yankee angst upon my friend, and my immediate disillusionment with the city and its inhabitants.

My second visit to Paris was on business. It was winter this time, and much colder than I had anticipated, so I bought myself a cashmere beret from a street vendor.  He seemed arrogant and tried to cheat me on my currency exchange.  So did my cab driver.  I had little time to reacquaint myself with the city, with an itinerary ahead that would include Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo, and tried my best to forget the hostility of my previous stay.  The hotel staff was especially cordial, yet I remember my exchange with local restaurateurs and shopkeepers as less than amiable.

Fast forward to 2013.  My husband had been working in the Middle East, and was racking up frequent flyer points on his regular rotations.  Friends would be visiting Paris, and hinted we should join them.  We decided, instead, to route Marshall’s return through Amsterdam, and I would use his points to accompany him.  After two days in Amsterdam, I took a high-speed train to Paris, joining his friends as a third wheel, while my husband continued on to Doha.

The trip from Amsterdam to Paris was pleasant enough, lasting approximately three and half hours.  Upon my arrival at Paris Nord, I hastily departed the train, walked to the nearby metro, and navigated my way to my destination, trying my best to act like a confident local.  It was not until the next day when I realized I had left my beloved laptop aboard the metro.

Had it been stolen? Or had I just left it when I hurriedly exited the train at the Saint-Michel station?  I immediately wrote-off the possibility of ever finding my computer, and conceded I would not be able to work remotely or call family via Skype for the next five days without visiting a local internet café.  Worse, the idea of having to shell out more cash for a new PC following a international forage left me daunted.

The concierge at Citadines Prestige Saint-Germain-Des-Pres suggested I visit the “Lost and Found” office at the police station to recover my trusted laptop, but I shrugged this off as a vain attempt that would only impede my visit, and continued on my explorations.

Spring in Paris is particularly pleasant, and my impressions this time were very different. I felt somewhat enlightened as to the main attractions, and I found my way around easily using my Trip Advisor notes and Google maps.  The locals this time seemed much warmer, even hospitable.  Only one bus driver seemed irritated by my fractured French phrases.

As the intended victim of a popular ‘look I found a shiny ring’ scam I witnessed over and over again (at the Eiffel Tower, walking along the Seine, crossing the Ponts des Arts bridge and on the mall by the Louvre), I was resolve in my belief I would never again see my prized laptop.

Finally, on my last day, upon a whim, I found myself at the Centre des Objets Trouvés de la Préfecture de Police de Paris on rue des Morillons.  Although certain this was a waste of time, I wanted to tell my husband I had covered all my bases before dipping into savings for a new computer.

I reluctantly paid 10 €, completed a police report, and found my way to another floor, where I waited my turn among a throng of locals.  Happily, my lack of language skills enabled me to skip to the front of the line, to be attended by a lone bilingual officer.  After describing the item and the contents of my computer bag, I was encouraged when directed to another level to recover my item, which apparently had been found, and was to be sent down by conveyer belt from another floor.

My surprise and amazement upon seeing my satchel could only be surpassed by my shame in conjuring images of infamous French villains and thieving gypsies who had conceivably stolen my possessions.

Surprisingly honest is the French public. I am grateful for their honesty and commend the Paris police for their service. After all, I could never have expected as good an outcome in any other major city, especially not in the U.S.A. Complete with friendly and helpful citizens, I now hold this city in the highest regard as a destination for American tourists.

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