Crossing the street, figuring out the bus route changes, braving the metro, figuring out shopping and speaking French are all little or big daily adventures in Paris. When the sun is bright glaring into my eyes, I cannot see the street lights change from red to green, so I tried to follow the other pedestrians. The way they cross the street is enough to give a German a nightmare. In Germany, everybody, even the little kids, stand patiently until the light changes even if there is no traffic in any direction. They manage this matter better in France, as Lawrence Sterne would say. If there is no traffic, everybody runs anywhere any which way. When the light is red and the traffic thunders on, people wait patiently or impatiently as the case may be. Once red flashes for the traffic and the pedestrian light is still red too everybody rushes ahead. I was flabbergasted to discover that the light only becomes green when I am already in the middle of the road! Alternately, it may become red before you are safely on the other side, in which case drivers wait until you are done. Miraculously, nobody gets killed. I found myself directly opposite the place I wanted, with some distance to go to the regular crossing, with the cross traffic stalled by the street light ahead. On the spur of the moment, I decided to act like the French do, and carefully began crossing the street among the stationary cars. Oops! The first one turned out to be the police. I stared at it, aghast, and saw the French (very nice and handsome) policeman smile and wave me on indulgently, so I ran along with all my shopping bags. Oi! There came a whistle. I turned around from the curb, to see him stop a couple of young men trying to rush across when the red sign was really on. The French gallantry I suppose 🙂
Metro, different lines and RER are still a mystery to me. I haven’t yet managed to take my courage in both hands and take any subterranean train. Buses will do nicely for me. Even when I took the by now familiar bus 21 to go to Rue De Rivoli and the driver suddenly informed us we had to dismount at Luxembourg Gardens – I got that bit but didn’t understand the reason, well, I still knew where I was and could see all the landmarks I wanted. In the evening, I saw that there were demonstrations and protests, with transportation workers among others going on a short-term strike and students taking part in the activities. I am glad I didn’t see any action, with riot police mobilized and people throwing stones at the representatives of law and order.
Speaking French in France is really easy. Use whatever little vocabulary you have and don’t bother about the grammar and the pronunciation. Chances are they won’t understand your accent and you won’t understand their replies. The main thing is, people realize you are a stranger, a visitor here. If you ask them whether they speak English, the answer is almost universally the same: a little. This may mean something worse than your French, or very good English, or a combination of the two languages. Use gestures, signs, try to do what they do, namely speak slowly and a bit louder than normal. Lots of people believe that if they speak their language louder and slower, any foreigner will be able to understand what they are saying. Why not use the same device to your own advantage?
Every day, I see some new places, new facets to the ever changing cityscape. It is truly the City of lIght and the City of Love. I suspect that it sleeps at times, it is very quiet during the witching hours, like 4 A.M. It is a never ending story, a continuous adventure.