I don’t think I’ve quite mastered the art of being a tourist. Some people are really good at it: my grandmother, for instance, plans frequent holidays for herself and her friends and always manages to visit dozens of sites and take hundreds of pictures and never fails to bring home a souvenir magnet. While I admire her dedication to the art, I’ve always preferred to take a different approach and – as I mentioned a couple of posts earlier – just pretend that I live in the city and go about my day as though it were just another day living in… Paris, for instance.
There are some major flaws in this plan. Namely, I don’t know the city. So pretending I do just makes my ignorance of my surroundings all the more obvious. Refusing to carry around a map or ask for directions just means I will get horribly, horribly lost. Not having a concrete plan for the day means exhausting myself wandering around aimlessly.
I was listening to this show on BBC Radio about a husband and wife who take separate vacations because they have different styles of ‘vacationing’. While the wife was content to relax on the beach, the husband always wanted to set goals for himself and go on ‘missions’ to keep busy. And I thought: I am just like that guy! Despite my determination not to do touristy things in Paris, I began to seek out the Moulin Rouge, the cafe when the film Amelie is set, Notre Dame, that really delicious Bethillon ice cream… and I found myself surrounded by tourist shops selling J’aime Paris mugs and Eiffel Tower figurines in all sizes. I went to museums in an attempt to ‘learn something’ – because, hey, that’s productive! I practiced speaking French because I knew, in the back of my mind, that it would be ‘good for my career’. What is wrong with me??
Over the last few years, all of my trips have been ‘working vacations’, meaning I was attending a festival and sometimes doing research, which would pretty much keep me occupied twelve hours a day every day. However, this summer’s trip to London was only a ‘working vacation’ for the first week and a half. After my visiting theatre troupe returned to Tunisia, I still had a month left to do whatever I liked – when I wasn’t working on my thesis (just submitted yesterday, by the way!) or writing job applications. So I went to Paris.
I feel like there’s always this expectation while on vacation to ‘have an experience’. Especially in Paris. In all the popular Amercian sitcoms, at least two episodes are dedicated to a visit to Paris. The lead character goes there for love, for work, for family, for a change, and comes back (see, no one actually stays in Paris – it would make America look bad) a new and revitalized person thanks to some life-changing event that occurs in this magical, yet challenging city. Often this life-changing event occurs when you’re just wandering the streets, which, frankly, puts an awful lot of pressure on wanderers like me.
Am I supposed to fall in love in Paris? Have some scandalous affair with some gorgeous person in a beret and striped shirt who will serve me baguettes and brie for breakfast following our hot nights of passion? Would I even want that? Am I actually resorting to insulting cultural stereotypes? Heck, the only people who actively hit on me were street vendors, and I’m pretty sure they were selling something. Ahem.
I’m really fond of the idea of being a word-traveller, a ‘jet-setter’ as some of my friends have put it. Is that like a ‘trend-setter’ – paving the way for new and exciting things, though through travel rather than fashion? It’s not as though I’m going to discover anything terribly new. I mean, the only important thing I learned in Paris is that ‘bistrot’ is actually spelled with a ‘t’ at the end, but they remove that extra letter outside of France because people pronounce it incorrectly so frequently. There you go.
Either way, if I’m going to do a lot more traveling in the near future, I think I’d better learn how to go about it properly. The problem is, I have ridiculously high expectations for myself and for the places I visit. Again, I blame sitcoms. Or maybe I just prefer the familiar: riding around on my bicycle down familiar streets, seeing familiar faces, knowing the best places to buy fruits and vegetables, being able to visit friends right around the corner.
Come to think of it, I might be a little homesick…