From Avignon, France

Agrandir le plan

My first post from the road, almost a week after departing. Apologies for taking so long, but internet can be tough to find, especially after your laptop battery dies in a country where the cafes rarely have outlets.

This is my fourth time to France, but I really feel like I’m in a different country, one I never visited before. With a new worldview, numerous French friends, and an appreciation for reality, I’m now seeing France with new eyes.

My first time in France – specifically, Paris – was when I was 19 – when I studied abroad. I arrived knowing no French, knowing not a single soul in all of continental Europe, and having never been to a bar, or a club, or even having female friends. I was throwing myself into the first, and the experience changed me. But France was nothing more than the place that I happened to go – I only choose Paris because it was the best program, not because of any particular love or hope.

The second time was also a lesson in life. I went back to Paris after spending a summer in Ireland to remember the good times. Instead, I was left with a pervasive sadness – Paris, though still beautiful, wasn’t the same. My favorite plaza now had a Starbucks, and all the people with whom I’d make memories the first time in Paris were gone. It was a hollow, empty city, me wandering aimlessly, unable to recapture the feeling of the past.

The third time was with my parents two years ago – a very short stopover. It felt like visiting Disneyland.

This trip is different. Over the past eight years, I’ve changed. Now, I can speak French. Now, I’ve traveled alone all across the world, made friends with people from everywhere, and am confident. I came to Paris not to recapture the feeling of the past, great memories but ones that cannot be relived, but to create new memories. To visit my good friend William Tan in the suburb of Cergy, one hour from Paris, to see other friends, Helene, Sabrina, Amelle, and, by luck, Maya. The first five days in Paris I hung out with French people every night and one Korean, a friend of my girlfriend’s, with whom I spoke only in French.

Through these friends, I got to see the country of France through a completely different light. The lifes of immigrants in a country that hasn’t quite come to terms with it’s own identity in the modern world. The cosmopolitan side of Paris, where Boulangeries (bakeries) don’t dot every corner, instead, you find Turkish kebabs stands, Chinese grocery stories, competing with McDonald’s and KFC.

Instead of forcing a French experience by eating French food, I created a real French experience by telling my friends to show me their lives, how they live, where they eat. They took me to get sandwich grecs, Cambodian food, home-cooked Chinese food, and even KFC. I’ve been in France for six days, and every evening I’ve spent with French people, but I’ve only had traditional French food once.

Of course, that will tonight, as I’m in Avignon, and today is the national day for Crepes, so I will be attending a Crepe party at the home of my Couchsurfer, Marie, who I met in San Francisco and only by chance found that she was in Avignon.

Next post – French myths exposed. All the French myths I’ve destroyed – and the ones I’ve confirmed – during my time in this country. Please leave comments, and tell me what you think of my opinions, as every experience is different.

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