An American in Paris

Ben Wolford

GRENOBLE, FRANCE — I’ve been doing nothing but traveling this week and dropping euros for 15 minutes at Internet cafés once a day — far from my usual compulsive e-mail checking.

So I don’t have a whole lot in the way of a unified column topic. Just as valuable, perhaps, are the observations of a college student during his first time in Paris. Think of the Gershwin music as you read this.

Last Saturday I began my five-week spring break by boarding a 4 a.m. bus to the airport and flying to Paris at 7. After meeting my girlfriend under the Eiffel Tower, we checked into our Montmartre hotel and visited landmarks for the next few days.

Paris is different than any other city I’ve been to. I thought it might be similar to London (or Londres in French), but it’s not at all. What London lacks in quiet charm, its mate across the Channel makes up for with a pompous insistence that it’s charming.

Wicker table sets spill out of cafés into the sidewalk every nine meters. Young couples with nice shoes kiss intimately, everywhere, including on the disgusting subway system.

The Paris underground metro makes PARTA look infinitely cleaner and safer.

I won’t insult it too much, though, because it carried me around for five days to some of the most beautiful places in the world: the Louvre and the priceless art inside (and the gorgeous Tuileries outside), Les Invalides, Notre Dame, the Moulin Rouge (I didn’t go inside).

But it was a small relief Wednesday to come to Grenoble in the southeast of France, at the doorstep of the Alps. Things move slower here, and the people don’t make so much of a show about how intellectual they are.

Grenoble is a humbler city. When Paris asked it to slice its main avenue into thirds and rename each section so that it wouldn’t (technically) be longer than the Champs-Élysées, Grenoble respectfully agreed.

I don’t mean to say that French people or even Parisians are standoffish. The French stereotype, I’ve discovered, is largely false. In fact, the many Parisians I’ve interacted with have been about as friendly as anyone else in the world.

If I knew their names, there are about 36 French citizens I would thank here for saving me from being hopelessly lost. None of them even cared that my French is terrible, and most were willing to graciously offer their English when it failed.

So as I sit here in the Pierre Mendès France University library, I’m surrounded by mountains (one of which I’m climbing on Saturday) and thinking about where my next baguette is coming from. Soon I’ll head off to a local brewery with my high school friend who’s studying here.

Then Sunday, I’ll board a train for the Eternal City, hopefully in time to join a few other fellow Catholics at St. Peter’s Square. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Ben Wolford is a junior newspaper journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].