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Opinion: Behind Foreign Lines

25 Jul

As the former U.S. president Thomas Jefferson said, “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” I certainly learned a life lesson or two while in Paris for a weekend.

Learn airport phrases (i.e., “sortie” = exit)

First off, prepare for the language barrier. A few students in our study abroad program, who are in the first and second sessions, said the French will treat you differently if you don’t try to speak the language. Avoid pulling my move and learning phrases the night before. Write down a couple phrases and learn them at least within the week you will be arriving in Paris. I found it very helpful to at least know some phrases because the French residents I encountered were friendly – or they laughed at my poor pronunciation. Fodor’s has a great list of phrases for travelers for greeting, dining out, or shopping with audio.

Most French residents know a little English

I strongly believe the language barrier was the most frustrating but challenging part of the trip. I’ve never been in a country where English was the second language. If I traveled to Spain, that would’ve been a different story; at least I would get by with Spanish.

Paris was also enlightening. The United States is a very diverse country comprised of many individuals whose first language is a non-English language. According to the 2007 U.S. Census Report, the number has been increasing for non-English languages in the past three decades. Many people are coming in speaking in their native tongue at home more than English.

I now empathize with foreigners immigrating to the U.S. because I was on the other side – lost, frustrated, paranoid and confused. English must look like rubbish to them as French did to me. I do hear a lot of my Navajo language at home and on my reservation but hearing French each second was overwhelming.

Visit the attractions at night

Don’t let the language difficulty hold you back from exploring Paris. Walking the 674 steps to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower (and taking the lift to the top), walking 3.8km from the Louvre Museum to Arc de Triomphe, climbing 402 steps to the cathedral towers, and eating delicious crepes in the Latin Quarter is worth it. You’ll see breath-taking views from the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower, and take photos of the Mona Lisa.

One last piece of advice and a lesson I learned. Watch out for pickpocketers. Being vigilant the entire time will save you a headache in the end. The Eiffel Tower website and signs displayed on the famous landmarks warned tourists to keep personal belongings close by. I already caused myself a mini heart attack when I thought my wallet was stolen at Olympic Park in London. Fortunately, I placed my wallet in the wrong pocket. Whew.

The next mini heart attack came when Oniwa, Lindsay and I were waiting for the train in Paris. I got on the train and put my backpack on my lap to find that two of the smallest pockets were open. Luckily, my tiny camcorder was tucked under my lotion and packet of tissue and wipes. After that incident I made the effort to “lock-up” my pocket with my wallet using the clip that holds my hand sanitizer. It took 30 seconds to take it off and put it back on, but it was worth the time.

Definitely go to Paris with some friends so you can all look out for one another. Traveling alone or with friends, be aware of your surroundings. And don’t leave your bag open with your wallet or money hanging out, especially at the tourist attractions (Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Champs-Élysées & Louvre) or anywhere. Traveldudes has a few more tips on how to avoid pickpockets. My friend got her wallet stolen by gypsies when she was at the Eurostar train station. Moms are always right; my mom told me to be extra alert overseas but to soak in each wonderful moment. Don’t forget to learn some basic French phrases! Bon Voyage!

View from Notre Dame Cathedral tower

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