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An (African) American in Paris :-)

Bonjour a tous! (Hello to all!)

I noticed that this forum looked a little anemic so I thought I'd add my experiences for those looking for travel insight from minority travelers.

I am an African-American woman (64), and have had the pleasure of traveling to Europe over the past 4 years. Before that, there were a lot of cruises in my life, trip to Jamaica, other islands in the Caribbean, Mexico and Costa Rica...and, of course, Canada. However, I really, really, really wanted to go to Paris so I joined a group recommended by a friend (there were 22 of us) and off we went in March 2012. At the time I didn't know much about #teamcarryon (I'm a staunch member now!) so I just checked my bags along with everyone else's, caught up on my high school French (practiced to and from work, Pimsleur CDs) and booked train travel from Paris >Reims and Paris >London & tours in those cities. More practice at Gare du Nord information, taxi drivers and assorted Parisians...no negative experiences. In fact, as I walked through the town of Reims, I was stopped by someone who asked a question (I guess I looked like I belonged there??), I didn't quite understand her but I knew how to say that I was sorry and that I didn't understand. Whew! :-D The entire trip was a success and enjoyable. Fast forward two years later and I'm back in Paris with 2 friends. I tried to help them prepare by giving them French phrase books BUT they had other plans....to let me handle all of the 'heavy' French. HA! I stepped up...had a very pleasant conversation with a Parisian taxi driver, who knew no English but he complimented me on the little that I knew...he said that my French was just fine. HA! Success AGAIN! The same thing happened throughout the trip, which annoyed me on the one hand, but (making lemonade out of lemons) I was grateful for the practice. I taught myself how to send a parcel home via La Poste (I had to talk with the postal clerk AND read the forms...French/English), I also wanted to pop into a boulangerie and order a pain au chocolat...did that, too. No negative experiences. I was so proud of myself. :-D Later in the year one of my adult daughters and I traveled to Italy...Milan, Florence, Rome. Had a BLAST! She took the lead since she had spent a summer abroad in Florence before graduating college. Again, I found a Mailboxes, Etc (owned by 3 Italian woman..they all spoke English) to ship stuff home. We also booked a dinner with a local in Rome through EatWith.com which was absolutely delightful! We walked all over, took the tram, visited local restaurants, cafes, grocery stores (we rented an Airbnb apartment), etc. Had a TON of fun!

And, this past October, a friend and I visited Paris for a few days. This time I was unexpectedly on my own because our schedules were very different (she slept most of the day & was up most of the night). SOoooo....I was up and at 'em in the morning and did my own thing. Again, armed with my conversation French and an understanding of the culture, it was no problem...I had the best time doing things on my own. Once I was stopped by a guy who was clearly turned around and he asked me to point out the direction of a particular street. I decided to pretend I was French. LOL! Me: "Oui, monsieur. Les Champs-Elysées est la-bas." Him: "Thank you!" Me: "De rien." :-D My friend and I had a fav restaurant in the neighborhood and after a couple of days, they treated us like family...the waiters were showing us pics of the family, other customers were chatting us up on our points of view about gun control and other topics in America, and on and on. Again...had a great experience.

For me, it seemed that it was all in how I approached everything, the fact that I tried to speak the language (French and Italian), I wasn't a 'loud' American and I kinda blended in with the way I dressed and carried myself. My next challenge: RS Best of Europe...gotta learn some German. :-D

Posted by
11676 posts

What a wonderful and refreshing series of trip reports--thank you!

Posted by
945 posts

What a great attitude you have and what a wonderful person you are!
Thanks for sharing your experiences. And have a great Best Of Europe time!
(And let us know how that goes, too, please!)

Posted by
11387 posts

I too enjoyed your post, and yes, attitude is everything and you have a great ine. Enjoy many future trips!

Ps i guess you noticed that in many areas in Paris you' re not in not a minority, France has a huge population of non anemic looking folks! 😊

Posted by
16 posts

Thank you all...and, you're welcome!

@SharYn....I've been eye-balling the Best of Europe tour for a couple of years now. Having retired last year, I thought I was going to do it this year, but, alas, I may have to push it out to 2017. I'm really looking forward to it. My daughters keep telling me "Mom, you have time now. Just DO it! Take a month even." Oh!....I lived in Berkeley back in the 70s and 80s. Bought my first how there. Loved that city.

@pat....you are absolutely right! Paris is more diverse than a lot of people realize. I especially noticed it on my last visit when I stopped by a friend's hair salon and we went for a walk around the 10e and 3e, and of course, other arrondissements that I've visited. It's only been 8 months but I can't wait to go back. :-D

Posted by
266 posts

What a great trip report!

I just want to second your thoughts about learning the language -- even a little bit -- before visiting a country. Knowing the language has enriched my travel experience so much. I spent about 6 months practicing Turkish a little each day in preparation for a trip to Turkey. Just saying "good morning" or "how are you" in Turkish would bring a huge smile to people's faces. When I would order a meal in Turkish, the waiters were always eager to teach me more Turkish.

Posted by
3313 posts

With your great attitude, I see many fun European adventures in your future! My European language skills are at the elementary levels, but they do appreciate the effort!

Posted by
3313 posts

With your great attitude, I see many fun European adventures in your future! My European language skills are at the elementary levels, but they do appreciate the effort!

Posted by
16 posts

Thank you so much, Jean and Marie!

Speaking of language: In advance of my next visit to Paris, I have been studying through Duolingo (which helps quite a bit with grammar and parts of speech...not so much on actual speaking), but will pick up my Pimsleur CDs shortly for verbal practice. When I'm a little more comfortable with my abilities, I was thinking of joining a Francophile meetup group to help with real conversations. There are quite a few in the Bay Area.

Both of my daughters are big travelers (or were, in the case of my 'married w/children' daughter...costs, you know), so I've learned a lot of from them, as well. The youngest traveled a lot for work for a few years so she is an expert TeamCarryOn traveler. So, from her, RS videos, and other assorted websites/videos, etc, I've joined the ranks. My main suitcase is an 18" rollaboard (had to retire my heavy Briggs & Riley to the storage shed) and I can pack for several weeks with that bag and a tote/sling backpack. Often, I wind up helping my travel buddies travel better (like, you don't need THREE pair of jeans for a 1 week trip! UGH!). Seriously, at the airport parking lot, they realized how LIGHT my suitcase was and how heavy theirs were....we wound up leaving some of their crap in the trunk of the car because ...no, you don't need to take those spikey heels to Paris, have you twist your ankle on the cobblestone and then MY vacation is screwed up. Nope....ain't happening. LOL! So, I pass on the knowledge and hope they catch on. HA!

Posted by
7109 posts

Loved your report and outlook amerillis!
We have a travel group that meets every 2nd Sat of the month in Larkspur Landing (Marin Co) at Marin Brewing (12:00 this July 9th) and we'd love to have you join us. Don't have to be there at 12:00, anytime between 12-2. We'd be happy if you can make it!

Posted by
16 posts

Thank you, Susan! And, thank you for inviting me to your meeting! I would LOVE to come! I'll put it on my calendar right now. :-D See you on the 9th!

~A~

Posted by
7109 posts

That's great amerillis! So happy you can come!

Posted by
516 posts

What a great report. Not just your positive and outgoing attitude...but your style of writing is so fun and uplifting. It's nice to see all these positive results that come from just diving in and having fun with the language. My wife and I were in Italy and France a couple of years back and I used whatever french I had in me, which came from a couple of semesters of Beginning French at the City College of San Francisco, gosh, nearly 10 years ago now. Sometimes I wondered if the waiters and shop keepers had any clue what I was saying, but no matter what, I still got the food I ordered so I guess it worked.

Posted by
16 posts

Hey, KC, thank you for the compliments! :-) So funny about talking to waiters and shopkeepers. LOL!! I know exactly what you mean about learning (or brushing up) on a language. The French I knew before my first trip to Paris in 2012 was from high school...41 years ago at that time. But I remembered quite a bit...even some of those silly dialogs we had to practice in class. LOL! I did the same with Spanish for my Costa Rica trip in 2008. My big test there was on the beach at the all-inclusive, a local vendor approached me trying to sell a tour (he had visuals and everything in tow). Again, I had also studied what I thought might be said TO me, so I knew how to respond. Boy, oh boy I was smiling so much afterwards that my face hurt. HA!! Not really. :-D But, you know what I mean.

And then once you learn a little Spanish, Italian doesn't seem very difficult. German is going to be my real challenge. I learned a wee bit from an uncle who taught my sister and me a few sentences, counting and such...and I should also thank Wayne Newton for 'Danke Shoen', and The Sound of Music for 'So Long Farewell', right? :-D We'll see how it goes. I'm looking forward to it, though.