Why I would want to hide the fact that I was a tourist in a city that welcomes over 40 million tourists a year is beyond me. For some warped reason I felt the only one true way to fully enjoy Paris was to blend in with the Parisians – to look like them, walk like them, eat like them, sip my warm hot chocolate from Les Deux Magots like them. Maybe it was because I had read several exaggerated perspectives that claimed Parisians viewed tourists as some type of primitive lower life form. Perhaps I felt that I would somehow impress the locals with my knowledge of Paris and my smooth adaptive prowess. Regardless of my misguided reasoning, I had studied hard on how to blend in. It’s kind of funny that during our stay I was probably the most obvious tourist in all of Paris.
There are so many moments that come to my mind – moments where any normal tourist would just do what tourists do. Tourists would ask questions, pull out a map, or take their time. Not me. To give you an example of what I’m talking about, I look no further than the Paris Metro. Just under the surface of the city of Paris is an incredible underground world. It’s the city’s cardiovascular system with people racing like blood through the system’s complex layers of train tracks and hallways. Parisians walk through the Metro about as fast as I run but they move with a fluid rhythm. Now imagine me, with my skewed view of being a tourist, tackling it for the first time! I did everything I could avoid the dreaded tourist tag. I refused to look at the huge metro wall maps except as a last resort. And I almost had a stroke when I realized a line of locals had gathered behind me as I tried to operate the ticket kiosk. Silly, I know.
Then there was the time when my wife and I stood on a street corner in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Instead of just pulling out the map and getting my bearings, we slipped over against the wall with our backs to the steady stream of people. I eased out the map as my body shielded it from the pedestrians. I laugh now because we probably looked like a shady pair consummating a drug deal. Again, a result of my overactive idea that fitting it would carry more weight with the Parisians. They knew who I was – what I was.
Parisians recognize tourists. Tourism is an enormous part of Paris. People travel all over the world to see the beautiful gardens, spectacular architecture, classic art, and mighty monuments. People come to walk the streets, eat French food, and experience the culture. They come to climb Eiffel’s tower, sit in Notre Dame, and climb the steps in Montmartre. 40 million tourists visit Paris each year. Why not just be one of them? I think the Parisians will be just fine with that.