Pre-Paris preparation involved perusing Pinterest. Photos of romanticized under the radar tourist locations, food to eat, tips for great flights, and dozens of photos of Paris glistening in the rain. None of this nonsense prepared me at all for Paris.
Well that’s not completely true.
I did have a great 10.5 hour flight experience thanks to Pinterest tips.
The madness that is studying abroad in Paris begins, surprisingly, when I land in London. (I start off with this precursor to the actual landing because any bad news regarding flights can cloud the senses and create the basis of a bad attitude towards any city, romanticized or not.) A delayed flight and a complete misunderstanding of my international data plan with Verizon leads me to not inform our emergency hotline of my 30 minute delay. The plane arrives, I sit back and attempt to relax. My aisle neighbor strikes up a conversation with me, gives me a hand drawn map of a “better church to look at than Notre Dame” and some more recommendations of places to go, things to see, etc.
This is what I imagine I’ll see when I first get to Paris.
This also keeps my mind off of the lack of AC over my row and my obnoxious, open-mouthed-gummy-bear-chewing neighbors. We land.
I realize half-assed attempts at DuoLingo and a borrowed copy of Lonely Planet’s French phrasebook are only going to get me so far when I feel the language barrier complications at the airport.
Typical American attitude. Don’t be that American.
Yet I grab my luggage, tighten my hold on my duffel bag and laptop with shaky hands, hoping that someone out the sortie will be “Wearing an orange CEA shirt” holding a sign that says “Kelsey Puryear” on it.
A tall bearded man all in black holds a sign that says:
MRS KELSEY PURYEAR
Close enough I suppose. Orange isn’t the new black and I guess I’m married now.
My Parisian plane pests are put into perspective when an orange-shirted CEA employee escorts a fellow student who arrived with no luggage after both canceled and delayed flights. This perspective continues to change as we drive away from the airport.
When I first see Paris it’s encased in fog and there’s nothing to see. Three of the four of us pass small talk around and sit in silence for a majority of the ride. Freeways that look no different than U.S. highways glide underneath this foreign car I’ve never seen nor heard of. Then we hit the neighborhoods of the city. As we near the location of our school, both fog and graffiti cover the buildings now.
I feel like I am in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles with far more gorgeous architecture and people tapping on the windows of the car with signs that say “SYRIAN REFUGEE” instead of the normal variation of an English plea for helping the homeless. A woman holds her passport to the window, but we drive by. Paris is dark and dingy as the clock on the dashboard displays a time after five. I’m tired and excited and want to see my home for the next two and a half weeks.
Oh what mistaken excitement.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful apartment. An old apartment. Pre-elevator days old.
And where am I staying with my suitcase, duffel bag, and laptop bag?
The fourth floor.
A hysterical laugh escapes my lips, but I believe in myself.
It’s a struggle. I clunk up the stairs, with sitcoms running through my mind of this exact situation. Writers draw inspiration from awful experiences and I can draw from this. I’m in Paris it can’t be that awful. It’s just the jet lag clouding my mind.
But it gets better.
She wrote sarcastically thinking of her sore shoulders and the amount of physical exertion it took to get up that tiny spiral staircase.
I arrive at the fourth floor, fifth floor in American terms as the ground floor in Paris is zero, and I find The Door.
Oh this door with two deadbolts and a spring lock. I was warned about the spring lock, but I was not prepared.
It’s 30 minutes of twisting, shoving, coaxing, before I slide down the wall with my suitcase at my side. I hear muffled French behind doors as I sit on the cold, empty landing. It’s the point in my dramatic comedy movie, I’m currently starring in, where the heroine realizes her wanderlust mistake. She shouldn’t have just jumped into a foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language. She isn’t going to have some time-traveling epiphany for the next great American novel. Hemingway and Fitzgerald could have waited until she grew up. Grew up at least to a point where wanting to call her parents isn’t her first instinct when she’s in trouble.
My most memorable first view of Paris is me on a landing as I try calling CEA’s hotline again. Oh Verizon, you’re matching this Pandora’s box of a door-a Pandoora if you will- for the bane of my existence. I go down the stairs quietly as possible, because if someone comes out now I only know how to say: “Bonjour. Parlez-vous anglais?”
Not: “How do you open these hell doors?”
(Google translate says “Comment ouvrez-vous ces portes infernales” for future reference. Apparently Lonely Planet doesn’t think that’s a necessary “practical” phrase.)
Downstairs there isn’t any hint of a sweet old landlady who can help me. So I return to my fourth floor landing. I sit back down at the door, think about how I would make a step-by-step detailed helpful post about Parisian locks for Pinterest, and finally resort to just knocking. Surely there’s no one home. If my roommates had gotten here before me, surely they would have heard my scratching and struggling at the door like a cat left out in the night. Surely no one-
The door opens. I am greeted by a sleepy roommate. Two others sleep in their beds. I sigh.
I am in. I am in my apartment. I am in Paris. I am completely out of my element and have no control over anything, but I am no longer outside of the Pandoora and I can shower and sleep. Tomorrow is a new day, I tell myself as I look out the window to an antique version of a foreign Los Angeles. Paris is out there and while Pinterest Paris and Actual Paris are very different… it can only improve from the first glimpse you get of it.