Monday, January 11, 2021

Parisian ugly tourists

Not many tourists these days are in Paris. Between travel bans from different French regions and countries, closures of restaurants and the virus, tourism is limited to buying groceries in a different neighborhood or going from home to work if one is not working from home. 

My first time as a Paris tourist was with my housemates when I lived in Boston. Bill was giving a paper at a conference and neither Susie, my other housemate and or I wanted to be left behind. It was in the 1970s.

At Notre Dame, decades before the devastating fire, I watched a Japanese tour guide lead a group of her countrymen through the church holding a fan high. An English guide held an umbrella followed by about 10 Brits judging by the accent.

I sat near the altar soaking in the atmosphere, thinking about the craftsman who had laid the stones, mounted the beams and cut the stained glass. I imagined the hundreds of thousands of weddings, baptisms and funerals besides the regular masses that had been held. Then a hidden organist started to play. His music soared to the rooftop. 

Leaving the church we saw souvenir stands. We'd come to the conclusion that souvenir stands were built long before the monuments. We made up conversations the souvenir stand builders might have had in the Middle Ages. "If we surround that field, then the cathedral can go there, and all the tourists will have to pass us by."

"Is that the real McCoy?" A voice in a Texas accent and so loud that we were sure it hadn't carried to the other side of the Seine. The woman held a tacky six-inch copy of the tower in her hand. She hadn't done the polite thing by saying "Bonjour," or "Je ne parle pas fran├žais," or "Parlez-vous anglais?" Instead it was an onslaught of English which usually guaranteed that the person being spoken too would not admit to speaking the language even if he'd had an advanced degree in it and was a professional translator.

Perhaps, she was auditioning for the Ugly American Tourist Gold Medal (UATGM). She certainly followed the guidelines that many American tourists use by speaking louder than people around them.

A competitor for another UATGM was when I was taking a TGV from Geneva where I then lived to Paris to meet a friend for lunch. It is possible, thanks to these wonderful trains, to catch an early morning train, have a great lunch, take a late afternoon train home and sleep in my own bed at night.

The car was filled with an American tourist group.

 I was sitting next to and chatting with a French gentlemen.

One American woman was furious. Their tour group had promised first class and they were in second class. Yes, first class has a bit more room, but second class is more than comfortable. Sometimes there are less people in first class, but considering the size of the group, most seats would have been taken in either class.

"As soon as I get to Paris, I'm going to give them a piece of my mind." Her voice echoed throughout the car. She was standing and flapping her hands.

I wasn't sure she had much mind to spare. 

She said they only had two days in Paris and I couldn't imagine wasting time tracking down the tour company when she could have been seeing sites in the city that she had traveled thousands of miles and probably spent thousands of dollars to see.

"First class is so much better. The view is so much better." She was almost screaming.

My seat mate was shaking his head. He obviously understood English. 

Jokingly, I said to him in French, "Maybe next time I'll go first class to see how different the view is."

I suspect tourist dollars, euros, pounds, kroners will be missed by Parisian businesses during this awful epidemic. I doubt having to put up with the rude tourists will not. 

I have found over the years, even with French and a Swiss passport, I'm still taken for an American. I have found politeness and a smile is almost a 100% guarantee for politeness back. It has worked all over Europe and in Syria (prewar) One cannot learn a language to spend just a few days in country, but the words for please, thank you, I'm so sorry I don't speak your language builds a lot of bridges, preferably in a soft tone.



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