According to Julie

Passing strangers

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During my first month in Paris, at an American university, (waiting for money from Norway), I have thought about what culture I really feel that I represent here. I am European because I drink wine without getting drunk, feel comfortable in heels and fishnets, and know that there is a price difference when someone calls my French number when I’m in France vs. if I go to Italy. I am Norwegian because I know that neither a croissant nor a baguette is real bread, think all drinks in Paris are cheap and arrive at parties wearing boots and woolen socks and carrying indoor party shoes. I am American because I sound like one and use "we" when I talk about the US.

The ultimate test might be how I handle passing strangers.

Paris is not designed to cope with this situation at all. I have this theory: There are too many Parisians in Paris. The metro basically works, as do the wide boulevards (although not near Galleries Lafayette) and even parts of the Champs Elyssée (although not on weekends). But the charming narrow cobble-stoned streets and the sidewalks on any street were not built for actual people who really need to walk from point A to point B. They were built for chairs and café tables, for smoking waiters, for signs advertizing the "formule" of the day, for slow-walkers who take their time choosing which boulangerie they should buy their morning croissant from, and of course, for small dogs.

Oslo wasn’t designed for people either, but this doesn’t matter. First off, there aren’t that many people in Norway. Secondly, Norwegians don’t like interacting with strangers. This fear is hard to explain to Americans. What Americans call "friendly small-talk", Norwegians call "crazy/drunk/American/all of the above stalker tendencies". Norwegians back off when I come anywhere near an invasion of their personal space, which means they get out of my way. French people on the other hand, will not notice that I am standing right behind them. To get past them, I must either yell: "Pardon!" or just walk around them, in the actual street. If I meet someone face-to-face, the general rule seems to be that I must wait while they walk first, no matter what. Americans on the other hand, say "Excuse me," even if they are nowhere near me, just in case. They also smile more.

The last time I went to the US, the first thing that happened when I got there, was that a stranger talked to me and smiled at me and it didn’t feel weird. I knew I was home. When I came back to Europe, the first thing that happened was that a stranger ran over my feet with a loaded luggage cart and didn’t apologize. And I knew I was home again.

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One thought on “Passing strangers

  1. Pingback: Paris off the top of my head (translated into English) « According to Julie

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