Earlier this summer my mother took me to Europe for the first time. It was a combination high school graduation and 18th birthday present. We were there for two weeks and we stayed in England and France. I am an Anglophile and am obsessed with all things British. I had built up England in my head to such a perfect image that I was sure it could not live up to my extremely lofty expectations. I was very happy to be proven wrong.
England was everything I had hoped for. I loved the old buildings, the sights, the history, and the entire country. The old buildings had been seamlessly blended together with the much more recent constructions. All of the tourist sites lived up to the hype and the tours and information at each one let me dive into the vast history of England. London was amazing; it was a huge city filled with lovely people and places. Although it was a big city it was very easy to get around by walking and taking the Tube. The people were amazing when we got lost (sadly both my mother and I have difficulties with directions) people actually came up to us and asked if we needed help. There was even this one extraordinarily kind man who took the time out of his day to lead us to the building we got lost trying to find.
England actually exceeded the perfect expectation I had built up in my mind for the country. Paris on the other hand was rather a disappointment. I had been studying some French before we arrived and had brought an English-French dictionary that I tried to use to find common phrases. I did not want to seem like a rude American who only spoke English and expected the same from the inhabitants of another country. My mother and I were both very good at trying to use French as much as possible. I went in trying to ignore the stereotype that Parisians are rude. I was disappointed to discover that this stereotype existed because it was based on fact.
When my mother and I stumbled over the French language to continue to try speaking French, we were rewarded with glares and annoyed silence. The people who lived in Paris seemed to detest that we were trying to use French with the same amount of disdain that we found when using English. All big cities are more prone to crime; it just seems to go along with their other attributes. However, at every tourist site I was at, I was warned with signs about pickpockets. There were either large signs giving instructions and warnings or videos to show the most common ways pickpockets distracted their marks.
It led to a very uneasy feeling. I know that it is necessary to exercise some caution when in large crowds, but I never felt the danger of being stolen from to the same intensity that I did in Paris. I made sure to hold onto my belongings in both New York City and London, but I never really felt as though I needed to look around and double check that I still had everything. Sadly, in Paris I found myself keeping a white knuckled grip on the handles of my purse and checking to make sure I still had everything every time I stopped. It did not help that most people were pushy and hostile. Plus, the city was difficult to get around, because the Metro was not nearly as user friendly as the Subway or the Tube.
Where as London had built the new to complement the old buildings, the old seemed to constantly clash with the new in Paris. The city seemed awkward as if it were not sure which time period it should belong to. The sidewalks were cramped and very narrow, but the smell was what really made me feel that the city needed to be cleaned. The streets were littered with garbage bags emitting the smell of rot and the sewer scent was never hard to detect, even under an almost constant lingering presence of cigarette smoke. I was used to seeing more dirt and grime in a large city than as opposed to a smaller one, but Paris was the filthiest city I have ever encountered.
At every tourist site was either a scam, a pickpocket warning, or street hawkers latching onto you to buy their wares. The street hawkers would get right into your face and would not take no for an answer. They would actually continue to follow you around while yelling a lower price at you. Although, the tourist sites held a lot of history and information, it was not enough to make up for the rest of the cities uncomfortable quirks. I am glad I went, because I think I would have kept believing in beautiful unrealistic expectations if I had not, and now it is another city that I have been to that I can check off my travel list.
However, I did like both the French cities of Giverny and Versailles. I would not be arrogant and ignorant enough to believe that every city in France is like Paris. I would go back to other French cities, like Giverny and Versailles, to see if they appealed to me more than Paris did. I also would not try to dissuade anyone from going to Paris. They might like it and not find the issues that I did. Perhaps, they would find problems, but like me take comfort in the fact that they had seen some amazing sites and could now say they had been to Paris. As a person who would like to travel more, I thought I would share my experience, but it is really up to other travelers to make their own decisions after visiting new places.