5 Things that Surprise Tourists...

So much discussion strolling the Seine... 

When tour guiding, I get asked all sorts of fun questions.  Do I like Paris?  Do French people hate Americans?  Where can I buy children’s chewable aspirin?  You know, normal things that people are curious about when visiting.

Sometimes, however, my responses aren’t exactly what the client thought (or wanted) to hear.  I’ve been making mental notes and have decided to put fingers to keys and share a few of the responses that have raised a few eyebrows lately…

Q: Does your family visit constantly?
A: No.  Well, that’s a lie.  My brother came for a few days while visiting his girlfriend in London, but we only saw each other for a drink or two.  The rest of my family has some Francophobic tendencies that might only be rationalized by the German blood in our veins.  World War II is over.  We’re all friends again.  Get a passport and come visit.

Q: Is it expensive to be a student in Paris?
A: I tell them, every time, that my textbooks freshman year cost the same as a year of studies at the University of Paris.  I exaggerate a bit.  My books were slightly more expensive.  But tourists are always shocked at how inexpensive the public university is here.  I tell them that, indeed, you get what you pay for, and that my school is little more than a cinder block prison with some desks and teachers.  But then again, it’s a Sorbonne degree, so what else do we need?

Q: So much butter.  So many pastries.  How do you stay so thin?
A: Admittedly, I am predisposed to thinness, and my 8 year-strong student diet doesn’t help things that much (I’m convinced that I really like rice and carrots for dinner several times a week).  Though when I tell my tourists that I also trained and completed my first marathon in France this past September, they are often surprised.  They expect me to say that I drink lots of red wine, that it’s all paradoxical, and that France makes me thin.  Poverty, 5 flights of stairs, and a ten minute walk to the nearest metro station make you thin.  There’s no French secret.  Don’t let them fool you. 

Q: It must be so amazing living here; what’s a normal day like?
A: I try to bend the truth as much as possible.  Do you want the real answer?  How do I say that I wake up, watch John Stewart, read some news, and stream Downton Abbey over a lunch of lentils and pasta?  Do I tell them that I trek to the Asian supermarket that stinks of raw fish and cabbage just for cheap peanut butter?  Where do I fit in the anecdote about biking to the office store to print my paperwork that I have to send in to renew my metro pass, my student card, and my visa?  There are seldom strolls with baguettes, listless afternoons in the caf├ęs, or romantic trysts by the Moulin Rouge.  Sorry, no time, I have to change my Brita filter.

Q: Did you always dream of coming to France?
A: I’m not sure they like this one, by many tourists raise an eyebrow when they realize that no, in fact, I didn’t dream of living in Paris.  At least not this long.  When I was young I dreamt of training whales.  Orcas.  This was before they started killing their trainers.  Later, reality settled in and I dreamed of being a travel writer or journalist.  While that remains a goal of sorts, Paris was just a means to an end, the perfect job opportunity in a place that I grew to love and will continue to love.  Rewind to 2006 when I was a study abroad student and you’d meet a Bryan who was all too happy to return to New York after a semester of French classes.  He would be mildly shocked if he met the Bryan of 2012…