Monday, 10 June 2002; 6:51am; Paris-Gare de l’Est
My Initial Descent came via the rails, arriving into Gare de l’Est after an overnight train from Switzerland. Of course I had expected to be greeted with the typical disdain for Americans that is so widely thought to be prevalent in France, but I didn’t find this to be true at all. “Excusez-moi…parlez-vous anglais?” I asked the person at the information counter at the station, as I needed some guidance getting to where I was going.
“Yes, a little bit”, she replied, and I knew immediately that the stereotypes were myth. The French don’t have disdain for Americans, just Americans who show up in France without a shred of respect for the local culture and who fail to make even a sorry attempted to learn a few words of French. Learn a few phrases, and you’ll be welcomed as warmly as anywhere else.
A few hours later, I had my first “I’m really in France” moment, sitting in the hallowed halls of Notre Dame cathedral, before the tourist crowds arrived. Taking in a morning prayer with people to whom this is a part of their daily lives, I couldn’t help but think that this we do not have a home…