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Put Your Hands Up; You’re Surrounded!

Despite having lived in Europe for three years and connecting at Paris CDG at least five times, I’ve never actually been to Paris.

This changed Sunday when I stepped off my flight from Leipzig and made my way to my hotel in Paris. In the heart of Paris’ Marsais. Fourth Arrondissement, corner of Rue de Petit Musc and Rue Charles V—fifty easy minutes from the airport; and up three flights of tipsy stairs that had never been level, not even the day they were freshly constructed, and were quite the trip whilst sober.

Admittedly I was not in Paris in the most ideal of “holiday” circumstances—basically I was in Paris connecting between two flights that happen to be 21 hours apart, so my time was limited and I opted to spend my afternoon in Paris doing a self-guided walking tour—aided by the fact that I do not own a single tourist guide to Paris. All I own is the third edition of the Paris Mapguide—which is exactly what it claims to be: a map-guide. Not much additional information is offered, so I was on my own to interpret the city as I saw fit.

Basically I strung together a series of well known attractions—all of which I inspected from the outside, never bothering look inside due to my nasty time constraint. In order, the highlights were: Nôtre Dame Cathedral, walking along the Seine, watching young Frenchmen play soccer (shirtless) in the Esplanade Des Invalides (I could have wasted a whole lot more time there), staring at the Tour Eiffel, then walking under the Tour Eiffel, staring in amazement that the Tennis Channel (I’ve never heard of this channel; I presume it must have an audience of one) had a live set offering on-the-spot coverage from the Jardins du Trocadéro (no tennis court in sight), the Arc de Triompe, down the Champs-Élysées, across the Place de la Concorde, through the Jardin des Tuileries, through part of the Louvre, then back to my hotel.

Now I could wax poetic on most of these sites (and it would be really easy to do so. I could invoke everything from David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day or Robert Lawson’s Fabulous Flight to Alex Guiness in Lavender Hill Mob or Cary Grant in Albert Hitchcock’s Charade), but I won’t. The territory is well trod and my inadequate scribbling could not reasonably be expected to add anything new to that genre of conversation.

Rather I am going to remark upon the fact that I haven’t been surrounded by so many Americans in Europe since… well, ever!

I cannot recall a single time outside of North America that I’ve ever seen and heard so many Americans infesting one city.

Perhaps it’s because I live in a relatively inaccessible spot (Weimar) and tend to choose vacations in places that are even more inaccessible to Americans (see Armenia, South Africa, and Swaziland), but the number of English speakers and painfully obvious Americans was surprising to me. I don’t recall having seen that many Americans in places that lack a linguistic barrier (read: London), or are easily accessible to Americans (read: Amsterdam; but of course I am usually based in Rotterdam).

Ultimately I found it a bit disconcerting. I had dinner, at the recommendation of my hotel, at a slightly upscale (read: expensive) restaurant, located a 5 minute walk from my hotel. Vins des Pyrenees (25 Rue Beautreillis) was no doubt excellent, but in the non-smoking section, the first five tables occupied, including mine, were all occupied by Americans. One table was held by an older couple from Connecticut, another with a younger couple from North Carolina. Later a very young couple occupied a table, with the girl trying to remember her French, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Fortunately the restaurant had excellent waitresses who spoke English and could translate most things (but not “rocket”—which is, of course, “rocket” in British English. I have no idea what it is called in American English).

I started to wonder if the French, who are well known for hating Americans, hate Americans because in the summer Paris seems to be taken over by Americans. (That and Americans are incredibly rude—I saw this bitch of an American trying to order croissants at the airport café, unwilling to wait her turn. I almost told her to go stuff a croissant some place especially delicate; I felt sorry for the café employees.)

At the end of the evening, drunk off of a half bottle of wine at the restaurant, I started to ponder a return trip to Paris—I could see coming back. As I tipsily staggered up the tipsy stairs, I thought about all the things left to do—starting with actually going in all of the fabulous places I walked past, but the thought of fighting so many Americans in Europe scares me. I think I would chose to return for a longer visit in whatever is the American-tourist-off-season.

Somewhere between 12:48 and 13:06 on 8 October, each year; if I had to guess.

9 comments to Put Your Hands Up; You’re Surrounded!

  • disenchanted

    We went to Paris in the winter and were still surrounded by Americans! LOL.

  • God help me for what I’m about to do….

    Please remember you’re not meeting the average American. You’re witnessing the class of American who has the money to travel to France.

    There are a lot of well-mannered Americans; people who say please and thank you. (Excuse me, SVP and merci.) They’re living in small towns all over the country. I’ve heard there are even some in the cities.

    I understand Parisians also care little for Quebecers. It seems they hold them in the same regard Americans do for those living in the Deep South.

    By “rocket,” do you mean arugula?

  • Domoni: if that came off sounding like I was complaining about the behavior of Americans, I did not mean for it to sound that way. I was complaining about the one woman at the airport.

    Rather I was complaining about the pervasiveness of the Americans. They were everywhere–I felt like I encountered few Frenchmen, but rather that I was visiting an exotic American city. The Americans, in General, were very polite.

  • Jul

    Arugula!

    And I bet Florence has even more Americans per square inch than Paris.

  • koko

    October 8th is my 1/2 birthday 😀 lol i’m amused 🙂

  • Adam, forgive my sensitivity. I married a French-Canadian. I’m now like a puppy living next to a fireworks testing range.

  • Vinnie

    Adam, I laughed reading your assesment of Americans in Paris as being rude. Jen and I just got back from a trip to the Dominican Republic, and there were many Germans and some French tourists there and we were shocked by their loud boorish behavior, their rudeness and condescension toward the resort staff, and their never ending supply of incredibly stinky cigarettes. Perhaps Disenchanted is right, and it’s more of a question of the kind of people who can afford to travel.

  • Jul: It must be “arugula” — oddly, I’ve never known it as anything BUT rocket. It wasn’t a part of my childhood, so I first encountered it at Marks & Spencers

    Domoni: No problem, evidently the entry gives off the wrong vibe. See next:

    Vinny- Glad you enjoyed it. I meant to give a vibe that the Americans were everywhere, not that they were annoying. Only one american was annoying. The bitch at the airport.

  • Rude Americans? I guess tourists are rude everywhere. When I was standing in the security line at the Newark airport on the way back from South Africa, I encountered a group of EU passport holders (not sure which country) that kept standing so close to me they were bumping into my backpack. Over and over again.

    I probably came off as rude but turned to them and asked if they could stand a bit further from me. They seemed off-put by this.

    I know it is customary in Europe that people stand much closer to others but in the US we need our space, even in a queue. 🙂