Is it living in Paris that has made me bitchier or just living in a city in general? Whatever the reason, I have learned that you have to look out for yourself and that the “sweet, naïve American” act only gets you so far before you are forced to adopt a much more cutthroat survival technique here in Paris.
When I arrived in August, trying desperately to use my limited French in the most endearing of ways to achieve my goals- be it opening a French bank account or buying Metro tickets- I more often than not got what I wanted. But soon, I realized that by presenting myself as a sweet little American girl who knew very little about the big bad city, along with accepting help from kindly French waiters, I was opening myself up to the dangers of French people in a position to help me but that chose to exploit my language disadvantage. I learned very quickly that there will always be cab driers who will drive in circles along one-way streets to give themselves a larger fare because they know I had no idea where I was going, and there will always be street vendors who will gauge their prices at the slightest hint of an American accent.
Throughout my time in Paris, I have learned there are times and places to play the “sweet, innocent, lost American” card, and there are occasions when the bitch must step up.
The French post office? Bitchy. I tried being nice back in September trying to get my long-overdue birthday packages and nicely explaining my plight in the best French I could muster. But after that one encounter, I learned: bring my own envelope and stamps, because they charge 11 euros just for the privilege of using a post-office bough envelope.
Restaurants? Sweet. By trying to order in French, no matter how daunting the task, you greatly improve the chances of the waiter earning his built-in 12% tip. My go-to phrases include “Une carafe de l’eau, sil vous plait” to ask for water, and “L’addition, sil vous plait” to ask for the bill. All said with a smile, of course.
French taxis? Play it by ear. Tell them in French where you’re going, and be as specific as possible. I have learned to specify: “Vingt-et-un rue de l’Exposition. Le septieme arrondissement” as opposed to “Rue de l’exposition. Near the Eiffel Tower.” I have also learned that I live between two one-way streets, and that I can walk very easily from the intersections of each, as opposed to paying 4 euros for the driver to circle around to drive me to my door. This is one of those instances when the best French you can conjur up will be you friend, and maybe even save you a few Euros. They most certainly know I am American, but if I put my most confident, city-wise “Don’t mess with me” attitude forward, generally, I won’t be ripped off royally.
It’s something every city girl should know, and I must admit I learned a lot from watching Carrie Bradshaw strut through Manhattan in Sex and the City, but living in a city for the first time really taught me the benefit of looking out for yourself and the importance of presenting a confident, independent, capable appearance. Even if it means being bitchy sometimes.