A message from The Travel Packer’s PR: Paris and its people are not hostile and neither is Mitchell

by Sam on July 9, 2011

A rare posting from the guy responsible for most of the descriptions on The Travel Packer Packing Checklist.

Now that it has been duly noted that certain small groups of individuals, acting alone and not representative of any major Parisian demographic, have taken to anarchism against walking tours, why not slash the fear mongering and draw some attention back to some of the positive aspects of the city’s people?

When I was there, in between falling in love with everything my senses could simultaneously handle and (in this regard Mitchell was bang on) getting belligerently drunk, I found solace in the everyday routine, specifically the working people of Paris.

Walking up the flights of stairs to Sacre Coeur I was confronted in an amiable, albeit forceful manner by a gracious peddler showing me his goods. Well, I should say it was a bit more than just a show and tell, as I soon found out when he took my hand and forced my index finger up, at which point he tied a piece of colourful string around it and began in a very skilful display, to braid what ended up being a multicoloured bracelet. After witnessing the feverous efforts of the “merchant” I felt nothing short of obligation when he extended his own hand and demanded ten Euros of me. Then my walking tour, manipulated into a rather expensive bracelet, walked off to jangle the nerves of other unsuspecting idiots.

Flustered initially, mainly because of contemptuous heckling from my comrades of travel, I soon deemed myself too Parisian/existentialist for trivial worries and “opened my heart to the benign indifference of the universe”. That said, I still felt resentment and reservation festering under my skin, and wanted to find some way to exorcise it before I became as bigoted as Mitchell. Enter then the case study for Parisian hospitality: Ziggy Kracka

Ziggy is best described as a diamond in the rough. Operating under what was either a pseudonym or the greatest title a person has ever adopted, he ushered us over to him as we climbed the last steps to the monument.

‘Ziggy man…’ He said.

This was followed by a number of derogatory words that Caucasians are not permitted to use.

Ziggy informed us that he was American. I sighed a little because I needed a French person to sway my quickly degrading convictions. A minute later he clarified, explaining that he wished he was American. I said I hoped it wasn’t for their health care system and he looked at me blankly, as if for the first time.

‘I’m Ziggy n*****!’

‘Michael.’ My alias did not meet Ziggy’s outstretched hand this time. He turned to my friends.

‘What’s the matter with this n*****?’

I wanted to explain my caution but Ziggy had already gone off on a tirade about tourists. I was getting nervous. First I lose my walking tour money to a glorified thief, and then get persecuted when I don’t want it to happen again. Plus he was explosive—how could I tell him I didn’t want another bracelet?

Apparently his attention span wasn’t as short as I had expected, because he shortly turned his intensity back on me, and again offered his outstretched hand.

‘I’m a germophobe.’ Not a lie, but I was splitting hairs.

My words fell on deaf ears, as Ziggy went off again. I knew it would come back on me, and my friends started giving me dirty looks, so when his third attempt at selling me another bracelet surfaced, I put my hand in his.

And he shook it. Nothing more. Ziggy Kracka, a man I’d assumed to be a brute and a crook, was just a Frenchman looking to be American, and in being unsuccessful, looking to live vicariously through Canadians, because there was really no difference as far as he was concerned.

Finally giving me my hand back, he cheered, and my friends chorused in. I couldn’t help but join in the excitement of having made a new friend.

We went to the bar later that night with Ziggy, and when it came time to pay the bill, he was unceremoniously, but very conveniently, broke. We’ve got you covered, Zig. No worries.

I guess the moral of my story is to go with the flow. In Paris, you need to compromise some of those North American “values” that are so often taken for hostility in Europe and adapt. That means shaking hands with the guys who lurk Sacre Coeur and letting yourself get hit by the Arabians in the sport cars. You’ll get more sympathy anyway.

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