More than meets a tourist’s eye

A Cameroonian bodega in Paris's African Quartier.

There are a lot of wonderful things that are attributed to Paris. The people with their engaging French accents and unrivaled devotion to wine, their ever-famous crepes with almost every kind of flavoring from nutella to raspberry sauce. There are also the more physical attributes such as the Eiffel Tower (yeah, we grow up hearing about this one), the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Louvre, all sights that tourists frequent without fail. But all of these things are synonymous with the outsider. They are what you can find out about online, and never necessarily in conjunction with the life of the everyday Parisian. This is exactly what I found out this summer.

 I studied abroad in Paris for 5 weeks over the summer, honing my French speaking and writing skills, and experiencing Paris first as a tourist, but also as a student with Parisian friends. I was of course extremely excited to be visiting France for the first time, and spent the first weeks drinking in the splendor and the beauty that is France. From dining on a cruise boat across the Seine to travelling to Versailles and fawning over its gardens, I was living the life that I had dreamed of living in France.

As the weeks tore on, I learnt how to get around the city by myself, and become even more adventurous in my exploration of the city. There were the manicured lawns, but there were also subway lines that reeked of urine. I ventured further into the immigrant culture of France, a culture that is not necessarily broadcast by tourist websites, but a side of Paris that is nevertheless enthralling.

I travelled to the Jewish Quartier and had Falafel for the first time in my life. The people there spoke French with an accent, and were not the typical Parisians I saw walking along the Champs-Elysees. I then ventured into the African Quartier, where I was extremely amazed at how much of Africa these immigrants were able to bring to Paris. At Goutte D’Or (literally meaning drop of gold), I found all the African delicacies that I had grown up with in Uganda. I found dried fish, pounded yam and processed products like “Nido” and “Cerealac” that are extremely to find in even the largest of American stores.

I finally felt like I had truly navigated France. I had seen the pretty sights that Paris is famous for, but I had also seen a rich immigrant culture that makes Paris evermore diverse. Those 5 weeks taught me to always scratch beneath the surface, to realize that there is always more than meets the eye, and that more often than not, the scratching is extremely worth it.