Since I came to France, I’ve never gotten the same reaction from people when I tell them I come from Guatemala. Some were amazed at the mere realization that we know what airplanes are; some didn’t act surprised; and others asked me what I thought about the situation in Africa (I got a good chuckle out of that one, if I may add).
The ones that truly amaze me are those who know where to find my country in a map. Thank you for that. Also, I’d like to thank all of those who heard me saying where I come from and bothered to Google it. To those who still believe we’re located somewhere around the Sahara Desert –and I don’t blame you– you will find an explanatory map below:
That green blotch between Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, is us. It’s a small country and an even smaller city. I really doubt it, but if someone ever asks you what the capital of our country is, at least you’ll know it carries the exact same name and it is the most populous in Central America (I’m sorry guys, there is a difference between North, Central and South America).
A few months ago, I got an e-mail from my faculty asking if anyone would be interested in doing an exchange program in Sciences Po Saint-Germain-en-Laye. I graduated from a French school, so I figured that if I knew the language, the whole thing would be much easier. I couldn’t have been more wrong, though. My school taught me a lot about your country’s history, political system, society, culture and literature. But –and this is something we all complain about when it comes to the education system— it didn’t teach me how to open a bank account, get a phone number, pay the bills, or even ask for a coffee. Which brings me to my next point:
The magic juice that gets you through the day…
Coffee is a big deal for us. It is, after all, one of the major things my country is known for. Whenever you find yourself at a coffee shop and ask for a “café negro”,“café americano”, or simply “café”, they will give you the equivalent of an “allongé” in France. Your “café crème” or “noisette” is one of the most astounding things I’ve encountered. No one is as creative as the French when it comes to naming coffee, I can assure you that.
One of the things I love the most about France, though, are your coffee shops. I absolutely adore sitting outside and watching the people go by. I found it contains a certain peacefulness, as if you were taking a break from being in the driver’s seat while you become a simple observer. You have millions of choices when it comes to coffee shops, which is another thing that I find interesting. So, how do you choose where to sit down and relax? Is it about the view, the price, the quality…?
Honor Café – Photo by HiP Paris
You might not believe me when I say that I think your public transportation is really functional. Take into account that I’m comparing this to my country, where our kind of transportation almost always involves cars. We don’t have things such as the train or the subway, and our buses are known for being dangerous.
We drive everywhere, partly because it’s dangerous to walk on the streets. As a result, every time I’m in a train (or the subway, for that matter) I wonder if you know how lucky you are. Also, I would like to praise your elderly. It’s happened many times that, while I’m at a station, the most interesting and cultivated people start a conversation with me. Their stories are fascinating, so I encourage you to give them the chance to tell you all about them. Trust me, they’re very happy to talk to someone even if it’s just for a few minutes.
In addition to all of this, I’ve never seen so many people walking around holding baguettes in their hands. This is not, after all, just a stereotype. Normally, when you hear “France”, your mind automatically drifts to the Tour Eiffel, baguettes and “fromage”. It is all true, my friends. And for the latter, they’re absolutely delicious. There’s no way you can get bread or cheese wrong in France. It probably has something to do with your ingredients or your technique, but I have yet to encounter at least one piece of bad bread in this country.
Photo by French Bread District
There are many Parisian city guides, websites or books, but nothing can prepare you for the reality of things. There is absolutely no way to walk around this city without finding, at least, ten different museums. Your numerous exhibitions and permanent collections are a dream. I wish I had the time to see them all.
This, once again, is compared to a country where museums are, if not rare, very hard to find or hear about. Let alone the fact that you reduce prices for students, which I think is an astounding public policy. The arts, as I have come to learn, are very important to you. Your theatres and concerts are also very professional, and it’s hard to find one that isn’t worth your time.
In some way, I appreciate the fact that I never once have felt bored while being here. There is always something to do or see, and in my book of beliefs, it is one of your major strengths.
Photo by ArtNet News
Overall, your people…
I could go on and on about all the things I love about your country, but I’m afraid it’d become a book. So, let me finish by saying that the best part about your country is your people. Every person I’ve encountered is singular in their own way. Aside from bank employees (and I hear their treatment is not limited to foreigners), everyone is very helpful and friendly. Granted, there are always exceptions, but overall, I’ve felt very welcome here.
So, briefly, I’d like to thank you for making my experience as a person living in a foreign country so much better. And, last but not least, thanks to all of those who have helped me at the train stations and subways. It was hard, but I think I can finally get around on my own without having to bother twenty people on the way.