"Merci" Goes a Long Way in Paris

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At boarding time in New York’s JFK airport, they called an airport assistant to push me on a wheelchair right at the plane’s door. To avoid explaining my physical disability, I brandished a steel cane which was earlier cleared of explosives by the Homeland Security.

I wasn’t too old to strut with that walking stick, but without it, people wouldn’t believe I wasn’t in good health. My pallor, a result of long-standing severe anemia, was deceptively masked by my dark skin.

I was the first to board the plane. The crew members of Air France escorted me to my seat close to the aisle, a spot I chose so I could stretch my legs and walk in-flight to avoid blood clots in my legs during a six-hour transatlantic trip. They spoke French, but I insisted on English to which they cordially responded in a heavy accent.

On my arrival at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I had Benoit Geiger, a Frenchman and his Filipina wife eagerly waiting. Having friends like them was a big treat. In their small, fuel-efficient car, off we went to tour the city. I discovered a lot about Paris—a bit of its history, its genteel charm, and the pleasures it could offer its visitors.

There are many tourist attractions at center of the city. Among the most popular is the Arc de Triomphe which is a grand traffic stone landmark beside an awesome tree-lined garden commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, honoring the military achievements of the French people.
The Eiffel Tower, one of the most imposing landmarks in Europe, stands prominently in the skyline, a favorite sight which draws people to muse on the splendor of steel: a broad-based needle tapering out in the wind, hovering high, close to the clouds.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame, a magnificent 14th century ornate gothic cathedral reminds visitors of the city’s vibrant religious past. The Louvre Museum is among the countless cultural gems which show Paris’ exquisite aesthetic sensibilities—mostly pre-20th century artworks which date back before the days of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The Seine River, a picturesque waterway with beautiful arched bridges offers a romantic boat ride (Bateaux Parisiens,) giving a fascinating view of the city.

Many buildings in the center of Paris are historic. Though they’re old, the mostly beige-colored edifices are religiously maintained, giving the locale its ambience of elegance, character, and beauty. Even their shopping centers are housed in stunning old stone buildings. Not as tall as I find the refractive glass towers of New York, the Paris constructions exude a more relaxed, earth-bound feel of the metropolis.

The most exciting part of my visit is the food. The Parisians are known for their culinary delights and wonders. Their veggies are carefully presented; their meat dishes well-seasoned and yummy. A mixture of aroma and flavor goes well with French food and its famous wine and bread. Not as greasy as the American fastfood, the French meal is a true epicurean treat.

The Parisians speak their language with palpable pride. That’s why I carried a handy survival book of words to ease communication. Monsieur (mister,) mademoiselle (miss,) and merci (thank you) are some words which go a long way with bonjour (good morning) or bonsoir (good evening.) Like divine mantras, the words are quite helpful in every conversation. They are almost indispensable at the end of every dinner when it’s time to pay and give away appreciation for some food and service. An average service charge of 15% is usual, but tips of 1 to 3 Euros are appreciated.

Because there are countless wonderful things one can spend for in the heart of Paris, staying there can be captivating, if not addicting. Certainly, there are less pricey places in the world than the French capital city, but visiting the place is worth the “thank you’s,” the memory, and the cost. I didn’t even think so much that I was physically handicapped the last time I was there. =0=

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