As you may or may not know, I returned from my dream vacation of being in Paris, France a little over a week ago. It was my first time ever leaving the country, and what’s more I went utterly and completely alone. I speak no French, and had no family contacts to speak of. The best I had going for me was a few acquaintances made through contacts from others. And honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life. One that will always be unforgettable.
Now, I thought about a number of topics I could have covered for my blog. I could have done a piece on Parisian fashion. This to me, however, seemed like the most obvious of directions to go. I could have written an in-depth critique on the restaurants and all the food I got to enjoy. But, honestly, I would not have had any negative things to say, so it would have turned into a rant on how great the food is everywhere in Paris. Of course there are also the many monuments, the gardens, the shopping… all of which make for viable topics, but bored me when I thought of writing about them because they had been done so many times before.
Finally, an idea came to me as a sat in the passenger seat of my mother’s car on a family outing together. Since my return, I had noticed a change in me. I was warned this would happen, but I was not prepared for such a noticeable difference in myself. There seems to be a calm in me that had once eluded me. My fears and doubts, which were so significant once before, just do not seem to have me in suspended fear as they once did. And that’s when a topic came to me, “What I Learned in Paris.”
There is something to be said about exploring the world. There is more to be said when you decide to leave for the world and you are alone. During this time on my own, I had an opportunity to learn much about myself, just when I thought I was slowly running out of new things to learn. So, I thought I would share these with you.
1. What’s important to me, is not important to you… and vice versa.
On my second day or so in Paris, I did the unthinkable and I mistakenly sat my mother’s gift down and left it unattended, while I was shopping. When it occurred to me that it was no where near my things, I had a mild heart attack. Honestly, I felt like a terrible daughter! How could I lose my mother’s gift (which was also to be her Mother’s Day gift) while selfishly shopping for myself? Yep. I would win worse daughter of 2015 for sure. Luckily, I met a woman who was in the same tour group as I, and she spoke perfect French. So, to help me, she asked the sales associates behind the counter if anything had been turned over. Their response:
“Yes.” To which they both went right back to the tasks they were doing before we had interrupted them.
Relieved to know I would by getting my purchase back, I was still rather anxious from the initial shock. However, my anxiousness quickly mutated into annoyance as I waited another 5 minutes or so for the sales’ clerks to decide they had finished enough of their first task to stop and hand me my bag, which, by this point, I could see sitting on the counter behind them.
Normally, I would have wanted to snap. Why not simply hand me the bag the moment you had confirmed you had it? It was sitting right there. It would not have taken a minute. Plus, it was obviously important to me. It was when I made that statement to myself that my perspective immediately began to shift. It was obviously important to ME, but certainly not to them. And I could not project my feelings of anxiousness onto them in anyway. All I could do is sit and wait, like a good little tourist.
Needless to say, this was a humbling reminder of my own insignificance in this world. However, do not mistake me, I do not see it as something negative. In fact, this reminder of my own smallness in the grand scheme of things, makes me more appreciative to those I am important to. When you matter to another person in a world where you could easily be forgotten, that is something to cherish.
2. What will be, really will be…
What is the most clichéd, toursity thing one could do while in Paris? Take your time, I’ll give you a minute to think about it… done? If you thought, “Visit the Eiffel Tower,” then you are correct, my darling! So, I’m sure you can forgive me when I say it had to be done. However, it was not a simple matter of just going to the Eiffel Tower. There is a goal of taking the elevator to the zenith of the tower that is a matter of tourist pride! I was determined to meet this lofty goal.
It took 3 attempts before I was able to make my way to the summit of the Tower. The first time it was entirely too crowded. The second time I was literally turned away at the window as the time to stop taking passengers had came right as it was my turn to pay for a ticket. The final attempt there was a high security risk that omitted anyone from visiting the top of the tower; a full on police and military presence, the park cleared out… the works! By the third attempt, I was near to tears with disappointment. I was nearing the final days of my vacation, and running out of time! So, when I learned that visitors were not being allowed to the top, I asked a guard standing beside the line if it was even worth it to get in line.
He replied, “Sure. Maybe they’ll let people to the summit by the time you reach the ticket window.” This to me was not promising in any way. I would have liked more of a guarantee, but that is simply not the way. I learned while in Paris that there is lightheartedness at which life is taken. Like with my mother’s (nearly) lost gift, I learned that there is no need to be anxious. You sort of just have to trust that it will work out as it should, and if you did not get what you want, then it was probably for a good reason. Trusting – especially of others and in life in general – is not my strength.
However, this time, I trusted. I took the guard’s advice and got in line with the simple hope that I would get to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower… and you know what? I did. The view was simply spectacular!
3. We are so utterly alone, and completely surrounded.
So, I went on my dream vacation alone. Not that I wanted to go alone, but that when I began to plan this trip over a year ago, I could not convince any one to join me in the endeavor. I would have liked the company.In fact, I know I would have enjoyed a trip with my best friend or – if I had one – a romantic trip for two with a boyfriend. But, alas, this was not to be the case for me. However, I remember sitting down and looking myself in the mirror.
“Reneé,” I began, “If you sit around waiting for others, you’ll never get to do half the things you want to do.” It was with this statement in mind that I went forward with my plans. Flash forward to a year later, I’m disembarking an airplane after a 10 hour, 17 minute, and 21 second non-stop flight to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris and I am all by myself.
I was so very alone. No friends or family. I was in a country where English is not the dominant language – though that could also be questioned here in Los Angeles as well. I was on my own, and I was both excited and afraid.
However, fate smiled down on me, because I happened to meet a woman in my tour group who was alone herself coming to Paris for the first time, as well. She speaks French, being of French-Canadian descent and we hit it off from the moment we sat together on our tour bus taking us to the hotel. In fact, we got along so well, and had so many of the same interests, that we spent the rest of the trip hanging out together, travelling throughout the city by subway and bus, and hitting every BIG tourist spot in Paris, and we still had time leftover to revisit a few places, squeeze in some new ones, and do a little extra shopping!
Meeting her was one of the best parts of my trip! If I had not gone alone, if I had someone else with me, then I would not have been compelled to speak to any one else. Being alone, I was forced to talk to others, and it led to me making a friend and having an even better trip than I expected!
However, I also realized that as alone as I felt when I first landed, I was also completely surrounded by hundreds of people, all of them alone and not. There is nothing, inherently, wrong with being alone. Being alone only becomes a problem when you start to feel lonely. Alone and lonely are two very different things. I came to Paris alone, but I was not lonely. But even more importantly, there are plenty of others, standing right beside us, who are just as alone – and yes, some of them are lonely. My advice – and what I have learned – a simple “Hello,” can make all the difference in the world.
So, in the end, Paris was so much more than just my first trip out of the country. It really was a life changing and reflective experience for me. I grew in those 8 days more than I have grown in the past month. I found that I am still capable of building connections later in life, that I have an adventurous side, that I absolutely LOVE visiting other countries, that flying international can be a real headache – but that I am capable of managing it all.
Maybe, some day, I will get to have that romantic trip for two with that one person meant for me. But until then…
May we all be sweetly inspired.
Credits: All photos taken and edited by A. Reneé for Darling Afflatus, 2015.