Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | June 14, 2010

A Stanger in a Strange Land

In the realm of Challenging Destinations to Visit – Destinations Outside the Comfort Zone, you might say – Paris probably isn’t in the top 100 Challenging places. Yes, understanding the norms of French culture can be confusing at times, but Paris is safe, it is relatively easy to navigate, and it is not completely unfamiliar. However, as I stood alone at CDG waiting for my bag, I realized that I was indeed out of my comfort zone. My French is passable but not great. What struck me most, however, was not that I was going to have to get by on my high-school level foriegn language skills, but that I was going to have to mange on my own.

It seemed to take forever for my bag to come out, and I began to get nervous. Normally I would spend this nervous energy peppering my husband with questions: do you think they lost it? The baggage help desk isn’t open yet, what should I do? How long should I wait? But my husband wasn’t there, so these questions were left rattling about in my head. I had to provide my own answers: I don’t know, I don’t know and I don’t know. Suddenly it ocurred to me that I was truly alone. No husband, no kids, no responsibility, but also no one by my side, no one to help me should I need something. Not even someone to talk things over with should things go awry. I started to wonder if this trip was such a good idea.

My bag came along soon enough, but the slightly lonely feeling clung to me. As I left the arrivals hall, I saw a big EF sign with the familiar (and rather unattractive) circle logo. I had worked at EF, a large global travel company, for several years. Caught up in the euphoria of familiarity, I nearly ran over to the guide to introduce myself. Why, we were almost colleagues! Maybe we knew the same people! Then I realized that it had been over a decade since I worked there, and turnover is such that EF-years are like dog years: one year there equals seven years at any other company. Everyone I worked with was long gone, and the people who replaced them were probably long gone too. Encountering a young guide working for EF for the summer was not going to change the fact that I was alone. So I simply picked up my bags and headed to my hotel.

I settled into my room, my home for the next few days, and resisted the urge to go to sleep. A quick run would be a much better way to combat jet-lag. As I knew it would be from previous visits, running around the Champs de Mars was a nice diversion. In addition to being an easy short loop, it was also populated with runners of all types, some wearing the latest compression shorts, some wearing baggy gray sweatpants. My favorite ones were the women running with purses slung across their bodies (no lie: there were two of them). I saw that there was to be a festival in the Champ de Mars, including a concert later that night. I wasn’t entirely sure what it would be, something about Russia, but I made a note to come back and check it out.

After succumbing to the urge to nap, I roused myself and spent some time walking about the city. I wandered over to the 16th, an area familiar to me after visiting friends who lived there several years ago. I grabbed something to eat and returned to the Champ de Mars to take in an outdoor concert performed by what turned out to be the Russian National Orchestra. I sat on the grass, listening to the music and watching the throngs of people around me.  As dusk fell on the city, I realized I hadn’t spoken more than a few words to anyone all day. But instead of feeling lonely, I simply felt quiet and relaxed. I think I could get used to this, not forever, but for a few days. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

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