Paris has changed. Not for the better. Not for the worse. Just different. For example, I was standing outside Telegraphe Metro trying to match the Google Map print out to the intersecting roads surrounding me. When the old man started talking to me loudly, I immediately thought he was berating me for being a foreigner in his city. For that would have been the Parisienne way, although in my experience they would have talked loudly about you, not to you.
This man was offering to help me find my way. My French was barely better than his non-existent English. I said that I was cherching for Rue Saint Fargeau, pronouncing with a hard G like the Coen brothers film. “Fargeau” he gently corrected replacing the harg G with a soft G like Jimi Hendrix Hey Joe. I had learned more French. They are right, this total immersion method really works.
English has become a bridge language. The conference I had been at was hosted by French people. There were delegates from Holland, Turkey, Egypt, and more. I’m lucky I speak English almost as well as all of the others. In French I’m not so good. I do have a small collection of useful phrases where I can “Vous avez”, and “Où est”, like the best of them. Then there the agreeable expletives which I sprinkle through other people’s answers; ah oui, c’est bon, d’accord. I might not quite understabnd what people are saying, but I do sound polite.
Other things that have changed, I hear you ask. Well quite frankly the strong smell of stale piss on the steps up to Sacre Coure on a Sunday morning is not something to be savoured.
Then there is the wedding ring street scam. As I was walking along Avenue de New York – a fairly touristy place between Eiffel Tour and Pont De L’Alma – a lady bent down in front of me and lifted from the ground what was at first site a large man’s wedding ring. The woman was fortunate to be fluent in 6 words of English. “Gold”, as she handed be the ring. “Mark”, as she showed me the inside. “Not fit” as she demonstrated that her fingers were too small for the ring. And “for you”. Now, I had been sprinkling the “ouis” and “c’est ças” to be polite and added, “give to police”. Some poor chap had lost this ring. He should get it back. But I don’t want to spend my only free afternoon getting wrapped up in French red tape. And anyway, gold isn’t quite that colour, and gold rings are not quite that light and … shit, that’s not a hallmark. And I realised how the conversation would spin out.
She would insist I take the ring.
She would discover fluency in four More words, as in “How much for me?”
I would be forced to pay up to take the ring.
“Non, police la bas!” I pointed.
40 minutes later a young man tried the same trick on the Champs Élysées. “Do ya think I’m a feckin’ edjit?” I replied. I couldn’t think of a translation.