Student learns lessons the hard way while in France


August 20, 2010 – Lexington, Kentucky, USA – Martha Groppo, Features Editor of the Kentucky Kernel. (Credit image: © David Stephenson)

The French are rude and nasty. How many times have you heard this? Probably a couple dozen. Well, France was the country in which I began my 22-country trek this week. After my stint as a Kernel editor, I decided to take a very long trip. (You would, too. It’s exhausting. All features press releases and complaints can be forwarded to the new features editor, Joy Priest. That’s J-O-Y P-R-I-E-S-T.) This summer, I’m traveling through Europe, and I will circumnavigate the globe in the fall.

But back to this nasty Frenchmen business. I’ve decided I don’t agree with the rumors, but it took me a while to get to that point …

For being the City of Love, Paris didn’t show me much of it. It rained the entire time, I was fined 40 euros for not writing the date on my train pass in pen, had to reserve a seat on an otherwise empty train for another 36 euros, and then had to pay 20 euros to leave the country since Francois, the dashing train agent, failed to tell me the train he advised me to reserve goes through Belgium. These experiences left me begging Paris to stop hating on me. These bad experiences hindered my view of the French, perhaps, but in the midst of the annoyances, I learned that the City of Love is more about loving it.

After four semesters of French courses at UK, I was pleased to see that I could actually understand what was going on. I could order my duck confit and strawberry glace with confidence (the only meal I had something other than a baguette with various combinations of cheese or meat the entire time I was in France). The churches I visited, Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle, left me breathless. I took in more art than I can fathom at the D’Orsay, Louvre and Pompadou. The ornate splendor of Versailles is unforgettable. Let’s face it: the French know how to impress. They have a flair for the ornate, delicate, an imposing that can only be grown with time — time that America hasn’t quite enough of to develop yet.

I was surprised to learn that the Parisian metro doesn’t open till 5:30 a.m. — a time at which many of our American cities are already bustling with commuters. Walking to the train station to catch my 6 a.m. train to Berlin, I hardly saw a soul. Sayings abound about the French “working to live” while other people “live to work.” A bit harsh, perhaps, but “living to work” does partially summarize our American intensive approach to life at times. My bad experiences in France reminded me to take a deep breath, hum “Que sera sera” and say “C’est la vie” a little more often when I couldn’t control the things not going my way.

But with beautiful art, baguettes, the Bastille and boutiques — what more can a girl really ask for? In the grand scheme of my big adventure, Paris did show me some love.