Even though I could not speak French I was able to learn how to order an espresso, and the occasional double espresso. Other handy phrases were: thank you, you're welcome, good morning, good evening, and ten tickets please. I also fell in love with riding the screaming rails of the Metro.
Another key to my traveling success was blending. I wandered the city map-less and without any expectation of being treated any differently than a native. I dressed in the same style as an average, working, Parisian. I was very disappointed in my fellow Americans who would crowd into a cafe leaving bags and satchels in the aisles for the waiters to trip over, or the complaints when they weren't served immediately. I generally stayed silent as I sipped my espresso watching the endlessly fascinating parade of Paris rush past. I loved my anonymity and got a kick out of Americans coming up to me, leaning into my face, and shouting in English while pointing "MAY - I - TAKE - THIS - CHAIR?". I would just nod and gesture in response, not wanting to break my spell.
Instead of being rude I found the French in Paris to be incredibly warm. I found myself hugged and embraced by perfect strangers (and the occasional waiter). I lived by the rule for a tourist: "Never appear lost" and one afternoon encountered a French woman desperately lost and asking directions. She was so flustered and anxious I waited for a pause and when I tried to apologize for not speaking French she suddenly laughed, "Ah! No French!" grabbed me and kissed me. We walked arm in arm to the nearest Metro kiosk where she checked the map there. I love the French!
Sometimes when I end a post I feel like Proust and his Madelaine's. One thought opens a floodgate of memory. Paris...
In bocca al lupo. m & v