Third-year English major Anne Whitney spent last summer on the UVA in Lyon program in Lyon, France. Read how a trip to Paris made her realize how familiar she had become with her host city.
This past weekend I met one of my high-school friends in Paris for a day trip, and on that trip, I discovered many differences between Paris and Lyon. It was my first time in Paris, and there was a definite shock of being there among so many tourists after living my authentic French experience in Lyon! Of course, Grace and I tried to fit in as many touristy excursions as possible since it was the first time in Paris for both of us, but even so I was surprised at how different the two cities are.
First of all, I truly realized how comfortable I was in French cities and especially with my routine in Lyon. I knew where most things were, where to go and where not to go, and didn’t brush up against many other Americans. However, in Paris, it was to be expected that I wouldn’t know exactly where to go to lunch to not be subjected to a tourist trap, but I did not expect to hear as much English as I did. I guess that was just naiveté on my part, but I heard more English than French! It was then that I realized that Paris is much more of an international city than a French city – though I’m not sure a French person, especially a native Parisian, would want to hear me say that.
I also realized the clout that Sciences-Po has among the French. Grace and I went into three museums, and in all of them she got in for free because of her six-month student visa for her studies at the London School of Economics; I didn’t have a similar visa for France, but every time I told the worker that I studied at Sciences-Po Lyon, I received a hearty congratulations. I then felt kind of like a poseur since I didn’t put in the same amount of work to get there that French university students did – I didn’t take the exams, the extra preparatory classes in the last two years of high school, and I wasn’t French. I still appreciated the name-recognition though!
The sensory input in Paris is also much different than in Lyon. In Lyon, I was used to getting whiffs of the sewer, of cigarette smoke, of body odor, but also of the boulangeries and restaurants. In Paris, there aren’t as many smells! Not as many people smoked, since there were so many tourists, particularly American, and I guess the bustle of city life covered up the other smells that became interwoven in my daily life in Lyon. It seemed a little more sterile – and I missed Lyon! Paris was beautiful, of course, and the museums and culture were amazing, but that night I was glad to be back in Lyon with my friends and the myriad of smells.