A few weeks after I arrived in Paris, I found it very odd that I would be asked on a bi-weekly basis for directions from other Europeans, mainly French-speaking ones. I thought perhaps I was dressing better to fit in but even when I wore my very non-fashionable goretex raincoat, I would get singled out and literally followed until I felt compelled to stop and listen. [I have observed that many Parisians don’t like to stop for anyone and continue on, ignoring other lost civilians, donc, the strategy of civilians walking alongside you until you stop and listen. I think it’s a big city mentality of “I’m too busy to talk to you.” Torontonians have that problem too.] Even when my elderly Parisian neighbour was ahead of me, a stranger of similar age, looked at her and then walked straight to me to ask for directions!!
Since I am also targeted by pickpocket-loving gypsies, I have come to the conclusion that I look old and harmless. No make-up, unkempt, tired-looking… I am too slow to escape from questions (or gypsies), not dangerous enough to give you a big-city glare and then think to rob you because you don’t know your way around.
In fact, yesterday, a nicely-dressed Japanese or Chinese woman approached me and asked me where was rue St. Denis? I asked her if she spoke English and she replied no, just French. So I carried on in my stuttering French, with ums and uhs, but I knew where it was—it just took me a while for my rusty brain to sputter it out in French. In the middle of my explanation, she looked at me with a kind expression and rubbed my arm, like she was consoling me, and thanked me for my help. Huh? I recognize that type of reaction. I do that to my children when they look pained and need comforting.
So, not only do I look old and harmless but when I try to speak French, I look distressed too! So maybe it’s a good thing I will soon be returning to Toronto and looking less stressed when I speak English… Note: Anyone who knows me recognizes that I ALWAYS look stressed and tired, **no matter what language I am trying to speak!**