The grandeur that is Paris has been one of the most significant pre-conceptions we digested in public culture in Egypt.
My first day in Paris was not probably the best. My first hour out of L’Hotel Cayre where I’m staying included an unexpected racial harassment at the very posh Boulevard Saint-Germain. It was an explicitly organized right-wing mob looking for ‘foreigners’. That was around 6.30 or 7.00 PM as Parisian shops are closing down.
There might be no need to elaborate on the details of that harassment. But I had been totally offended and scared. I went back to the hotel almost pledging I won’t come out again and a very negative impression of Paris so unexpectedly became my dominant narrative. But that was to subside soon.
I tweeted about what happened and I received a huge response from both French tweeps as well as others who have been to France before. Most were citing it’s a very rare issue and a few others were saying that they faced it alot.
The people I have interacted with on twitter or met in person afterwards in Paris have given me many explanations. As I said most said “C’est rare” but still attributed this incident to the increasingly anti-foreigner discourse French president Sarkozy has put forward in the past several years. They also said that in such election time, the right wing en general is increasing its anti-foreigner mania to get the right wing vote.
But a British journalist working in Paris brought in an interesting perspective as well. She suggested French political culture has not reached enough of ‘political correctness’ like the UK. She stated that it’s unimaginable in Britain that a politician would so explicitly slur or incite hatred against foreigners or people of different color for political point-scoring.
Le vrai francais
Many French tweeps were so eager to habilitate the negative impression I received. I was suddenly invited over coffee by so many next Sunday. Had I bought a local phone SIM card earlier, I could have met all of them. But what the world has got for you, I believe, has always been more exciting than your own plans.
The young man I could, without a phone, arrange a meeting with waited for me outside the Rue du Bac metro station. Twitter helped this happen. He runs a website that lists any events happening in Paris. Lucky me ! the guy whose mission is to promote the city is the one showing me around.
We spent a good couple of hours sightseeing and then discussing French politics and culture over my much-awaited coffee and French croissant.
Throughout Sunday, I met with lots of contacts I’ve developed either over Facebook or Twitter over the last year or two. Some are french and some are not. But the socialization and places we visited contributed alot to my rehabilitation process after the unfortunate harassment on the first day. Indeed,
I assume my current impression of France has successfully trespassed the negative incident. And It seems once again the grandeur that is Paris is not only a pre-conception, c’est la realite de peuple francais.