Off the train, and into the streets. It was just after nine pm local time, when we arrived at the Gare Du Nord, Paris. We wheeled our bags through the city streets. At first, it seemed no different from the night streets of outer city London. Homeless, bottles on the ground, dirty sidewalks; but, as we progressed, it darkened. We pushed through what appeared to be an almost exclusively Indian district with an unlimited supply of Indian restaurants, before making it to La Chapelle Metro station. Around the metro, were youths from all different cultures congregating in the night streets, drinking from open canisters, and smoking hand rolled cigarettes, and joints.
We crept further towards our accommodation passing groups of homeless youths. A speck of white skin, other than our own was not visible. Although, to pin point a collective race for this district could not be done. This was indeed a melting pot of multicultural ethnicity, all without a home, and doing it tough on the cold Parisian sidewalks. Sleeping bags, and bottles of piss lay in tight corners, and leftover food is smashed and mashed into the sidewalk. Eyes of disgust peered up from under blankets, and foam mattress’ as we walked by, wheeling our luggage through their bedrooms. We crossed the street, and passed more youths standing around trading cigarettes and joints, and drinking from bottles of beer and wine, as we edged closer to our room.
We met our host out on the street, and were led through three large-heavy-locked-doors, before winding our way up the narrow spiral staircase, to our Parisian loft – where a descendant from Charlie Chaplin, apparently lived for many years. We tried our hand at picking out a place to eat, really taking in the spirit of the city, and its culture of late evening dinners. It was sometime around ten when we came across a busy restaurant. We ventured in, and the Maitre d spoke many words which we did not understand. My tired eyes, rendered my synapses utterly useless, and I blurt out in a less than graceful manner:
Lucky for us, he shot back.
‘You only speak English. Table for four, dinner, or drinks?’
Ah, yes, how disabled we were, not being duel linguists in Europe. A far stretch from back home, where many times I have heard my countrymen cry in disgust over anyone who would dare come to our historical land of English heritage, and speak none of our language.
‘I think they should make you pass an English test at the border. It’s pathetic, to come to our land, and not speak our language…’
It’s hard to go through life in Aus, and not hear something as blatantly ignorant as this from a boganistic relative, or friend. Usually, a hissy fit of this magnitude happens after a short, and minimally awkward interaction with someone of an Asian background. But, there we were, Australians with so much basis in history, and heritage in somebody else’s land. Intruding on someone else’s local restaurant, and blurting out the ugly phrase “English”. How handicapped we felt, and how handicapped we were, as they placed down their menu exclusively in French.
We searched the words in google trying to wrap our heads around what to order. Before our waiter returned to the table, and we pathetically submitted and acknowledged that we had not decided, as we could not read their menu. Although, he explained almost the entire menu to us, going through each dish individually in English. It failed to prevent me from ordering Tartare. I sat there thinking, I would branch out, explore their culture. Cuisses de grenouille, and escargot are so mainstream. Let’s try a real French delicacy, let’s eat the local’s food. All this gusto, and well-intended bravery shrivelled away, when a lump of red mincemeat completely uncooked, with a raw egg on top was placed before me. Decorated with some beautiful pesto around the plate, it still looked like something you would feed your dog back home – perhaps, if you had mince that were about to expire, and one left over egg you didn’t wish to keep.
Now, I don’t wish to insult the French, or their culinary dishes, but I physically couldn’t stomach more than two forkfuls. The texture was exactly how you would expect raw mincemeat to be. How brave I thought I was back home cooking my steak rare, and almost blue. Good for you mate, trying new things. But, this was not blue, this was red – and bleeding. I ate my French fries, and waited for the awkward interaction with our waiter.