My friend, Amada and I are currently in Paris. We have been in France for 19 days enjoying the food, wine, and sites.
Recently, we lived in an apartment in the 11thArrondissement, across the boulevard from Pere Lachaise Cemetery-resting place of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Jim Morrison among other famous names.
We chose to move because the elevator in our building was scheduled to go down for repair for 5 weeks. Fortunately we were able to get out of our rental without any problem and find an apartment in the Latin Quarter near the Pantheon and Sorbonne.
To get from here to there in France we’ve taken trains, metros, buses, and our feet. This gives us a lot of opportunity to talk with French speaking people. Well, not me, but Amada. She’s the one with four years of high school French and an ongoing love of speaking the language.
The extent of my vocabulary was 10 words. It’s grown to 12: “D’accord,” which means ‘Okay’ and “Allons-y,” which means ‘let’s go.” If I count the names of all the pastries I’ve eaten, the list would be 25 words. But that’s another story.
During our travels, we speak in English, Spanish, or French (when Amada is trying to get me to pronounce words correctly and add to my vocabulary). People overhear our conversations in the tight confines of the metro or bus, thus, we are frequently asked
“D’ou etes vous?” (“Where are you from?”)
Now, you have to understand that this seemingly innocuous statement holds a lot of weight for someone like me who grew up in the barriosof Southern California, me from Oxnard and Amada from El Monte, California.
I mean it’s not a question asked by a gangbanger or thug type of character, so it shouldn’t hold any menace, but it’s a question that triggers my memory to give an alert response. The question causes my eyes to narrow and I glance at Amada.
Amada tells me that the French don’t take too well to American’s. She explained that the question ‘where are you from,’ really means, what is the country of your origin.
“D’ou etes vous?”
“Mexicain. Mais j’haibite a Califonie.” Mexican, I live in California, says Amada.
They light up when she says this; they get so happy. It’s like this is the best news they’ve heard all week.
I don’t know whether to go through the entire “I’m second generation Mexican living in California,” or not, but when the asker of the question looks toward me I say I live in California.
They proceed to remark on Mexico’s rich culture, the Aztecs, the Mayans, the great artists, the music. Sometimes they tell us that it’s their dream to visit the tropical areas and the pyramids. Sometimes they mention the cartels, and shake their head, in sorrow-‘such bad news for Mexico.’
The next thing they mention is that we look ‘exotic.’ This surprises me since France has such a mixture of beautiful people: French, African, Egyptians, and Austrians. And it further surprises me because we are women of a certain age: over 49.
Many of the French try to practice their Spanish or English with us and don’t want to talk in French. Many of them are tri-lingual. All of the French people we have met are cordial and wish us a good vacation. I don’t really know if this is because we said we are Mexican, or that Amada spoke to them in French, or a combination of both.
What I do know, is that after they depart, I marvel at the appreciation they have for Mexicans. In my entire life, I have never had such a positive response from someone of another culture. Imaginate, (imagine) I found this appreciation outside my own country.
Now, I’m not saying that this will be the same experience for all Mexican’s or Mexican American’s or Chicano’s or Latino’s. This is just two Latinas experiences in France. If we count Salma Hayek, it would be three Latinas. (She’s married to a French man and had a “Chevalier” bestowed on her by the President Sarkozy of France).
Being welcomed and appreciated for being Mexican is a new experience. It has caused some mild confusion on my part, I scratch my head and wonder why the French have this attitude. Perhaps they are taught Mexican history in their schools and they view ancient cultures with respect. Maybe it’s because we’re friendly and try to speak their language, remembering to say “Excusez-moi,” “Bonjour Madame,” “Merci,” and the like. (Which is what I recommend travelers to do-be polite).
Whatever the case, this experience has made for an enjoyable time and hopefully will last for the remaining 12 days. Au Revoir.