The overnight flight to Paris is brutal. Hurry, hurry eat dinner, out go the lights. Then three hours later they wake you up for breakfast, the sun already well into morning. Of course we didn't sleep, we were in coach where the little blanket and eyemasks offered did little to alleviate the discomfort of essentially a tight chair. As we disembarked, we had to file through the first class section where every seat becomes a bed. As if we peasants needed another reason to hate the rich. I'll just bet you they got hot washcloths in the morning.
I don't know when it happens exactly, where you get to the point of exhaustion that could be called bleary-eyed. But it happened sometime that morning between landing and getting to the hotel. At the front desk, the lady was very nice and had our reservation all ready for us but sadly, no room until two in the afternoon. It was now 11am. She suggested we visit Sacre Coeur just nearby and gave us a map. Off we went to hike up the hill, a big gnarly hill whose steep stair-lined sides seriously attempted murder on us. (I wonder how it would be now, now that I'm nicotine free) At the top, panting, we joined the crowds of tourists that made the place feel more like an anthill. Touristy. It would become tiresome early on, this constant badgering by souvenir peddlers, petition signer uppers, tour operators, and scammers. I thought Mexican beaches were a pain in the ass, but European sightseeing locales really (take the cake is too hackneyed and I can't think of a suitable replacement), and I do mean really. As we were descending the stairs, admiring the panoramic view of Paris beneath us, we heard something we would hear hundreds of times during the trip.
Do you speak English?
Often it was in a pleading voice, the kind of way someone who was lost or needed help would ask the question. The man was just in front of me, searching my eyes for a response. If I may, I'd like to blame the bleary eye for what came next. I said yes. Then suddenly he was so grateful to have found someone who spoke English, where am I from and when did I get here, is it my first time. As I'm answering his questions, I'm all off-kilter by his needing-help vibe being replaced by a jovial welcome-wagon guy vibe. He asked me to stick out my finger, and in a flabbergastingly bad move, I complied. He promptly put a thread around my finger and started to tell me his story and where he was from. Now Serge, who had already been down a couple more flights of stairs, has come up, and these are his words later, "to rescue me". Within moments, my guy had a friend who had Serge's finger out and was doing the same macrame thing with the threads, peppering him with questions. Mind you, we hadn't slept in 30 hours at this point. Now I'm no idiot, though the evidence would surely suggest otherwise, and I did have a nice friendly chat while the man fashioned a little bracelet and tied it around my wrist. It was a clever little mafioso technique - you have to destroy it if you want to take it off, so now we owe 10 euros, and we're lucky because, as he confided, he charges the Americans 12 euros. I laughed and said, I'll give you one euro, that's a ridiculous price, it's a bit of thread, what does it cost two cents? Then they got mad and threatened to get the authorities. I said, look, I'll give you the change in my pocket. As it turned out I had I think 8 euros in my pocket. Totally scammed we were, and believe me, after that, whenever I was approached with that question, I acted like I didn't hear anyone speaking. It was not the nicest way to be christened by the city, but who knows, maybe that eight euro scam saved me much more by sharpening my awareness and keeping my wits about me. It took a few days, but it wasn't long before I was grateful.
After it happened, Serge and I both felt ashamed, how could we be such country bumpkins, rubes, suckers. We got over it fast enough (Hello, we're on vacation in PARIS) and soaked up the sights with a little bit better caution about us.
And it's weird, because that whole drama last week, though more of an emotional scam than financial, made me feel those same feelings. And in similar ways, I've a bit more caution about me.