This past week a friend and his son came for a visit from France. Not only was it their first time in the States, but also it has been my friend’s dream to come to New York for a few years, so it was an epic trip. We were in full tourist mode from morning till night, hence my absence from my electronic quill and ink.
One thing I have realized by hosting visitors in Paris and in the States is that being with a group of tourists opens up the city for you in a different way. Some people think that natives get annoyed by tourists because they invade the city, stop in the middle of the sidewalk and take pictures, and don’t know how to speak the language. There is definitely truth to this. At the same time, when you’re tourists you attract positive attention and interest that you don’t as a resident.
In downtown Manhattan, my friend’s son struck a dramatic pose outside the subway station while his dad took a picture of him. A woman on her way to the metro belted out a big laugh and said, “Where y’all from?” These kinds of interactions don’t happen to me on a daily basis.
Near the World Trade Center site, we asked a group of burly construction guys with sticker-plastered work helmets if we could take a picture with them. One of them struggled to take a photo with my friend’s sleek phone, and his comrades teased him and told us that he still uses a rotary phone. If I were walking past these men on their break, I wouldn’t have guessed that they’d be so funny and easy to interact with, nor would I have had a reason to stop and find out.
At a global American fast-food hamburger chain that shall remain unnamed (know that I wasn’t the one who suggested having our first lunch in the United States there), the cashier wore a slight smile as my friend perused the menu, ordered a couple of items, bent down to his son to translate the ice cream toppings in French and ask him which one he wanted, communicated this to the cashier, asked me if I wanted anything else, and finally finished his order. Who can blame her for being amused? The French accent is cute!
Surely the world isn’t a rosy perfect place. There are people in the United States, France, and all over the world who dislike foreigners. I’ve had negative experiences as a foreigner in France and have seen that ugly side in the U.S. too. When you travel in a foreign country, you risk encountering people who will not like you just because you’re from a different place, and they may even talk about you to your face because they assume you don’t understand them.
In my experience, though, the positive interactions far outweigh the negative. Strolling around the Big Apple and its neighboring regions with two Frenchies showed me the patient, friendly, and welcoming side of a city that is known for constant movement and a rushing stream of commuters, lights, and sounds. Sometimes it’s a good thing that tourists who stop in the middle of the sidewalk make residents stop too.