I have heard stories about Parisians impatient with people who speak only one language, but I have witnessed instead a willingness to help on nearly each occasion my words have failed me (and this is a lot). Looking for the laundromat was especially daunting as I cannot keep left and right in my brain, but a man at a Chinese restaurant and a woman at a vegetable stand pointed me in the right direction (right across from my hotel). I was several blocks away at the time. They do not offer directions with street names (in fact they do not seem to recall them), but they know that after two rights it will be on the left hand sie in the middle of the street.

At dinner time, we vacillate between using the translated menu, or not. I know the words for some of the things I do not like to eat and the surprise for finding new dishes I might never have been introduced to had I known the words in the first place. Many restaurants not only have menus translated in English. They have multiple other languages to accommodate the foreign visitor.

In the Louvre, they offer a plethora of maps in languages including: Arabic, Chinese, Deutsch, English, Espanol, Francais, Italiano, Japanese, Polski, Potugues, and Russian. Even the descriptions of the artists, galleries, and time periods (but not plates captioning each piece of art) are multilingual.

The maps are color-coded, the English speakers carry red; the French: turquoise; the Chinese: hot pink. This makes it easy to pick out people with a common language (though often very different accents; take the two US military couples from Texas visiting the Louvre from a base in Germany and talking on the phone with one of their mothers in Alabama). The color-coding promotes camaraderie (and opportunities to meet other English (or slow-talking Spanish) speakers) and necessary (though not guaranteed) discretion when people watching.

The Louvre

The Louvre

I love detailed instructions, especially in clear words (rather than illustrations or maps). This is not an advertisement, but the Rick Steve’s Pocket Paris not only does fit in a large pocket, but it gives detailed information about what to see, how to view it, and how long it might take. While I am sure he did not visit the Louvre on free museum day (the first Sunday of every month) and his estimate of two hours to skim through the Louvre was laughable, his recommendation to look at the gargantuan depiction of The Last Supper opposite the Mona Lisa before trying to get a peek at her was excellent preparation for viewing tiny Mona. This juxtaposition was constant in the Louvre, enormous side by side with miniature, all with breathtaking detail.

The Language of Love

The Language of Love

I stumbled across this celebration outside of City Hall. M and I attended a conference reception in the building the evening before, and here I was witnessing a quite different government function.

The marriage caught my attention because of the woman tossing rice rather than the bride with her understated dress and unfussy bouquet.

French: Entre deux coeurs qui s’aiment, nul besoin de paroles.

English: Two hearts in love need no words.

–Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is eighty-one stories high and more than 10,000 tons. A restaurant and a radio tower, it is a breathtaking art piece that, among other highlights, sparkles (around ten at night as if it is decorated with thousands of the Fourth of July sparklers) and features the names of mathematicians and scientists.

Cooking, Tightrope Walking, and Dancing in the Streets

Cooking, Tightrope Walking, and Dancing in the Streets

This man is roasting corn in a barrel of fire on a bustling street corner close to a Metro station. No one seems excited by his presence or his occupation other than those who want a delicious ear of corn.

Last night, as we walked along the Seine, the banks were swarming with people picnicking into dusk. In one area, a group had fashioned a tightrope (perhaps two feet off the ground) between two trees, and people would take turns attempting the journey, laughing in the cool night air.

Across the way, there were small amphitheaters. Each area featured a different form of dancing and music. People walked up or rode up by bicycle and strapped on their dancing shoes.

Pink Piano

Pink Piano

“[When] humans come together for any reason, music is there: weddings, funerals, graduation from college, men marching off to war, stadium sporting events, a night on the town, prayer, a romantic dinner, mothers rocking their infants to sleep … music is a part of the fabric of everyday life.” Daniel J. Levitin, THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC
This piano was in the Eurostar station in London. The keyboard lid, opened, asks: “Play me, I’m yours.” This tiny virtuoso was highly skilled at capturing crowds of attention as he tinkered with the keys.

(Since I’m focused on language here: According to Karen Sprey of gizmag: “It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words but the same image can have different meanings across cultures. Music, however, may bridge the cultural divide: a new study has shown that regardless of culture or previous exposure, people were accurately able to recognize three emotions in Western music – happiness, sadness and fear.” Sprey, Karen. “Music Really Is a Universal Language.” Gizmag, n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2012. .)