Thursday, November 10, 2005
As I said, Paris is ALWAYS a good idea
Paris is now less than two weeks away, and I am getting very excited. I am practicing my French (three years of high school French comes back surprisingly quickly, even if that was well over 10 years ago), reading guidebooks and planning our itinerary.
Some of my friends have asked me if I’m worried about the unrest. I’m really not; all of the rioting so far has been taking place well out into the suburbs, and the only time I will even see any of the results will be on the train into and out of the city. Even this is reported as safe; while trains have had rocks thrown at them, this has been late at night; we’ll be traveling through those areas during the day.
I haven’t even looked into postponing the trip; there’s no use in living in fear, or you’ll never go anywhere. There are dangerous neighborhoods in Detroit that are closer to my house than we’ll be to the disturbances in Paris. I drive through neighborhoods on the way to work that I know not to stop in. In a metropolitan area, it stands to reason that threatening situations could exist near you. You don’t let it worry you.
And I think the final factor in the equation is that I consider myself a Detroiter. That doesn’t make me a badass, or someone who thinks he can go anywhere and be fine because he’s a Detroiter, or even that it gives me any special amount of street cred, although it has. (The best way to shut down a Carolina Redneck who sneers, “Y’all ain’t from ‘round here” is to reply, calmly “No, I’m from Detroit.” That smoothes things out real quick.)
I think that being a Detroiter, and in fact probably being from any major city, makes you more aware of your surroundings. When you’re in a metropolitan area where people are stacked on top of one another, you’re better able to feel out any situation, and decide immediately if you don’t want to be there. I am originally from a rural area, but I think I have picked up this skill when I moved to the city. My brother has never lived in the city, and he is usually quite oblivious to situations.
Is it a survival skill? I think so. I think it’s something one needs to develop in order to make it in congested areas. Awareness of one’s surroundings is important.
When we were in New Orleans, stumbling drunkenly from bar to bar around the French Quarter, we accidentally walked out of the touristy area. Within 100 yards, we realized that things were very uncomfortable, and people were staring (even though we were wearing feather boas, that's pretty standard for the French Quarter), it was painfully obvious we didn't want to be where we were, and we promptly turned around and walked back in to a better area.
Conversely, when we were in London, we followed a friend’s recommendation to check out a particular neighborhood. When we got there, it was obvious it was a poor rough neighborhood. Buildings were boarded up, and graffiti was everywhere. But the people on the street were genuinely friendly, the food was excellent, and the Guinness was cheap. We didn’t feel unsafe, and we had a great night.
I think that says it all about being from the city; it doesn’t make you tougher than anyone else, it does let you know when you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, or when an area is safer than it looks.
So we’re going to Paris. We’re going a bit cautiously; the U.S. Embassy will have our itinerary and information in case anything happens, but I am more concerned about being able to order a glass of wine without looking like an ass than being swept up in civil unrest.