by David Benjamin
“There ought to be a law prohibiting over three Americans going anywhere abroad together.”
— Will Rogers
PARIS — Tourists, tourists, tourists! You’re everywhere, and you’re underfoot. You bump into me, you bump into each other. What in God’s name are you eating? Why are you eating on the street? People don’t eat on the street! And you’re feeding your kids — on the street? Where were you raised? In a kennel? And why did you bring kids? American kids don’t belong in Paris. They’re uncouth. This is the most civilized city in the world. Your kids you should’ve left, in a kennel.
Kids like dogs. Dogs like kids.
Tourists, tourists, tourists! You wouldn’t act like this in Topeka. Or Sioux City. Why here? Come on. You can do better. Just observe a few basic courtesies. Think of this as someone else’s living room.
Speaking of living rooms, every little store here, on rue de Rivoli, on the boulevard St. Germain, on rue du Cherche-Midi, all of them, they’re small, neat, cozy, just like your living room back in Swampscott. People don’t just walk into your parlor and rummage through your drawers, do they? They at least say hi.
So, say hi. It goes like this: “Bonjour.”
Pronounced, “Bone-zhoo.” Not “Bonn-jewer.”
Is that hard? Why the hell didn’t you learn even one native word? You had your reservations for weeks. You had seven hours on your flight. You couldn’t crack a phrasebook in eight weeks and seven hours?
Here’s a rule: Loud English is not French. Or Spanish, Portuguese, or German. It’s just loud, and rude.
Yeah, yeah, you think they’re rude — these Frenchmen. Your basis for this? A few surly waiters in the worst restaurants in Paris. Why are these restaurants so bad? Because they’re located in tourist vortices — celebrated sites that are always vaguely disappointing, possibly because they’re crawling with thousands of list-checking rubbernecks just like you. And barely any Parisians, except for those waiters, who are tired — tired after years of tourists who never practice overseas the manners they use at home — tired of you, tired of loud English, tired of serving omelettes for breakfast and cappuccino for lunch.
Just once, step outside your goddamn vortex. Go toward the Champs de Mars instead of back to the mob along the Seine. Take two paces away from the rue de St. Louis en l’Ile. Two paces and you’re suddenly alone! No elbows. No cadaver-white legs in store-creased Bermuda shorts. No “Ma-a-a-a! Can we go have pizza now?” Or, walk down avenue Victor Hugo instead of the frigging Champs Elysées. Skip the Louvre in favor of the Musée de Vie Romantique. Go on, have an adventure. Art is art, and the Muslims don’t bite!
You’ll find Parisians there, our Parisians, the nice, friendly, helpful ones. But if you go there, please dress properly. Really, fella, Paris isn’t that hot, ever. You can wear pants. You should wear pants. Please, wear pants! You wear pants at home in Sedalia. For God’s sake, look at your legs! No male over the age of 35 should expose his legs to anyone but a doctor.
And shoes? Those giant, bloated, brand-new Da-Glo fuchsia Nikes that set you back $120? What were you thinking? You’re not LeBron James! Look around. Sure, there are Parisians who wear sneakers, but they’re Keds, or Chuck Taylors. They’re sleek, they’re understated. They don’t look like they’ve been ripped off the feet of someone named Bozo.
And what’s with the ballcap? Nobody here — nobody! — has ever heard of the Marlins, or even the Cubs. They don’t care. Unglue the ballcap from your scalp (especially at the dinner table) and don’t — unless you’re a hat person (you know if you are) — don’t buy one here. Avoid, particularly the phony Panamas they sell at tourist traps. A real Panama? Fine — but you can’t afford a real one, shmuck, not if you’re dining nightly at one of those cut-rate dumps that feeds you three “authentic French” courses for 15 euros.
Yes, I have a hat store. I’m a hat person. Real hats, beautiful, tasteful. I won’t tell you where it is.
Look at yourself! Why the hell are you standing in line? For what? For ice cream? You want authentic Berthillon ice cream — which, you know!, is only sold out of two shoppes on the Ile St. Louis? Where was that written? In a guidebook? Okay, first of all, it’s just ice cream. Cherry Garcia, in the frozen section at your local Piggly Wiggly? It’s better. You want great ice cream? Madison, Wisconsin. Babcock Hall!
But you still want your Berthillon? Okay, but ditch the stupid queue. Go to a café, sit down, order ice cream from the nice waiter. It’ll be Berthillon. There are a hundred cafés in Paris that serve this stuff. That’s right. Your all-knowing guidebook don’t know dick.
Oh my God, another queue! What are you guys waiting for? Hot chocolate? At Angelina’s? The best in Paris? Who says? We know a better place. No, two. No, three! But we’re not telling. Stay there in line. Be tourists. Look like suckers. Wear your backpack on your chest and your wallet in your hip pocket.
Do you have any idea where you, the American tourist, ranks among the world’s worst? Will Rogers never met a man he didn’t like but he once told Calvin Coolidge he saw American tourists overseas and he didn’t like ‘em.
Worse, yes, are the Russians, always. And lately, the hordes of nouveau Chinese, because they’re incapable of seeing anyone around them who is NOT Chinese. This involves numerous collisions. The Germans are —fittingly —among the world’s most despised tourists. Italians are for some reason incapable of traveling in groups smaller than 36. Again, collisions!
But Americans? Laughingstocks, especially since Trump.
You can fix this. Learn to behave. Kennel your kids. Risk a few words, look at the pronunciation guide. This is not hard. Dress respectfully, especially in restaurants. Bring along one dress. Wear shirts with buttons. It would kill you to pack pack a blazer? Socks, for Christ’s sake! T-shirts and flip-flops are slobwear. Slobs should have their passports revoked — and burned at the stake.
Speaking of t-shirts, one last thing. Go ahead and buy the ill-fitting “Paris” or “London” or “Barcelona” t-shirt — if you must. They’re everywhere. But wait ’til you get back home to put it on.
Trust me, nobody in Paris is impressed that you went to Paris.