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I’m a Tourist

April 26, 2013

I returned to my hostel in Amsterdam after a pretty long day of strolling and museum-hopping. One of my roommates, lounging on her bed while casually consuming some form of drugs* that I’m too naive to identify, asked what I’d visited. I responded honestly, mentioning the Van Gogh museum and canals and the Anne Frank Huis that I planned to visit the next day.

“Oh,” she said, sounding a bit disappointed. “You did all of the touristy things.”

She continued to say that when she went to a new city, she would go to a park or garden to get the true sense of the city’s culture. (I didn’t tell her that in Paris, most of the gardens do attract tourists, except for those that often attract the homeless.)

“Touristy places” and tourists have a bad reputation. The places are seen as quick and usual stops for tourists, crash courses in a city’s culture. There’s a very specific yet very broad connotation for your typical tourists. They clog public transportation, they speak with loud excitement and ignorance, they visit only their namesake attractions, they stand in the way of others’ pictures.

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I don’t know how many pictures this girl wanted of herself in front of the Notting Hill Bookshop in London, but she stood there for so long I just gave up and took a picture of the shop despite her presence.

But they’re well-intentioned. Tourists, by straight denotation, are simply visitors. They’re visiting a place, and then they return home with some learning and souvenirs.

After three-and-a-half months in Paris, I’m becoming a tourist again.

Right from the beginning of my time here, I’ve been a student. It was my primary definition and purpose here: an American studying in Paris. I was a bit of a tourist the first week, when I was learning how to navigate Paris and the university before classes officially began. And I was definitely a tourist in Amsterdam and London, and even in Reims and York, and I’ll be a tourist in a week when I go to Munich. But in Paris I went to orientation and attended classes and did homework, visiting a few places on the side.

But now my classes are done (celebration!), and I have one last assignment due Monday. After that, I’ll no longer be a student here. My summer break will begin in Paris. I’ll be a tourist, and I have no shame.

I’ve been fitting into my new (and ironic) role rather nicely. I went to two of the main Paris gardens, now gorgeous and colorful after spring’s rather delayed arrival.

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It’s been so sunny in Paris this week that I got a sunburn. I feel like I need applause or something, since this would have been unheard of a few weeks earlier.

I saw where an Egyptian obelisk replaced a French guillotine.

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Yeah, I think I prefer the obelisk.

And I saw Egyptian, Islamic, Roman, and Greek art in the Louvre.

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Who doesn’t love clothes?

I visited a famous English-language bookshop.

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The coolest bookstore I’ve ever been in.

And I visited some chimeras and saw the city after climbing 400 steps.

Climbing Notre Dame was probably my favorite thing that I've done in Paris.

One of my favorite things that I’ve done in Paris.

Tourist attractions are attractions for a reason. There’s a history behind all of them, whether it be from political revolution or literary inspiration. It’s a learning experience. It’s one thing to read about something, and it’s another to see it, and it’s a whole other to interact with it. And these places that bring tourists, they’re predecided for us. There are a million and five ways to experience French culture. Even after actually living here I haven’t seen it all, and I went to a Paris school, interviewed market vendors and Academie Francaise workers and purchased food at bakeries and grocery stores. Everything has been completely worthwhile, but if I only had three days in Paris, I would rather climb Notre Dame than experience the Frenchness of a grocery store. Do the French go to the grocery store more often than Notre Dame? Yes. Is there more to experience at Notre Dame than at Carrefour?

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I think so.

So while some grumble about tourists polluting culture, I smile as I walk past the Eiffel Tower and its line of visitors waiting to buy tickets. Go climb that structure the French first hated and later loved. Go see what’s become a city’s icon, and see Paris from its tallest structure. Embrace your inner tourist.

That’s what I’ll be doing during my last days here. I have less than two weeks during which I’m a tourist on summer break in Paris. I won’t be loud, and I won’t pose in front of others’ pictures, and I know how to use the metro. But I’ll be a tourist nonetheless since my student label has expired, and I don’t mind at all.

*Don’t do drugs, kids.

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