The First Step

In Paris, The Art of Travel Spring 2015, Travail by Elizabeth Buckingham1 Comment

While I would love to say my semester abroad has gone off without a hitch, I would be lying to myself. My first painful experience occurred within the first few hours I was in Paris…

My roommate and I met each other in the baggage claim of Charles de Gaulle both eager with anticipation and excitement. After collecting our bags, our next step was getting to our new apartment. Neither of us had international cellphones yet, so I connected to the airport WIFI in order to send the apartment owner a quick message letting her know we were on our way. She sent a cryptic response back with few directions on how to get into the building where she would be to greet us. A little confused with her response, we were too tired and eager to clarify what we were supposed to do.

We made our way to the taxi stand where we did exactly what we were told time and time again not to do. A driver approached us just before the line and offered to drive us and we unthinkingly nodded our heads yes. Immediately I knew we should not have complied. Scenes from the movie Taken started flashing in my mind, and I was overcome with nerves. In our defense, he did drive a marked taxicab, but I was panicking the entire drive. With no cellphone service, an elementary level of French, and no sense of where I was, I couldn’t help but envision the worst.

Practically holding my breath the entire drive, I let out a sigh of relief when I saw the blue doors of our building. They looked exactly like the doors in the pictures we had seen. We jumped out of the taxi, and the driver helped us unload all four of our suitcases. We stood outside of the blue doors and were presented with our next problem. How were we supposed to open the doors? There was a keypad, but we didn’t know the door code. Again, neither of us had a working cellphone, so we stood there dumbfounded. Suddenly someone started knocking on the restaurant window right next to us. A little scared we both jumped. The men were signing us and making facial expressions we were unable to interpret. Finally, one of the men ran outside and punched in the door code, 3714. We tried to thank him, but he did not understand a word we were saying. I let out another sigh of relief as we made our way in the building.

Our next problem: which apartment is ours? There was a staircase on the left and another on the right. I opened up the message the owner had sent me, but there was no information about the actual apartment. To be honest, I was expecting it to be like New York. We would buzz at the first door and she would be able to come down and get us. I had to remind myself, I was no longer in New York or even the United States for that matter. We stood in the lobby for about 10 minutes each of us walking up the stairs looking for the slightest clue. There was no sign of anybody except a young boy who ignored us and immediately walked into his apartment. We knocked on his door hoping he would be able to help us but he shook his head no as we began speaking to him and shut his door. My roommate went to the restaurant next door to borrow their phone, but they told her no. We thought maybe our apartment was on the fourth floor, so we took a wild guess and knocked on the door and finally a small woman opened it with a large smile. I can’t describe how relieved we were to finally find our new home. After a long day of traveling and stress, the owner saved the day with a bottle of wine, cheese, and a fresh baguette.


  1. Hi Elizabeth! This post made me laugh out loud. My freshman year was full of so many awkward moments like this. Not knowing where I was, where I was supposed to go, what I should say, etc. The language barrier turns my semi-awkward personality into AWKWARD (all caps used for drama). After all of these uncomfortable moments, of being so unsure of what is going on, and being offered no help, meeting a smiling, friendly face seems like the greatest thing in the world. I remember my year in Paris as a time when a friendly waiter, or any smile for that matter, made my day. Unfortunately, the amazement that comes with seeing friendly people in Paris goes away quite quickly when you move to Sydney where everyone is nice. But I will say that I kind of miss that about Paris, the pleasant people seem significantly warmer when surrounded by the plethora of cold people. Enjoy your last few weeks!

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