Part of the excitement of this trip is the fact that I get a chance to meet people that I’ve met before and haven’t seen for years. These may be people that I’ve hosted myself through Couchsurfing, or just other people that I’ve met along the way during previous travels.
After my time in Bastille with Caroline, I moved on to stay with a girl named Samia. This was quite exciting because, while I will probably get to meet people that I haven’t seen for two or three years here, we hadn’t seen each other for five years.
Samia and I actually met in 2008 when I was studying in Montréal. This was when I was first introduced to the Couchsurfing project and created my own profile. Back then, Couchsurfing didn’t operate using the now common CouchRequest method. Profiles simply sent messages to one another requesting periods of stay or a catch up, similar to a simple email service.
Samia actually happened to be my first ever received message on Couchsurfing. By chance, she had come across my profile looking for people to hang out with in Montréal. My profile photo showed a picture of me and my ex girlfriend who had, by chance, worked with Samia years before. So Samia sent me a message and over the course of the next few months in Montréal we would catch up regularly.
Samia was my first real interaction through Couchsurfing, and it’s funny to think that all these years later here I am again, now Couchsurfing with her. We kept in touch through email over the years, but they were often few and far between. She now lives in Paris and when I asked her if I could stay a few nights she accepted without hesitation. When we finally caught up, it was like all the years in between were a few minutes. Nothing had changed. We recounted all the times we spent together in Montréal as if it had happened that same morning.
Since the days in Montréal, Samia has married Omar, and Algerian that has been living in Paris for a few years now. Samia is of Algerian ancestry herself and I always attempt to stay with locals when Couchsurfing, but of course I thought of Samia to be an exception, given the history.
What I realised though was that they are as much locals as any other frenchman walking the streets of Paris. Samia wouldn’t like to admit this, as she’s a proud Québecoise. The term Parisian cannot be casted into a specific ethnicity or demographic anymore. Paris has become an extremely multicultural city and to therefore fully experience and learn all of it’s aspects, it’s important to stay with all of the different demographics that exist here.
Northern Africa is an important one in France. The french has had a large influence on northern Africa and as a result the people of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and more can speak the french language quite fluently. Because of this, many of them move to France in search for work. This is why Omar was here.
I had never met Omar before, but he showed me true Algerian hospitality. Although he did not know me, he accepted me immediately and trusted me. His English was not so good (either that or he was shy to speak it), but this was a good thing for me as it forced me to speak French to both himself and to Samia (who, coming from Montréal has amazing English and wanted to practice it).
Having immigrated to France himself, he was able to provide perfect insight to the process required, and would often be happy to discuss how difficult it may be to find a job, the challenges faced by immigrants and other topics. I found this really fascinating to hear as it’s not something to can learn from a French born person.
Staying with Samia and Omar also provided me the chance to discover something else of Paris, the suburbs. Technically, the suburbs (or les banlieus) of Paris are any regions outside of the Périphique, the highway that forms a ring around the arrondissements of Paris. It was important for me to experience them because Parisians do not consider these areas a part of Paris. But in fact, the majority of people live here.
The place was an apartment in the area of Ivry-sur-Seine and in fact it really wasn’t that far out of the Périphique. But still, you could see that it became a bit less densely populated, and the area was a little more industrial. There also seemed to be more of a community vibe there. One time while walking the streets with Omar, we stopped to greet and chat with at least three people in the space of about ten minutes – people that Omar had known from the area. This is not something that I had experienced in inner city Paris.
I stayed here a little over a week. It was unfortunate that the cooler climates of France finally got the better of me and I became a bit sick, but Samia and Omar took me under their wing and ensured that I would not be uncomfortable.
I was kindly invited to join them to a musical night. Here I met a friend of theirs who, by finding out through conversation, actually worked in the consulting industry for software engineers. He told me that it should be pretty simple for me to find a job. He left me his card. I will give it some time to travel a bit first, however.
A few nights later I went out for dinner with Samia and her work colleague Oriane. In fact it was a british themed bar, so I can’t talk too much about the food there, but it was fun to continue to practice my French with them and Oriane introduced me to some French music.
It was with Samia that I discovered and experience the Velib’, thanks to her lending me her card. This became the most convenient method to get to and from their place to the nearest métro station.
It was also during my stay with them that I visited Montmartre, and also the Château de Versailles. Despite not being born and raised French, both Omar and Samia were able to provide great advice on what to do in Paris and also the rest of France.
Ultimately I had to move on to continue my journey of discovery and meet new people. But I know for sure that this won’t be the last of my stories with Omar and Samia during my time in France – we’ve already planned a load of other things to do in the future.