As I travel across France and the rest of Europe, I’m lucky that I can rely on the many friends that I’ve made through Couchsurfing. Indeed, in Paris there are many that I’ve been trying to catch up with. Ultimately, however, one of the main ideas of Couchsurfing is to meet new people and to build new relationships and networks, so I don’t want to rely too much on known contacts.
Having previously Couchsurfed with Caroline and Samia, both of who I had known from earlier experiences, I figured it was time to go out and stay with somebody new. So I sent a CouchRequest to a fellow named Pierre.
Pierre is a guy the same age as I and so, not having met too many guys here in Paris currently, I thought it would be a good opportunity to see how life is in a bachelor pad scenario. Pierre had done some traveling himself, around Europe and the world, and as a result his English was near perfect. The great thing about Pierre was that he treated you just like one of his mates – nothing more, nothing less.
The first night I actually met him at his friends place because they were having a match of poker together. I was invited so was more than happy to come along. To my surprise, the bunch of lads were all working in the information technology sector as well. I finished fifth out of seven, and my playing was not much to brag about. It was actually Pierre himself who knocked me out. It was a fun night in any case.
The day after was a Friday, so Pierre was working during the day and I took liberty to check out the local area. Like Samia, Pierre lived outside of Paris, in an area not too far from Ivry-sur-Seine called Gentilly. Because of the proximity, Gentilly very much resembled Ivry-sur-Seine, although it was perhaps a bit more modern and I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been renovated more recently. It was only a ten minute walk to the Périphique and so I was soon back in the Parisian arrondissements.
That night Pierre invited me to a bar where he and some of his friends would be celebrating the birthday of another friend. I went along and had a blast. In Paris the alcohol prices at a bar are generally pretty similar to what you would expect in Australia. A pint (that’s 500ml, or 50cl as it’s stated here) of beer will set you back around six or seven euro.
In the supermarkets, it’s a different story. Purchase a case of twenty-four for around twenty-four euro – roughly a euro per beer. Get a bottle of vodka for around ten euro. The supermarkets don’t sell everything, but there’s a wide enough range.
It turns out that the birthday party was for an Irishman who has been working in Paris. Despite living here for the better part of two years, he could not really speak French. How this is possible is beyond me. My French may be limited, but I can at least order a meal or a beer. I’m under no impression that when I travel in the Netherlands I will speak Dutch, for example, and will have to hope that they speak English or point at things, but to live that way for two years would be excruciating.
Regardless, he was a really nice guy and due to his preference to speak English, he had a lot of English based friends come along. It was a welcome relief for me, who had now become more comfortable with speaking and listening to French. I realised that, in just the space of two weeks, I had nearly forgotten what it was like to communicate effectively. I had become used to the fact that expressing myself would never be perfectly comprehended by the listener and that I would never perfectly understand the speaker. This is what I had become comfortable to – acknowledging that this is the case and will be the case for some time, and just accepting it.
The next day was the beginning of the weekend. Pierre was not a true Parisian, instead coming from the region of Nancy. One of his friends, Raphael, was in Paris for work and stayed the weekend with Pierre. As well as this, Pierre had a housemate, Billy, who was also from Nancy.
Together we went to the local markets and purchased a chicken with some potatoes to eat for lunch. It was interesting to observe that, even for three young bachelors, it was important to sit at the table and eat the meal with a bottle of wine and a baguette of bread. Like Raphael joked, it’s written in the french constitution.
The entire time that I stayed with Pierre he and his friends spoke nearly nothing but French. This it what I wanted, of course, but I found it really hard to keep up, and they spoke very naturally and quickly. It was uncomfortable at times, but this is why I’ve embarked on this journey – to put myself outside of my comfort zone and learn by immersion.
After this, the lads introduced me to a game of risk and then a card game named Président (which in English is commonly known as Asshole, or more simply, President). It became clear that board games and card games were a common way to pass time here.
That night I was again invited to another birthday party of his friends, this time at the house of his friend. This was a bit more intimate, with less people, but again they were very friendly. Again it was entirely French, but I soon realised that I was able to participate in longer conversations. I was still struggling to express myself, and pick up on everything, but it was definitely something that I couldn’t have done at the beginning of my trip.
It was interesting that most of the people there, whether from Paris or not, did not hold a high opinion on living in Paris. It was too expensive, too focused on working and too busy for them. They all had plans to go elsewhere in the immediate future.
Meeting Pierre and his friends showed me yet another side of Paris. It just goes to show how important it is to continue to meet new people along one’s travels.