Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Foreigners Who Don't Drive Me Batty

Anyone familiar with me (or this blog) knows that I don't have a great love for most of my fellow American expats in Paris.

If meeting at an Irish pub and speaking exclusively in English about how much you hate overpaying for Oreos while sipping overpriced, past-its-date Guinness is your thing, fine. Go do it. Just don't do it in my company. And preferably nowhere near my charming little neighborhood. I didn't move here to hang out with the Marina choads who work in the Fi-Di, thankyouverymuch. (That'd be a San Francisco reference to the vile popped-collar scum who undeservedly get the most overseas working opportunities.)

So it was with a little apprehension that I finally gave in and went to my first Polyglot event. The wife and I have both been meaning to hit up one of these language exchange meet-ups held at a local bar, but having been turned off by the douchebaggery at most other conglomerations of étrangers à Paris, we balked. Self-hatred? A desire to break free of our former lives? No. As Alannah pointed out over lunch today, we consider ourselves - rather unlike the type we keep away from - immigrants. Not expats. Not foreign workers. Not a couple on extended vacation. But a couple of people who have moved to another country - most probably for good - who would like to integrate a bit and make local friends.

That's a tough gig in a socially insular place like Paris, but I think we've found a gathering that's just our style. For the people who sign up for a group like Polyglot seem to have a genuine interest in learning other languages and cultures. Sure, there are plenty of other 'Murrikans who show up – but they've come to improve their French. Or Spanish. Or Japanese. And it's not just Americans and French. There are Chinese, Iranian, Australian... to name a few.

Over the course of a few hours I had conversations in many of the languages I know (or would like to know), taught and learned various turns of phrase, and - OMGWTF - met actual Parisians who were as interested in what others had to say as they were with grabbing their next verre. In fact, more so.

If anything, I felt like the town drunk having two big steins of beer. But as I said, I was a bit timid about this whole affair at first.

While there's definitely some emphasis on socializing and having a little glass of something as social lubricant, it was refreshing to be around people interested in sharing. Not business networking. Not getting laid. Not whining about how no one at the market speaks English. (Although I'm certain a little bit of all that takes place as well...)

Although neither of us were social butterflies making the rounds, we met a fistful of cool, interesting people... And even made new friends. In fact, when a couple of guys found out we're really into food and cooking, they insisted on having a dinner party to introduce us to their "real home cooking."

The revelation isn't from previously thinking that such people didn't exist... Through the friends that we've already made we know damn well that there are friendly, welcoming Parisians who are as happy to lend you a hand as they are to go party with you. It's just that - even as locals will tell you - the social life here can be a very tough nut to crack. And thanks to a community of the linguistically curious, we've just started to tap a few more fissures into the shell. Tap tap tap...

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