Paris (1): First Impressions

May 2, 2024

by Scott JIAXIN

I remember stepping down from the aeroplane and breathing the cold, humid Parisian air. It was definitely a stark contrast to what I am used to: hot, torpid weather.

Immediately, I was on edge. It was my first time in Paris since a short 3-day visit when I was 13, and I didn’t have much confidence in my French. But at the same time, I was intoxicated with the realisation that – finally – after months of studying French, I could use it in the real world.

As I sat in the taxi, I was nervous. It was the first time I would be speaking French, and I had a knot in my stomach: what would happen if I botched the pronunciation or stumbled over a word? I encouraged myself and initiated a conversation with the driver, a Haitian who had settled in Paris long ago. To my surprise, I was able to hold a fluent conversation. The words flowed, and I felt at ease. There were times when I stumbled over some words or expressions that caused misunderstandings, but they were quickly resolved as I found alternative expressions

As we drove by the peripherique (a boulevard that separates Paris Intra-Muros and her neighbourhoods), I remember the walls: they were covered in graffiti. 

Coming from a country (Singapore) where laws do not permit graffiti and engaging in it could land you in prison, it was always a disconnect whenever I saw it in another country. The buildings and structures, unlike the skyscrapers and functional, avant-garde buildings back home, exuded a traditional and European feel (it wasn’t until later that I learned that much of it was either Haussmannian architecture or renewals during certain key decades in the 20th century). It was a breath of fresh air from what I was accustomed to.

But the architecture. Could one ever tire of talking about it? When I hurried down the steps in the cold with my roommate to attend a welcome dinner, I was stopped in my tracks by the breathtaking beauty of the Pont de la Concorde. Especially in the winter night, with the refreshing breeze and the glowing streetlights, the bridge stood out as something magnificent, commanding the attention of anyone who would traverse its path.

But this was Paris. What did I expect when arriving in the heart of Europe, the cradle of European continental culture? As I slowly acclimated to the country and the language, I enjoyed strolling around. It was primarily a way to save money, but also a natural and organic way of discovery.

I remember the time I nearly slipped on the steps of the Trocadero while trying to capture the Eiffel Tower in all its glory (which I did!), or the time when I was led to discover the Île de la Cité by a French student that I had just met . And also the best and first Lebanese shawarma (what luck!) that I tasted during the 2-hour walk back home while I was crossing through the Quartier Latin. 

Every outing was a promise of adventure.

Or how about the time when I stumbled upon a tunnel with the most beautiful graffiti I’ve ever seen? Or the time when I saw Mbappé, one of my favourite players, in a football match? And also the simpler things: the view of the Notre Dame under construction as night fell, beautiful residential buildings in the heart of some of Paris’ most prized districts, the tranquillity of the François mitterand library on a weekday afternoon.

Paris will hold a unique place within me. There are aspects that I dislike: the rush of the RER at rush hour, the piling up of garbage on the streets, the speed at which all the city dwellers move. But at the same time, all of this adds to the Parisian panorama. Paris is also its architecture, its diversity, and its unrivalled beauty.

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