• Paris is almost always referred to as the city of love, and sometimes the fashion capital
• learnt to stop converting money into Kenyan currency in order to decide whether buy something or not
Rule number one about visiting a new country, don’t go with too many expectations.
Have an open mind and keep those expectations at a minimum.
Of course, it is good and sometimes advisable to do some planning and a bit of research before embarking on your adventure.
I know there are those who don’t plan ahead and just up and go.
I am sure you have come across videos where people are spinning a globe structure and stopping it using their index finger.
Wherever it lands, that is where they will be packing up and going.
Whether you do prior planning or not, that’s okay.
Whichever works for you is fine, as long as you get to enjoy the adventure, connect, make memories and travel sustainably, because we are trying to save our planet, of course.
For every trip I make, I always come up with an itinerary.
It allows me to organise my travel so that I get to venture to as many places and do as many things as I can within the set duration of my stay.
It also allows me to budget, because who wouldn’t want to plan for their finances when they go out?
This time around, I had the opportunity to visit a European country, but strictly on a work basis.
Well, a big part of the trip was based on work.
In my line of duty, work travels are most of the time fun, and best believe, we really enjoy them.
Feel free to reach out to anyone who is in my line of work and find out if this is so.
France — Paris to be precise — has always been one of the travel destinations I had put on my vision board as one of the places I would want to visit.
Paris is almost always referred to as the city of love, and sometimes the fashion capital.
It is also known for being a centre of finance, culture, art, diplomacy and fashion. Talk of brands like Balmain, Dior, Givenchy, Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Sézane, as well as designers such as Italian-French fashion designer Pierre Cardin.
It is also known for famous monuments, such as the Eiffel Tower, shopping at Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Centre Pompidou, which is the country’s national museum of modern art, and even holy sites like the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Not forgetting the Seine, which is the broad river slipping silver-blue below street level and dividing Paris into two distinct halves. It is a beautiful place to take photos, if I may say so.
Paris is also known as the City of Lights because it became the first city in the 19th Century to use gas lighting to illuminate its streets.
Before leaving for Paris, a friend walked me through what to expect as I had not planned for the trip.
I honestly freestyled for the trip, but I was super excited as it was still on my vision board and I had been reading about France for a while.
“Do not go to Paris to sleep. You will come back to sleep in Nairobi. Enjoy yourself and don’t leave the city if you have not tasted the wine,” he told me.
'EMILY IN PARIS' FEELING
My trip was made possible by an express invite from the French government through the French Embassy in Kenya.
Safe to say, everything was planned for, but I had some ideas of things to do and places to visit at the back of my mind.
Again, expectations should always be at a minimum, so were mine.
I was part of a team of African journalists from Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, DRC, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, who were invited ahead of the forum des industries culturelles et créatives (Forum des ICC) event called Forum Création Africa.
Landing at l’Aéroport de Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) was very exciting as I arrived in the morning, which meant my experience was unfolding from the onset.
Well, I was now feeling like Emily in Paris, but the major difference between Emily and I was that I could speak and understand some French, enough for me to order food and ask for directions.
In case you have ever sat through a French class, I am sure your lecturer mentioned that French people really like it if you can speak in their language, if not greet them in French.
Something I noticed was that having black taxis pick people at the airport comes with some sense of class, which is something I also learnt is rather common in the West.
When I was picked up at the airport, the car was a Mercedes E450 4Matic sedan, with a shiny black colour.
It took us quite some time to get from the airport to the apartment because of the traffic as the trip was scheduled around the same time the city was hosting the Rugby World Club and the Paris Fashion Week.
Right from my first interaction with the driver who picked me up at the airport, I felt he was very warm and welcoming.
Even if I downplay my French speaking skills sometimes, the driver boosted my confidence as he complimented how great I could communicate.
Apart from the scheduled meetings that were being held everyday from morning till evening, I was able to squeeze in some time to walk around where we were staying.
If you know Paris well or have read about it, you would know that it is divided into 20 districts, which are famously referred to as les arrondissements.
Our apartment was located around the 13th arrondisement, better known as the new Paris because of the new buildings that were coming up and the ongoing construction.
I learnt from our host that he was unable to get us accommodation from another arrondissement as they were fully booked due to the many events that were taking place in the capital.
The 20 districts, which started as 12 but were later increased to include parts of the suburbs, revolve around the historic city centre in a snail-like pattern.
They are set in the form of an outward clockwise spiral, starting from the centre of Paris, where the 1st arrondissement is.
Where we were staying is like the Rongai of Paris, as my friend would call it, hence was pretty hectic to go to places of shopping, finding places to eat and hang out. Mind you, the forum was being held at the 3rd arrondissement.
For the first few days, a van for transportation was being provided but when the forum started, we all had to catch the métro to and fro.
During my stay, I picked a number of things that stayed with me and would be hard not to forget if I go back there.
Just like any other country or city, Paris has its own unwritten rules.
Learning something new is always what makes your stay in a place awesome and more memorable.
This goes beyond learning new things through unwritten laws to even learning through observation and participation.
When you buy something, never price it as per your own currency, nobody will tell you this.
It is best to just move with the country’s currency and, based on your interaction with other people, find out what is expensive, cheap or affordable.
In Paris, while you are on an escalator and not walking down or up as it moves, it is best to stand to maintain the right side and allow those who walk up and down the escalators to move freely on the left side.
It is also good to say 'bonjour' to shop staff or anyone you approach or meet and talk to. Trust me, it is better than just staying quiet.
Most of the time, you will walk into a shop and they will not bother you, but if you do approach them, it is better to start off with a bonjour.
Métro rules must be obeyed, unless you want to land yourself in trouble.
Buying that ticket is very important, not only when you are taking the métro but also when taking the RER train, tramway or even bus.
While in France, most of the time, you may need to go Dutch, which means splitting the bill when you are out with friends. But since I was rolling with fellow Africans most of the time, the Congolese party came through when it came to paying bills.
Do not be fooled, life in Paris is really expensive. For the short time I was there, I was really disappointed when it came to buying food as fast food was the most affordable thing.
By fast food, I mean French fries and chicken, or even a Big Mac.
Properly cooked food was pretty expensive as per my experience, and I kind of had to live off fast food.
Racism is not something uncommon in the West, if I may say so. I experienced it first-hand. And even though we threw banter around the terms we were called, it is kind of sad to still be living in a bubble, where people think we are not all equal.
But in general, Parisians are very much welcoming and warm people.
Interestingly, I came across a lot of black people while walking in the Parisian streets that if I wanted to start counting, I would never finish.
Snails are a common delicacy, even though I wasn’t courageous enough to try them. In case you are invited to a household for an engagement, be so polite to let them know in advance that you will not be partaking in their signature meal
Parisians are huge dog keepers, but what was really unbearable sometimes was walking on the streets and all you could smell was dog pee.
They are also big on moving around with bicycles. In almost every street. you would come across bicycles that are parked on the sides of the road, and that must be paid for if you intend to use them.
I learnt that, just like the way we would opt for matatus as the cheapest way to move around, Parisians prefer cycling as compared to driving and using motorbikes.
Another thing with Parisians is that when it comes to meetings, it is pretty uncommon for them to drag on for hours.
Punctuality is very key with Parisian people, but our host used to struggle with us a lot when it came to time for departing the apartment.
In Africa, especially Kenya, a meeting that should start at 8am would most probably start at 9am or 10am, but not in Paris.
Another thing worth noticing is that their workforce is pretty much young and, especially those who are in the service, that is, the military.
It was interesting to see fit young and attractive men and women, dressed in all black and expending their energy towards their “utumishi kwa wote” duties.
It was also so intriguing to see that Parisian people dress effortlessly, which makes sense as Paris is the fashion capital.
Street graffiti is very common. Some think it is reckless and makes the city look dirty, while others think it is art.
Unlike our very own Flossin Mauwano who uses black, the Parisians use spray cans with a range of different colours.
Snails are a common delicacy, even though I wasn’t courageous enough to try them. In case you are invited to a household for an engagement, be so polite to let them know in advance that you will not be partaking in their signature meal.
The French have really good wine and champagne as well, so in case you visit the country, do not forget to grab a glass or even a bottle as they are very affordable.
It was not that hard to notice that they are moving away from wine drinking and they are now embracing beer drinking.
Well, there were a lot of things I learnt about through observation alone, but in case you do plan to visit Paris, go with a plan and fair, balanced expectations.
I didn’t manage to do extensive shopping and much touring as the trip was work-related, but I did have a good one.
Oh yes, you can now call me La Parisienne after that trip.