Two visa mishaps, an eleven hour flight delay and one faulty baggage claim later, here I am. La Ville Lumière. The City of Love. “Pah-ree”, my adopted home for the next seven weeks.
I’ve been here now for exactly one week, and already I’ve been made to reconsider everything I thought I knew about France. There is an unfortunate stereotype that the French as a people are notoriously cold; it was with this misconception that I stepped off my long flight from Colombo to Paris, nervously making my way to the home stay where I would live for the rest of the summer. I was ready for stares, for curt replies in response to my flawed French, for all the bad things that I had convinced myself was going to happen. Instead, I was greeted first by the customs officer, who grinned widely at me when I responded “oui” to his “parlez-vous français?”. Next, my taxi driver, who correctly identified me as Sri Lankan after three guesses (“Bangladaise? Non. Indienne? Non, mais vous êtes proche. Ahhh, Sri Lankaise!”) and then proceeded to chat about the Asian subcontinent for the entire ride. “Bienvenue à Paris,” he told me as he helped me unload my suitcase outside the apartment I would be staying at, “et bonne chance!” I pocketed the change he gave back, and the good luck he wished for me, and rang the buzzer.
And then, I met Anne.
Anne is sixty four, widowed, has no children and puts me at ease, right away. She wears purple eyeliner and dresses almost exclusively in black. She eats ice cream with me on the balcony overlooking La Tour Eiffel, and tells me about all the students who have lived with her before.
We have chicken for dinner, finished off with a glass of rosé. “You are happy, à chez-moi?” she asks. I nod, looking out at the expanse of concrete jungle in front of me, set against a sky that blends powder blue and pastel pink, even now at 9 pm. I think I will be.