The worldwide Augustana College experience

It’s all “hakuna matata”

Today we woke up bright and early, or, well at least as early as we could considering we had spent over 30 hours being awake the previous two days. Seeing as it was Tuesday, most of the big museums were closed as part of an agreement to stay open on Sundays (when just about everything else is closed)… Alas, this meant that the Louvre was not going to be our first museum visit… Instead, we had to start our round of museum visits with something a little less exciting…

Since this program is supposed to incorporate “French civilization” component, Dr. Skrainka decided that a trip to the “Immigration Museum (with random aquarium)” would be one of the better of the smaller museums to visit… and yes, there really is an aquarium under the immigration museum… weird huh? We jokingly decided that the tanks must contain immigrant fish, I mean, they did have alligators from the Mississippi River!

All joking aside, the Immigration Museum resides in a building on the far end of Paris, by a metro stop called “Port d’or” (which essentially stands for “Golden Door”)… You see, Paris was once surrounded by walls, and to get into the city you had to pass through one of many of the doors, or gates along the surrounding wall. Because the museum building was once the immigration office, its location on the outskirts of Paris makes sense… seeing as every non-citizen had to pass through there before getting into the city. Though interestingly, the building’s existence today remains rather controversial, as its original facade, which can be taken as being highly racist, has been left intact.

The security guard who greeted us at the doors of the museum was really nice… I will refrain from mentioning his name though, considering he snuck us in for free. In Europe it appears that all EU students get into museums either for very cheap or for free… So all we had to do was not look like the “stupid Americans” that they think we are, and we would have no problems… Unfortunately having Lady Gaga on our side doesn’t seem to do much to improve the French image of us… However I must say that I think we passed off as some very well behaved British students, because no one caught us… and hopefully no one caught the guard who let us in. It is worthy to mention that French people, particularly Parisians, are not known for being very polite or gentile, so this random act of kindness by the security guard caught us by surprised and was taken with great appreciation… Lets just hope that the stereotype is wrong and that we encounter more people like this guard.

After we completed our visit, the security guard who let us in was on his lunch break and spent some time talking to Dr. Skrainka about culture/diversity stuff… He offered to show us a nice pizza restaurant nearby and join us for some French conversation… and while I must admit that pizza is not much of a French specialty, it was quite different than your typical American pizza. The only issue I had with lunch was that after paying, I found out that the restaurant belonged to his family… part of me was left to wonder if taking us there was a way in which he was able to get money from us through commission… But otherwise he seemed like a genuinely nice guy, so I guess its best to set my suspicions aside… He even tolerated it when Emily grunted at him for wanting to do the “Bise” (you know, the traditional French greeting that involves air kissing). The Bise is one the more complex components of French culture because no one can seem to agree over how many kisses are appropriate and number seems to differ both by region and by social class… here is a link to a YouTube cartoon video that explains it in more detail, but it is in French…

Even if you don’t understand what is being said, there is an English translation in the caption and I think that the animation is still funny regardless of whether the words mean anything to you or not.

We ended our trip to the Porte d’or district by hoping on a metro towards the neighborhood of Montmartre where one can find the well-visited Basilica of Sacré Cœur… While we didn’t actually get to go inside the Basilica, we did get to enjoy the beautiful weather and awesome view of the Paris skyline from grassy area outside of it. By the time we got there, the Parisians were all gearing up for the big music festival that was about to go on throughout the evening and the night. We got to enjoy music from just about everywhere we sat, for there was music playing around every street corner… We also got to the performance of an African immigrant to France who had quite some skill kicking around a soccer ball while climbing up a light post along the edge of the hill in front of Sacré Cœur! Admittedly for a while we lost Dr. Skrainka when we got memorized by this guy’s skills… but it didn’t take us very long to find her after the performance… she was talking culture/diversity stuff with him during his intermission!

The rest of the evening we were left on our own to wonder around the neighborhood. For the most part we felt really comfortable being on our own in the middle of the city…The area of Montmartre especially seems to have the aura of safe place, except for when the African street-side vendors try to rope you in… quite literally… first they grab your fingers, then they place your fingers in the loop of a string and then they tell you not to panic and that it is all “hakuna matata”… Lets just say that no one wanted to know what happens next… When I tried to prevent one of the group members from getting roped in, the vendor got mad and tried to insult me by saying, “Not you, you ugly guy… You look like some Chinese or something!”… Sigh, I’m at a loss for words about that incident.

But anyways, the last time I visited Paris the popular phrase amongst the vendors was “Bling Bling”… Five years later I guess they moved from M-TV to Disney… but I still feel like they are watching the wrong shows on American programming.

We ended the night by visiting the Eiffel Tower and taking a million different photos of one another in front of it… I’ll try to share some pictures of the night sometime soon! Till next time… Au revoir!

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