Junior Jeffrey Parker, a history major from Winston-Salem, N.C., is spending the spring semester in Oxford, England, after also spending the fall term there. Twice a month, he will share his experiences and observations from England as one of GW’s many expats. God save the Queen.
I run through the subway station, detesting William Willett. I hate him with the heat of a thousand bonfires, with a passion normally reserved for Fox News pundits and former lead singers of the band Creed. At this point I do not know who Mr. Willett is, and will only find out later when I scour Wikipedia, but oh how my ire burns.
In 1907, Mr. Willett wrote something entitled “Waste of Daylight,” and although the plans outlined therein were not adopted until 1916, they set the stage for European Summer Time, the European equivalent of Daylight Savings Time. For this he must not be forgiven, because I am an hour late for my Eurostar train back to London.
What will they do to me? Probably laugh at me and say “Ha ha ha, silly American,” while putting out their lit cigarettes (cloves, most likely) on my arm, right? After all, I am in Paris.
Everyone’s heard the spiel on the French, I’m sure, and I have to admit that I kind of bought into it.
The problem is that it’s entirely too easy. In what I have to assume was a meager attempt to start an international incident, my friends insisted that we take pictures of ourselves as stereotypical Parisians. The result was a series of photographs featuring red berets, bottles of champagne, baguettes and unlit cigarettes. Apparently people on the street were pointing up to our third story hostel room, but we didn’t care. It might have been the cheap alcohol, but I suspect it was the cheaper laughs.
Anyway, as if that fine display of cultural diplomacy wasn’t enough to ingratiate ourselves to our hosts, one of my friends went the distance in that department on the subway our first day. Upon finally finding our way to the train that would take us to our hostel (there was some trouble figuring out the subway passes – not how to buy them, but actually how to put them in the turnstiles; truly a proud moment), I heard the following wonderfully horrifying words emanate from an Arizona mouth: “So, have I ever told you guys about Frenchie?” She realized what she had said immediately, and we laughed for a good 20 seconds, much to the confusion of everyone in the car who wasn’t a stupid American. Tantamount to asking if she had told us about “Jewy” at a Hillel meeting, this inquiry was clearly a fantastic start to our trip.
She regales us with tales of the artist formerly known as Frenchie, whom we now affectionately refer to as F-bomb. In summation, F-bomb was a friend of a friend who visited her house one weekend, and propositioned her and her roommates, one after the other, in rapid succession, within the first 45 minutes he was there. “What F-bomb taught me,” my friend opined, “is that stereotypes are true.”
Armed with this knowledge, we confidently made idiots of ourselves the rest of the trip, partly under the assumption that the French would confirm our biases, and completely on a quest to confirm theirs.
This lunatic cultural exchange was going swimmingly until the morning of out departure, when I heard a knock at our door. I lethargically crossed the room and cracked open the door, standing in the frame in an attempt to block whoever was on the other side from seeing my third roommate lying in a pool of what I could only pray was his own vomit.
A woman who worked at the hostel greeted me with a question, in good English, about when we would be vacating our room. “I don’t know, another hour or so,” I said, looking at my cell phone to see the pale green “10:15” flash back at me.
“Checkout’s at 11,” she said, somewhat annoyed.
“Alright, we’ll be gone in 45 minutes then – my friend just needs to get a shower,” I responded.
“It’s 11:15 right now,” she finally told me, to which I replied that of course we would get out of the room as fast as possible.
Of course, I still didn’t believe her. Assuming that she was trying to rip us off of the last 45 minutes that were rightfully ours, goddammit, I asked my friends what time it was, and their phones matched with mine, so everything was right with the universe again, except of course for the aforementioned pool that I think was evolving into new forms of life at this point.
That is, everything was right with the universe until a few moments later when a foggy notion became a vague memory and finally a terrifying thought. One of my friends in London had told me, hours before I got on the Eurostar to Paris, to make sure to remember to change my clocks this weekend for European Summer Time. “Oh, right, thanks,” I remember saying, as I compartmentalized it in my brain.
Apparently I need a new filing system.
We all quickly packed up our backpacks, paid for our room and fled the vicinity, past the McDonald’s where we had planned to order three Royales with Cheese and do bad Samuel L. Jackson impressions even though two of us don’t eat red meat. We poured through the turnstiles, only to realize that we had no idea where we were going.
It was at this point that something happened. Those stuffy, reserved Frenchmen graciously volunteered to help the confused group of American idiots, and we got to the train station.
Of course, we were still an hour late, which brings us to the beginning of this story, and me cursing the soul of William Willett.
We trudged up the stairs to the Eurostar depot to beg for mercy. At this point I was pretty much resigned to dropping another _40 on a new ticket back, as I had a pretty dim view of the organization. I had tried to use my Eurail pass to get my original tickets, which should have saved me about half the cost of the ticket, but instead would have made my ticket more expensive, somehow. Eurostar was just a large, unfeeling, faceless, irrational entity as far as I was concerned. Damn the man.
I was wrong, though. Eurostar is wonderful. More specifically, Virginie is wonderful. Virginie, who worked behind the counter, who spoke five(!) languages and who reversed my mood instantaneously. Virginie looked at us, and before we had finished our first halting sentence, she told us that there would be no charge for changing tickets. Judging by the sarcastic smile on her face (and the 20 Americans behind us talking on their cell phones about how they wouldn’t make that Kiwanis function that night, honey, they were still in France and something about clocks and it’s probably a socialist conspiracy and we saved their asses in World War II and on and on and on and on), I had a feeling that we weren’t the first people who had walked up to the booth that day with the harried expressions of a 7-year-old who suddenly realized his family had disappeared into the next aisle of a grocery store without him.
So what did my time in Paris teach me? Well, first of all, if I lived there I would probably weigh 400 pounds, because oh my God, the ?clairs are amazing. More to the point, though, I learned that karma’s a bitch. I’d like to think this was all the revenge of F-bomb. Traveling to the land of the most easily caricatured culture on Earth, the only stereotype that was lived up to was that of the stupid American. Making me feel worse, the French were nice to us about it. Where’s loathing when you need it? Beyond my mirror, I mean.