A TRIP TO PARIS REVEALED TO ME PARTS OF MYSELF THAT I NEVER KNEW EXISTED
There are so many movies out there where the protagonist goes on a trip ‘to find’ herself or himself, and comes out of it a whole new person. For the longest time, I thought this was an overused trope in fiction that barely held any truth. The most I had gotten from any trip was a bunch of photos, some lovely memories and a heavy feeling in my chest when I’d leave to return home. But in the summer of 2017, I had such a cinematic experience myself.
After my HSC examinations and my sister’s BA graduation, the summer vacation arrived. We decided that this was the perfect time to take a nice long family vacation. But my father is a bit of a homebody, so it was tough to convince him to take us on trips to places that are unfamiliar to us. Thankfully though, we have relatives in France, and with a little nudge from them and from us, he gave in. We flew to Paris.
While having family in the new country definitely helped us feel more safe and confident, my aunt and uncle were busy people. They did not have time to take us around the city. So instead, my uncle armed us with a map of the Parisian metro and a Metro Pass, and made me in-charge of being my family’s tour guide.
Here’s the deal- I am the youngest and most pampered member of the family. Growing up, I was shy, always hiding behind my mother any time an adult addressed me. I grew up to be introverted and extremely uncomfortable in social situations with strangers. I tend to avoid speaking to new people, speaking up in class, or disagreeing with people on any subject. That’s why being given this duty- to be in charge of our whole vacation - felt like a lot.
However, my uncle had a good reason for putting this responsibility on me- I was the only one amongst the four of us who knew basic French, thanks to two years of studying it in college. While I was intimidated at being given this responsibility, it also felt like a privilege. I could call the shots on where we would go, when we would go, and how. With my heart full of equal parts excitement and anxiety, we set off.
By some luck, France turned out to be the perfect place to be a more confident and outgoing version of myself. One reason was that my family would never know how truly terrible my French was, knowing absolutely no French themselves. I did not have to be conscious about making a fool of myself in front of them. Another reason was that the French couldn’t care less about us.
I had a feeling that they weren’t very happy being surrounded by tourists all year round. They had managed to master the skill of looking past us wide-eyed tourist with our flashing cameras and Metro maps and terribly pronounced 'Bonjour!' and 'Merci!'
In addition, I suppose the fact that my uncle trusted me enough to believe that I would not get my family lost in the middle of nowhere also helped. These factors together aided in eliminating the fear of being watched and judged and I was able to step out of my comfort zone.
That vacation is one of the most memorable periods of my life. While it was no scene out of a movie where I explored the city alone and ‘found myself’, it was an eye opening time. I enjoyed every moment of it. I was able to understand the Parisian Metro system and that gave me a sense of being capable. I spoke to strangers when we lost our way without any hesitation. I waved at people sitting along the river bank when we took a cruise down the Seine. I walked the aisles of the grocery store in a strange new city without worrying about being judged.
I believed all my life that I couldn’t speak to people and couldn’t ignore the judgements of others around me. But Paris taught me that I wasn’t the person I thought I was. I learnt that sometimes our surroundings reinforce certain kinds of behaviour in us.
We come to believe that these traits and habits are an intrinsic, unavoidable part of us, but when we are put outside of this context, we can truly rediscover ourselves.
Travelling can bring out the best in you if you give it the chance. When you open yourself up to new experiences in new places, you find that you are capable of more than you ever realised. It is a freeing realisation that you may have parts that are yet undiscovered and that may one day leave you pleasantly surprised.
For me, the Paris trip was the first one ever where while I sat in the airplane, waiting for it to leave the French soil, my chest didn’t feel hollow. I left feeling content, as if I had managed to accomplish what I have strived out to do, if not more.
What lesson has travelling taught you?