People ask me for directions all the time.
Sometimes I feel like it must be written on my forehead or on my bike helmet “Don’t know where you are going? Ask me for directions”. Happily I usually can point them in the right direction and don’t mind doing so. I find it to be a sort of compliment and it underlines to myself that I live in this beautiful city called Paris. This time though the experience was a bit trying – at first.
About a week ago I was riding my bike back to the office along the Seine. There is a section right by the Eiffel Tower that is a bike path and it is just wide enough for one bike. It is not a sidewalk, but there are always tourists on it and it is kind of a pain to get past them. I ding my bell and they usually step off onto the dirt between the the trees and let me pass. That night I was behind two women. One in silver lamé pants, high heels and a short white furry jacket. I later saw a sparkly necklace too. The other in conservative pants, shoes, long sweater and a hijab. Given their unmatching appearances I wasn’t sure if they were together. They were walking quickly as though focused on getting somewhere. I rang my bell asking to pass. Sans réponse. I rang again. I rang insistently. I called out “s’il vous plait“. No response! Harrumph… #@!!$% tourists. I sighed and slowed my pace to bide my time until I could get around them. Then suddenly the conservatively-dressed one turned around to check on Sparkles trotting behind her in her high heels and she saw me too. I thought oh good now I can pass, but she did not step out of the way, but stood square in the middle of the path and stopped me altogether… to show me a map. Directions needed once again. The light was poor, but I managed to figure out they wanted to go to the Ile des Cygnes, a long thin island in the middle of the river which was accessed from the next bridge. So I said in English “next bridge, just ahead” and pointed. They looked at me quizzically. I tried French. Nope. So I pointed and directed some more. Then I managed to slip past. They walked faster as if to keep up with me as the bike path split into separate path and sidewalk. I stopped at the traffic light and realized they were still trying to catch up to me. So I waited. Then I saw their map again and saw the logo for “Capitaine Fracasse” – that’s a dinner boat that leaves from the island. So I was sure as to where they were going and again gestured to the bridge. “It’s just there”. One gal mouthed “thank you” and the other made a sound I couldn’t understand and still seemed worried. Then it dawned on me, they were deaf. That explained a few things. I got off my bike and waved them to come with me. We crossed to the other side of the bridge and I pointed at the boat. Their faces lit up and they took a few steps towards it. But then couldn’t figure out how to get to it since it was below the bridge. So I walked with them just a bit farther and showed them the stairway leading down to the Ile. They were very happy and mouthed thanks and patted my arm. I rode home continuing across Pont Bir-Hakeim, one of the prettiest bridges in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower over my right shoulder. It was crépuscule, my favorite time of day in Paris and I thought to myself Bon appétit ladies, so glad you could come enjoy this beautiful city and thank you for asking me for directions and reminding me patience is a good thing.
Written by Lisa Vanden Bos, one of the authors of 90+ Ways You Know You’re Becoming French