Paris – The Cité of Love

As a French student, going to Paris is almost a rite of passage, and there’s a good reason for it. Back in Year 12, my French class and I (around 12 people in total, sadly) were lucky enough to spend around 5 days in the capital and I cherished every minute of it. 

It started with the rush of arriving. In the morning we were bustling down to London, cramming our suitcases and bags onto the train and drowning ourselves in overpriced coffee before we set off for the Eurostar. It was thrilling just anticipating the arrival – whatever we would do there would be unforgettable and I knew I’d love it. 

As we arrived in the evening, the sky was black and the air was cool. Granted, it was January, so we couldn’t complain. The first sight we’d see would be the Eiffel Tower, lighting up the sky with its golden sparkles. I felt awe-struck in that moment; it was surreal to rush off a packed train and step into such a spectacular view. 

Not to sound like a complete cliché, but it truly was magical just appreciating this feat of architecture. I felt so privileged to even have the opportunity, simply because I’d chosen to study French. It opened up my eyes to see where the language could take me, and that learning a language is far more than just linguistics, but also a step into another culture, and everything that culture has to offer. 

Throughout the trip, I never failed to be impressed at all the marvellous landmarks we were seeing. Wading through crowds of people to see the Mona Lisa, sitting in the piles of books in Shakespeare and Co (a household name for bookworms) and visiting Le Père Lachaise Cemetery – everything was beautiful. Even ordering a crêpe in French felt special! 

Of course, Paris isn’t just its cultural sights. The forgotten estates (sometimes called cités) are just as much a part of the city as the Sacré Cœur. It’s important not to get too carried away romanticising a city where people who are desperately struggling are pushed to the side because neglect is not as profitable as grandeur. We briefly passed through a banlieue, but the differences are immediately noticeable. The buildings may be less appealing than those in the city centre, but the residents were especially helpful and kind. 

The banlieues are estates in the suburbs, populated by a number of 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants whose parents settled in after the Second World War to help France rebuild its economy. The residents have little access to good job opportunities because of their living environment, and their education is notoriously poorer than that of the more affluent areas.

The trip has always resonated with me because of those contrasts. Whilst the foreign tourists can come and admire the beauty of the city, the people who have lived on the outskirts have an entirely different lived experience, and it’s an unrecognisable world they live in which is sadly swept under the rug. Although I wanted to continue learning French for the culture, it would be unjustified to ignore the marginalised people of the city, and I realise now that language and politics are inseparable.

Katy Doolan

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