News reports presently paint a different picture of Paris, one of the world’s most visited cities. On November 13, 2015, French President François Hollande declared a state of emergency after multiple terrorist attacks claimed the lives of more than 120 people and left 200 more with injuries. The scale of the attacks was so massive that it has been dubbed as the worst to hit the capital of France since World War II.
Metro train lines were shut down and streets closed after horror struck the city. All national borders were subsequently closed. The attacks happened only ten months after the shootings inside the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which killed 12 people, mostly journalists.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has already claimed responsibility for the Friday the 13th attacks.
When the news broke out, I was already in Angers, a university town of more than 140,000 people in western France. Even though I am two hours away from Paris by train, I was flooded with messages from the Philippines, asking if I am okay. Thus I posted a status on Facebook saying I am safe.
Still, I could not sleep after reading such heartbreaking news. On a positive note, it also somehow restored my faith in humanity. The French people, especially Parisians, have been stereotyped as “rude” and “unfriendly” especially to tourists. However, the hashtag #PorteOuverte, which means open doors in French, shows otherwise.
Social media posts have been praising how taxi drivers in Paris offered free rides to passengers. Some Parisians also opened their homes to strangers seeking safety. One French student from my school even posted on our Facebook group, offering her place to our schoolmates who are in Paris.
Paris and the French Myth
My experience in Paris and France, in general, also proves the “French myth” wrong. When I first arrived in Angers, I was surprised that people greet everyone “Bonjour.” Even when I was in Paris, the locals who I asked for directions were quite friendly (as I had no mobile data and was only armed with a map). French motorists are very considerate of pedestrians unlike Filipino motorists who are more likely to honk at you as you cross the street.
After more than two months of living as an exchange student in Angers, I finally got to explore Paris last Halloween. I opted to traipse around the city alone as I wanted to know every nook and cranny of the City of Lights. I felt relatively safe even at night except for some catcalls from random strangers.
Most of my French classmates are also nice, especially those who have studied or worked as an intern abroad, as they know how it feels to be in a foreign land. It is still difficult to get into their circles especially if vous ne parlez pas Français (you don’t speak French).
Once in our Intercultural and Diversity Management class, we were asked to bring an artifact that symbolizes our culture. With bottles of wine, euro bills, baguette, and croissant, my French classmates proudly told the whole class how they are “very French” and explained what those artifacts meant in the French culture. I was amazed at how much they love their language and culture.
This can be traced from their colonial past and long history of victories that date back to the French revolution in 1789. France is also one of the key players in the 1990s that eventually led to the European integration. And of course, French is such a commanding language. It is the world’s sixth most widely spoken language, according to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As France tries to rise from the most violent attacks in its recent history and as its people continue to open their doors to locals and strangers alike, I now understand better why they are proud to be “very French.”
About the Author
Abigail Dy studied for a few months in Angers, France to study at ESSCA (École Supérieure des Sciences Commerciales d’Angers), one of the top twenty graduate schools in Europe. She was previously a segment producer for the Special Assignments Team of GMA News in the Philippines.