How many people can raise their hand and confirm that they have been to France? Take a look around; there are more than you would think. And most of those people? They could probably spout some paragraph verifying that their journey was extremely educational, that they learned so much in France, that they witnessed major cultural differences first-hand and learned to respect and cherish those differences. I count myself among those hand-raisers, those paragraph-spouters. But I have something else to add, a story that reveals where the true cultural differences lie.
The America of the movies is portrayed as a place of hit-and-runs, the place where you look at someone funny and they shoot you without a second thought. But that America has nothing on the ticket-takers at the Louvre. Being under eighteen, I can score free admission into most museums in France, something that means a lot to those cash-strapped adolescents wandering the malls. But you do not receive a ticket; instead, the receptionist cheerfully records your name in a large book at the front desk. And that is it: no ticket, no pass, nothing to prove that you are there for free except that book. This is something that the ticket-takers evidently do not appreciate. Try to move from Egyptian artifacts to Renaissance paintings and a blonde French woman will scream at you: “Oh lÃ lÃ ! C’est impossible! Pas entry! Non, non!” Apparently the photo I.D. that states that I am, in fact, under eighteen and am therefore in the Louvre for free, does not appease this woman. She knocks the card out of my hand and rears her perfectly coiffed head to scream what sounds suspiciously like obscenities at me, clearly utilizing all the air her lungs can hold. And all around us, people’s heads swivel to take in the scene. “What’s going on? Did she try to steal something? I didn’t get yelled at trying to get in!”
Realizing, rather belatedly, that I am in no way, shape, or form, going to make it past that woman alive in order to see some Renaissance paintings, I slink out, past the ancient statues and the underground mall of gift shops. My face burns red when I go over the encounter once more in my memory. I wave to the cheerful receptionist as I walk past her, wishing she had just given me a ticket. I meet my group by the bus where I find out that nobody had an experience like mine.
But strangely enough, this experience taught me a number of lessons, both important and trivial. I learned never to anger a French woman, particularly in the early hours of the morning. I learned that the Louvre desperately needs to rethink its group ticketing policy. But most of all, I learned that the clichÃ© ‘expect the unexpected’ is true. Even something as banal as visiting a museum in another country is an adventure, something to be recounted and exaggerated many times over. Because, in my opinion, that is where you see them; the huge cultural differences such as food and language are neither as detailed nor as real as the little things. The little things like attempting to walk into a different ward of a museum or using the post office.
I had many more adventures in my France trip [though no more French women screamed at me] but none as beneficial as that hour-long visa into the Louvre. For that is where I saw where true cultural differences lie. They are everywhere, you see. You just have to look for them.
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