On the day in late June when Mark Jones took off for Paris with 44 University of Guadalajara computer science students, it is safe to say nobody was feeling gloomy, even though the three-legged flight (Guadalajara to Mexico City to Miami to Paris) was not only complicated but expensive. Jones said his three-week stay in a Paris suburb, despite a heavy teaching load, “left me in awe,” even though there were surprises, mostly pleasant, in the people, food, culture and transportation.
“I’d definitely go back,” he declared. “Paris is amazing.”
The amazement centered on several fronts, and this despite the fact that Jones is a native of New York (he has been in Guadalajara 13 years) and is a well traveled individual.The people themselves were his first surprise. “Now everybody is asking me how the French people are. But almost everyone I met there was an immigrant or a tourist!”
He explained that acquaintances in France told him that the country has an open-door policy toward immigrants from French-speaking countries.
“Many people don’t realize there are about 20 French-speaking African countries — Cameroon, Congo,” he said, listing some. “The suburb where the university is located, Evry, is designated an ‘immigration settlement community.’ I saw mostly African immigrants. It was very colorful.
“In terms of language, there’s no problem in France with assimilation — not like in the States where some Latino immigrants don’t know English,” he continued. “You read about a culture clash in France — maybe between French and Muslim cultures. I saw people in traditional village dress — lots of women with draped faces. But Evry is very peaceful, clean and modern. I didn’t see any simmering resentment.”
As for language, Jones said he doesn’t know French, so on the streets he first tried Spanish and then English. “But you need to learn French to talk to the Africans!” he noted.
Jones observed that Paris boasts an abundance of cultural events aimed at ordinary people. “I went to a black gospel concert in an 18th century church and a Chopin piano concert in a 12th century church. There were only 20 to 40 people in the audience and the cost was 30 euros, which is accessible.”
He saw just a little graffiti and it was on a government building in the center of Paris. “It said, ‘Your luxury is our misery,’ in English” — an apparent dig at Paris’ grandiose monuments and tourist culture.
As for food, there too, Jones went with high expectations and encountered surprises.
“Generally the food was okay, but nothing to shout about. I’m used to Mexican food, which is so tasty. And the students were saying, ‘We want more picante!’ But a couple of times I was treated to a meal at four- or five-star restaurants and those meals were exceptional. But expensive — €100 euros [about $125 dollars] per person. I had foie gras once.”
Jones noticed a remarkable lack of obesity in France, a big difference from Mexico and the United States.
“I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of obese people I saw. In Paris, people are mostly tall and thin, maybe because it’s a cosmetic city. But I didn’t see consumption of junk foods — I saw almost no sodas. The big thing is coffee — usually espresso, which they just call ‘cafe’ — and water, juice or wine with meals.”
“The French have rejected genetically modified food,” he added happily. “I was told that they are very aware of GMOs and they voted no on them because they’re not convinced they’re safe.”
Another facet of France that pleased Jones was the public transportation.
“France should be a model for the world. All the urban and suburban train and metro systems are integrated, unlike in New York, where they’re all different companies. I got a weekly pass with unlimited travel for €35 euros, equivalent to $42 U.S. dollars. I was in awe.
“They’re smart — all the tourist attractions are near a stop on the Metro or suburban train lines. And from Charles de Gaulle airport, you can get trains to where you want to go.”
“If people have a chance to go to Paris, they should,” he summed up, “As long as they have enough money. It’s no fun if you have to constantly think about what everything costs.” Jones noted that his situation was special because, as a professor, all his expenses were paid.
“You feel a lot of history there. They survived so many wars and the occupation of Hitler and they’ve managed to become a great civilization.”