Paris – Reykjavík – Boston

We’re in Boston now — back in the States for the first time in six months or so. I really miss Paris. But at the same time, it is wonderful to be able to TALK again, to be able to express my thoughts and ask questions and know that if I have to argue/apologize/explain, I can do so and be understood!!!

I still have to tell you about our Louvre and Musée d’Orsay visits, so the Paris posts aren’t over yet. But for now, just a few things.

This morning I went to our local (Paris) post office to send off several parcels and a number of letters with fat enclosures. I went to the desk, and the lady walked me to one of the self-service machines, and showed me which buttons to press. After doing a few of my parcels for me, she left me to finish up. But when I swiped my credit card, it was not accepted. I found the lady again and faltered, “La machine… n’accepte pas… ma carte.” (Strange how much more slowly the words come from my mouth than from my keyboard.) She asked if it was an American card, and then said it wouldn’t take that. I was glad I’d taken all our Euros from their place on the dresser before I left. I gave her the bills, but no, I couldn’t pay her; she opened a drawer and changed my bills for all their 2€ coins and a great number of 1€ too, and told me to put those into the machine. Zut alors, the machine would only accept a certain number of coins per transaction, and I had to start all over. Long story short, it took me several tries, and — after I ran out of bills — nearly all the change in my coin purse to get my items posted. We had to catch the train to the airport within the hour and I was so flustered I dropped coins, and all of this went down in French: the display on the machine, conversation with the postal clerk. But. While I have met some friendly clerks at US post offices, I cannot imagine any of them doing as this patient Parisienne did, standing by without comment while I fed 29€ worth of coins into the slot, ran to her to change 2, 5, and 10-cent pieces to 1€ pieces, and stumbled over my French. When I thanked her profusely, she said with apparent sincerity, “C’est pas grave.” (“It’s no big deal.”) This is the Paris we were shocked to encounter, all month long — so much kindness, courtesy, and consideration from a population much maligned as rude! We walked into a Boston bakery this evening and no one greeted us. I very much felt the lack of the smile and the “Bonsoir, Madame.” Sigh.

We flew Icelandair from Charles de Gaulle to Keflavík, and from there to Boston (direct flights were possible but twice as costly). It was a pleasure to be among Icelanders again, even if they now seemed reserved after the cordial Parisians. (However: I really think Icelanders dress better than anyone. Even Parisians. But then, the styles are completely different.) When we touched down at KEF I looked out the window and the familiar sight of that Icelandic coastline made my heart hurt.


We got into the airport, sat down at the café, and ate hot dogs and skyr. “Do you realize,” I asked Erik, “Reykjavík is the place we’ve stayed the longest, in the past seven months? No wonder it feels like coming home.” In the gift shop I found an Icelandic wool cap. Our time in Paris had me wanting a beret, but I didn’t find one I liked. This will have to do instead.

The sketchbook page I filled out while traveling today:


Here I am in my new Icelandic hat, in the supercute Boston apartment: 
Photo on 2012-12-04 at 01.00


First meal back in the States came from a Korean takeaway around the corner. Mom and Dad cooked, daughter ran the cash register. It seemed fitting since the first meals of our Toronto stay were in Koreatown.



Back in the apartment, we heard/felt a thundering crash, followed shortly by a knock on the door. Our downstairs neighbor told us a part of her ceiling had fallen down and made a mess of her apartment. Later the fire department came, and they too knocked on our door, though only to ask if we’d noticed anything out of the ordinary. A terrible situation for the girl downstairs, but fingers crossed, things will be okay in our apartment. Welcome back to the US! What an adventure.

(And no — if you’re not up to date on the travel plans — we are not returning home for good just yet; our travels begin again in early 2013!)


14 responses to “Paris – Reykjavík – Boston

  1. Oh what adventures you’ve been having! Thanks for sharing them with us, Lisa. This chapter had me shaking until you prevailed at the post office. (Sometimes I crumple with that kind of struggle — and that’s when I’m supposedly speaking the same language as everyone around me!)

    I’ve never heard such glowing stories about French generosity before. I’ve always wanted to go there, but I thought it would be more about the sights and the standoffish, but stylish ambience. Their tourism board should pay you for what you’ve done to dispel that kind of thinking. 🙂

    • Thank you for coming along for the ride! 🙂 It’s been such a comfort to stay in touch. I know what you mean about the post office — I couldn’t believe the woman was so nice; I felt so strongly the strain of being ignorant/confused/slow.

      Hee, yes, I found Parisians really truly surprisingly kind. Of course not everyone was a paragon of courtesy — we received some very disconcerting stares when our French wasn’t up to par — but by and large, people were extraordinarily polite and friendly, often even chatty. One longer-term visitor told me that she thinks the reputation comes because most tourists only see Parisians at their worst; in the hot summers, anyone who can afford it escapes into the countryside. So the only locals left in the city are the ones who don’t want to be there, and they are deluged with millions of tourists who often can’t speak a word of French and don’t even try.

    • Oh!! Now that is exciting. We’ll be here till the 17th and we’re staying in what I think is technically Brookline — very close to St Marys St station.

      • I know where that its! I believe you are very close to Japonaise, a French/Japanese bakery. I’m quite fond of their onigiri!

        I go into Boston about once a week for a lab meeting at BU, which is quite close to that part of Brookline. Maybe we could meet up for a quick beverage?

        • Funny you mention Japonaise — I actually went in there today and was just a moment ago eating a slice of their bread! Mmm.

          That would be fantastic to meet up! My schedule is pretty flexible, so if you know when you’ll be in town, feel free to drop me an email! 🙂 So exciting.

  2. That post office lady sounds super nice! I would probably have given up and left if I were you.

    I always like reading about how things are different in different countires.

    • I probably would have left if it hadn’t been my last chance to send those packages. I didn’t want to lug them onto the plane. ;b I still can’t believe the lady’s patience! But maybe it happens all the time, who knows?

      I like seeing how things are in different countries too, though it’s always a little stressful when I’m on the spot. ;b I went to the post office here in the US the other day, and it was so nice to once again know how everything worked!

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