When good Americans die, they go to Paris. Oscar Wilde
I’m standing on a quiet street in Paris. The square in front of Notre Dame is deserted. Early is different in some European cities than in Tennessee but 7:00 a.m on a Sunday is universally, undeniably early.
As I turn toward the bridge, I wonder if I’m going to be walking all the way to Rue Cler. Magically, out of the mist, a taxi emerges. Since it’s just three of us – the cab, my Rick Steves roller bag and me – the situation is clear. I hop in.
Here is the truth. I am not a good listener. All my better qualities of determination, force of will, and focus create a flip-side deficit of patience and listening. When I travel on my own, there is an opportunity to try harder, start over and learn.
On my own, I need more – more clues, more information and more nuance. When someone who doesn’t share your native tongue says, “sure, it’s nice”…you have to listen with your intuition. Nice could mean “nice if you like tripe”, “nice if you like tourists, you’re sure to see someone you know” or “nice but if my brother-in-law didn’t own it, I’d tell you the truth.”
The taxi that Sunday morning was a surprise. There was a master plan. I flew into Paris, stayed in the Hotel Dieu, the ancient hospital adjacent to Notre Dame, and was up early. The spreadsheet said to start the day by going straight to the hotel where I would stay on my return to Paris, drop the luggage, and take off for Mont St Michel with nothing but a shoulder bag, 2 croissants, and a sense of adventure.
At the beginning of this plan, the hotel was supposed to call a cab for me. No big deal. Except that a jet lagged, laser-focused American couldn’t get the French college student to make the call. “It’s not going to come” he says. “No one will come. Just go outside”. (Read that again with a French accent, imagine he’s still looking at his iPhone, and you’re me.) You fill in the rest.
This is not a critical story but it was a flash point for me on the first day of my trip. The kid was exactly right. There was no traffic, but the one cab out and about found me.
This moment made me think for the rest of that trip – what does it mean to hear to what someone is trying to tell me? Generally, I find most people I run into when I travel do try sincerely to help. I find this a singular marvel. My job is to take a breath, look carefully and listen intently. It’s my job to at least start from a place of belief and gratitude that doesn’t lead with my own plan.
That may be at the heart of becoming a citizen of the world.