Not Saving Cats: Early Paris Blunders

Daniel Mizell is a student at Arizona State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Daniel is currently studying abroad with ISA in Paris, France.

Good morning!
Good morning!

The most popular book about screenwriting is called Save the Cat. The title refers to the theory that in order to get a movie audience to care about the main character, and thus the movie, you have the main character do something “nice.” In other words, you have them “save a cat.” Unfortunately, this is a misunderstanding of how audience empathy actually works; audiences are much more likely to empathize with a character when they see them messing up or being down on their luck, because it makes them feel more relatable. With that being said, here are my top three blunders from my first weeks in Paris, in what is certainly not a desperate attempt to get you, dear reader, to empathize me more.

1) “Bonsoir!”

Even if you’ve never taken a French class before, you probably know that to say “Hello” to someone, you say “Bonjour.” Well, that’s mostly true. Translated literally, “Bonjour” means “Good day.” Once the sun is down, using a phrase with “day” in it makes a bit less sense, so the French say “Bonsoir,” or “Good evening,” instead. However, when you’re somewhere between exhausted and sleep-deprived after spending eleven hours sitting on an airplane, it becomes easy to forget these sorts of things. That didn’t make me feel any better, though, when I greeted someone at 9:00pm with a gleeful “Bonjour!” only to have them reply “Bonsoir.”

2) When one door closes…

Using the Metro system in France is simple. It is a bit difficult to explain, but once someone takes the train by themselves for the first time, things click pretty quickly. I was beyond confused when several different people tried to tell me how to figure out which lines to take, and after hearing about how easy the Metro was, I was worried I was going to look like a dunce getting lost on the trains. However, when I finally took it by myself, I managed to easily figure out which line I needed, how to tell which side to get on, and what stop to get off at. I sat on the nearly empty train feeling proud that I had got it down, and then the train stopped at my stop, but the doors did not open. Unbeknownst to me, some of the lines open automatically, some have a button you press, and some have a handle you turn. I saw that my doors did not open, and did not think I had time to figure out how to open them before the train started again. I ran for the next set of doors which someone else had opened, but I did not have time to make it to them either.

3) Some part of a cow

I was more than a little nervous the first time I went out to a French restaurant, a real French restaurant, all by myself. I’d been to food stands and more “American-style” restaurants, but a full on French restaurant filled with locals was daunting to me. So when I finally sat down at a table at Chartier, I was a bit overwhelmed. I looked at my menu to order and found “Steak haché” for less than ten euros. My French was not great then, but I figured, “Hey, I know that word there!” In a surprising turn of events, Steak haché actually means “ground beef,” so I had ordered a hamburger. It came out covered in a brown sauce that made it difficult to see what it was. A part of me thought it may have just been a very tiny cut of steak. So, not satisfied with ordering the wrong thing, I decided to double-down and ask for a steak knife to “properly” cut my dish. So then I was the dude in the restaurant who cut into a burger with a steak knife and just destroyed it. I’ve had my better moments.

On the bright side, none of these were all that bad, and I think they’re all funny. Live and learn.

Author: Daniel Mizell

Spending the 2014 spring semester in Paris.

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