On tourism, pumpkin spice lattés, and finding my own authentic
I am tourist hear me roar—in English.
I am tourist watch me eat—at least one pastry per day; I am in no way gastronomically jaded by French cuisine.
I am tourist watch me read—maps, never leave home without them.
I am tourist watch me write—postcards. I adore overly romanticizing my probably inauthentic French experience.
I am tourist watch me walk—slowly. There are quite a lot of beautiful things to see when walking down a street in Paris.
I am tourist hear me roar.
In his essay, “Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings,” Dean MacCannell discusses the tensions between tourism and authenticity. He explains that though tourists are often pursuing “quests for authentic experiences,” the social spaces they inhabit are most often a constructed authentic, a staged production which simulates a native reality (593). In a tour of the inner workings of a factory or dinner at a restaurant that doesn’t have English on the menu, the tourist is validated in his/her self-edifying pilgrimage for the moral high of “authentic” travel.
Last week I went to Starbucks for the first time since arriving in Paris. It had been a rough day; a professor was French-style, hyper-critical, (opposed to American-style hyper-complimenting) of a presentation whose research (in FRENCH mind you)
I had slaved over. I was feeling socially awkward and out of place and missing my urban family of friends back in New York. And we had just spent the last hour of class discussing American cultural imperialism; Starbucks was on my mind. In a previous resolution to spend my time in France as a moral superior, leading an “authentic” Parisian life of quaint cafés with tiny espressos, I had promised myself I would never given to the grandé to-go coffee cup allure. I would be better, more truly Parisian
, than other students By frequenting chic cafés I would obviously acquire the very hip Parisian life implied by such venues: sexy Frenchman, cool French friends, perfect Left bank apartment, tiny little French waist, etc. But on this particular rainy Tuesday, those ideals (read: entirely implausible stereotypes) were no longer relevant. Fuck authenticity, I wanted a pumpkin spice latté.
And in ordering my oddly specific autumnal beverage of choice, I finally fell into my
Parisian authentic. My French isn’t perfect, but I try really hard, and it’s getting better. I still don’t recognize all the coins by size, counting out exact change can be a long process, but I try and avoid my American credit card. I’m not the size nor the shape of la femme parisienne, but I walk quite a bit every day and don’t mind rewarding myself with a croissant here and there or acquiescing to whipped cream on my latté. And as much as I may want to be a chic Parisian with a sexy French accent, my authentic is a slightly-clumsy, usually-awkward Jewish girl from New England who still can’t say the French “R” correctly.
And that’s ok. In fact it’s better than ok, it’s fantastic. Paris is infinitely more enjoyable laughing with new friends in English than sitting in a posh café alone. Paris is endlessly more pleasurable when shrieking with elation at the beauty of Opera Garnier than when playing the role of jaded Parisian whose already been there and of course déjà done that. Paris is considerably more pleasant when adequately caffeinated with a beverage that tastes like home and takes me out of the elite ideal and into the sometimes less glamorous present.
I am tourist hear me roar—with joy and passion and frustration and elation and confusion and awe and gratitude for being in this authentic moment in Paris.