Exploring subcultures as the representative
First of all, let me just say that I think you did exactly what Twain was attempting, only you did it well – telling an unconventional travel narrative. According to Redfoot, Orwell, you would fall under the fourth level of tourist as you lived in your respected area for a year and a half, fully submerging yourself in the culture. However, what I find particularly interesting here is the way you focus more on the hotel staff and impoverished individuals as a culture or nationality rather than write about the culture of Paris.
When you first began writing about this impoverished French city full of lodgers from different areas with different personalities and stories, such as the Romanian and the Italian thief, I thought, perhaps, you were alluding to the diversity of the hotel you were staying in, perhaps representative of the diversity of the area. I soon, however, realized you were focusing on the impoverished as their own nationality, even though you did mention the heritage of other characters as you wrote (for example, telling us the hotel staff was run mainly by Italians or that there was a slacking Serbian only doing half a day’s work throughout the city).
In fact, it becomes almost obvious in the first chapter that you’re talking about the poor as a group when you write “Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.” With this statement, you turn poverty into a destination; you make poverty seem a world away – a travel destination that almost everyone will visit at some point in their life. In the third chapter, you discuss this concept of almost everyone in Paris being poor, the dirty underbelly of the beautiful place. However, you would kill the first level of tourists Redfoot discusses with the inauthenticity of poverty when you tell us it’s an underground, secret club protected by lies and thrift – difficult to discover and even harder to understand. You tell us poverty isn’t what we expect; it’s complicated and difficult, but only about a quarter as bad as one would imagine. (You really like the word quarter, I’ve noticed – should I trust your rounded numbers or assume you like the way they feel flowing from your fingers?) For those tourists thirsting for the “real thing,” perhaps poverty isn’t in their best interest to explore. “It is the peculiar LOWNESS of poverty that you discover first; the shifts that it puts you to, the complicated meanness, the crust-wiping.”
I think, perhaps, you really drive home this idea of economic status becoming a nationality when Boris, the Russian waiter, says “Ah, but I have known what it is to live like a gentleman, MON AMI.” As you continue to develop the hierarchy of the Hotel X food staff, we learn of the socio-economic differences between cooks, waiters, and plongeurs. “This gives some idea of the elaborate caste system existing in a hotel.” We get the sense that you truly are destitute, regardless of the appreciation the hotel staff has for your English speaking skills, when you are made to shave of your moustache and it is said to you “A plongeur is too low to be prosecuted.” You also say “it does not do for a waiter to be friendly with plongeurs,” yet you tell us of how everyone gets along at the bistro between work hours, which is similar to a nationalist getting along with another nationalist at a convention or on a plane ride, or something like that. (See what I did there?) You also say “I think he was a Transylvanian, or something even more remote,” which shows your economic situation is far more important than your nationality. (Yet you do mention that different jobs were done by different races, so perhaps poverty and wealth are distributed based on heritage; so, it does still have some place.)
You also discuss all the complicated jobs and hectic kitchen frenzy during rush hours, which relates to the complicated predicament of being poor. I’m not sure if that was intentional. Regardless, I like how it juxtaposed the scene from those staying at the hotel. “It was amusing to look round the filthy little scullery and think that only a double door was between us and the dining-room.” This shows how easy it is to flow between economic status and how the demographics of an area are constantly changing; so, it’s difficult to get a true sense of a place. (Perhaps this is why you focused on a subculture rather than a culture. Maybe not)
I think the only section of this story that relates to travel in the traditional sense is when you disuss the Bistro and the people who frequent it. You appeal to the typical notion of France as being full of romantic drunkards when you retell the story of Charlie coming into the Bistro, getting drunk, and declaring that he would tell a love story. You really throw the audience for a loop when he starts talking about rape though. First class tourists beware.