Category : Travel
It was my first week as an exchange student. I was sixteen years old and in Paris with my best friend Jim. We would leave our host house, take the subway into the heart of the city, wander around Paris for the day, then take a bus to meet up with our exchange group. It worked perfectly the first day we tried it. We met up with Mr. Reily and the rest of the exchange students at the D’Orsay museum.
The second day we were not so lucky. We underestimated the ability of Parisians to pull a fast one on unsuspecting American youth. We were supposed to meet our exchange group at the Arc de Triomphe. Around two o’clock we started asking French citizens how to get to the monument. Our French skills were lacking, but many of the French spoke English, and we were soon on a bus on our way to the Arc. Following our guide’s instruction we got off the at a park on the edge of the Seine River.
We made our way to the center of the park where there was a twenty-foot arch in the middle of a fountain. An hour went by, it was past four o’clock, and none of our exchange group was there. We started to realize that we had made a mistake. We decided to catch a bus out of the park and find our way to the real Arch.
We asked our fellow double-decker travelers where the Arch was, but no one could understand us. Frustrated, I made an announcement to the whole bus. “Je suis perdu. Qui speakes un petit anglais”
“I speak English well.” The man was dressed in a suit and he carried a briefcase. Jim and I slid into the seat next to him and explained our predicament. The man chuckled, “They were putting a joke on you, the Arch in the park is réplique.” He continued to laugh and went on to explain that many Parisians send tourists to the replica Arch in the park as a trick. The man with the briefcase took pity on us silly Americans, rode with us for the connecting subway ride, and made sure we safely met our group.
We were two hours late, this was before the days of cell phones, and Mr. Reily had started to worry. From then on we used Paris maps and our navigation skills to get around the city. We made sure the slick Parisians did not get a second chance to prank us.