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Little Spouse On The Prairie: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

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The morning after our arrival in France, we drove from Calais toward Paris. It was so good to be driving on the “right” side of the road again.

The morning after our arrival in France, we drove from Calais toward Paris. It was so good to be driving on the “right” side of the road again. The kids were relieved that I had given up my mock British accent, but they seemed equally unimpressed with my faux Francais.

Our trusty travel agent had advised us that staying away from the heart of the city would save us considerable euros. We checked into our hotel, which was in Le Mée-sur-Seine, a little community about 45 minutes by metro to Paris. We were delighted with the small-town feel and the proximity to the metro station. Though it took an hour on the metro to get to the Eiffel Tower, it was well worth it to leave that little rental vehicle out of the way while we explored.

The Parisians told us proudly that the city metro travels over 600,000 miles per day, which is actually the equivalent of ten times around the earth. That’s about how many miles we traveled circling a confusing round-about on the outskirts of Paris, so I assumed using the metro would be less stressful.

Of course, our first destination had to be the famous tower. After a restful night, we planned to arrive early, because we knew tourists would be crowding the popular attraction toward lunch time. It wasn’t even quite light yet when we arrived at the metro station.

Nineteen helpful French strangers assured us that it was of the utmost importance that we got on the direct, nonstop line to the city center. They told us that if, by chance, we got on the multiple-stop route, it would take us hours upon hours to get close to the Eiffel Tower. So, once we were 100% sure that we were boarding the correct train, we settled in for the high speed, nonstop trip.

Three minutes later, the first of approximately 79 stops was announced. Somehow, we had had missed the direct line. We used the extra time to download French translation apps to our phones, purchase tickets online, eat all of the granola bars we had packed for later, bicker with siblings, and spill two water bottles all over our clothing.

When we finally arrived at the correct station, we made the delightful discovery that someone’s granola bar had been dropped on the seat, leaving a large, unsightly skid mark on the rear of my light blue pants. My 13-year-old son was sure that the slender, sophisticated French women wouldn’t notice the stain if I tied his ratty old sweatshirt around my waist.

Upon emerging from the Champ de Mars station, we did kind of feel that we were on Mars; the contrast from our rural hotel and the busy city was so marked. We split up and the more intrepid ones headed to wait in line for the trip to the top of the tower. As listeners know, I do not need daring feats to achieve personal fulfillment, so I opted to stay “par terre.”

Just as soon as our group caught sight of the famous landmark, a vendor approached us carrying hundreds of miniature Eiffel Towers. He had Eiffel Towers hanging from his hat, his shoulders, his elbows, and his waist. He jangled more loudly than a school custodian’s belt!

I’m not sure how he instantly knew we weren’t Americans. I mean, I was wearing a beret, and Joel kept shouting, “Bon Jer! Bon Jer!” at passersby (Yes, Joel even starts random conversations with people in other countries, but at least he can’t recite their junior high sports statistics). He must have been super perceptive, because he picked us out despite our amazing assimilation skills.

The vendor said, “Ah! We love Americans! For you: free!” and handed Clementine a cheap keychain. We said, “Thank you,” and continued on our way. Or tried to. The man said, “Let me show you how to take a picture. He grabbed Joel’s phone out of his hands and took Clementine’s arm. He positioned Clementine so that it looked like she was holding up the Eiffel Tower and snapped a picture with Joel’s phone. Then he handed us a large model of the Tower and said, “For Americans, only 20 euros.”

That’s when we knew that our naivety was written all over our clueless faces. I grabbed the “free” keychain out of Clementine’s hands and returned both to the vendor. We obtained two things from the experience: a cute picture of Clementine holding the real tower in her hand and a lesson learned