On our return trip from Vienna, we had a 10 hour layover in Paris. Despite the fact that we were staying near the airport which was about a half hour away from the Île de la Cité, and we were gonna have to wake up at 5 AM the next morning for our flight, I was determined to see my beautiful city. So we quickly checked into our hotel and then called an Uber to take us to Notre Dame. Little did we know how much of an adventure it would be…
Our Uber driver didn’t speak a lick of English, but was very friendly and offered us water in French. I took four years of French in high school and college…but unfortunately have forgotten most of it. Our Uber driver (named Gotcha of all things) sweetly slowed down his cadence and repeated himself until I understood his questions: “Do you like this music station?”, “How long are you two in Paris?”, “Did you hear about the Brangelina breakup?”
…ok, just kidding about that last one.
Anyway, we’re cruising along the highway, until we get to a huge buildup of cars on both sides of the 6-lane road. Apparently there were two major wrecks near each other and everyone was at a standstill while the police tried to take control of the scene. Gotcha’s GPS ominously announced a delay of ONE HOUR AND THIRTY FIVE MINUTES.
…Gotcha was stuck with us for the long haul.
So, to fight both boredom and depression for losing what little time we had to spend in the city, we began asking Gotcha more questions about life in Paris. With my poorly pronounced French adjectives and incorrect conjugations, Gotcha talked to us about life after the attacks in Paris, the tension between Uber and taxi drivers in the city, where the best bars in Paris were (not near the city center, in case you were wondering), what he was studying in school. It was so fun to connect with a native Parisian and laugh at our desperate attempts to understand each other with hand gestures and facial expressions.
It reminded us that we communicate and connect and empathize with others in so many different ways besides language. Sometimes words simply don’t matter.
Eventually (just before midnight) Gotcha pulled up to the cathedral. The city was swarming with people despite the late hour, celebrating la rentrée (the return of the Parisians from vacation and the beginning of the school year). Me and the hubs spent a precious few minutes walking along the Left Bank, watching the majestic Eiffel Tower sparkle for the top of the hour, and people-watching the lovers and friends hanging out along the Seine.
It was a picture-perfect moment. But the image that I hold onto the most from that night is Gotcha laughing at one of my jokes in French.
Because sometimes travel isn’t about the historic monuments or the idyllic avenues. It’s about the connection with one of our fellow humans, whether for a passing moment or for a lifetime. That’s what I’m looking for whenever I visit a new country – not the best museums, not the best gelato or pastry or burger (though those are all EXCELLENT bonuses).
I travel to learn, share stories, and understand others, because we all need each other to thrive in this chaotic world. In our time with Gotcha (surely that was just an odd nickname), we caught a glimpse of a side of Paris we rarely see or hear about, and we gained a Parisian friend that will remain in our memories for a lifetime.
Isn’t that worth more than a sweatshirt or keychain?
Why do You Travel? Have a similar story of connecting with people from other places and cultures? Comment below!