The Third Language

My ambitious plan to line up at the Louvre entrance at 9 AM was, as expected, defeated by the temptation to enjoy a leisurely lie-in. By the time I finally arrived at the Louvre, it was already 11 AM. The sun was scorching, tourists filled the porch, and the line stretched into the unshaded areas. I took a glance and thought, “Forget it, I’d have to queue for an hour to get in, and the Louvre isn’t a must-see, right? Wouldn’t it be better to go out and eat something delicious?” However, since I was already there, I decided to join the queue after some mental struggle. Fortunately, the line moved quickly, and I entered the Louvre in no time. The lobby was bustling, and the signs were in French, English, and Chinese. Seeing Chinese as the third language in France, I felt inexplicably proud. I rented an audio guide from the front desk, requesting it “In Chinese, please!” and entered the first exhibition hall.

The Louvre is swarming with people, all trying to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. Ying'er said that with my height, I probably wouldn't be able to see anything, but that's not true; I still managed to get a peek at it.

Divine “Messenger” Descends

I left the Louvre at 3:30 PM, and the scorching sun outside made me unwilling to stay on the street for even a second longer. I still had half an hour before my scheduled entry time to the Musée de l’Orangerie, so I chose a shady spot in the Louvre square and lay down comfortably on a bench. While chatting with my parents on the phone, I suddenly felt a faint impact on my chest! A clump of colorful fruit debris appeared on my white short-sleeved shirt. Looking up, I saw a gray bird, the culprit, perched on a tree branch above me, enjoying the shade. I laughed helplessly, recalling a classmate’s story of being attacked on his head by bird droppings at a train station. However, I was luckier; the bird apparently hadn’t finished digesting, so there was no lingering smell on my clothes. Observing the colorful mixture, I even thought I could analyze the components of the bird’s lunch that day. As the appointed time approached, I hurriedly wiped my clothes clean, carrying the shock and imprint of this “divine gift” with me as I headed to the Musée de l’Orangerie.

The ringleader of all the trouble is right here.
The huge Water Lilies painting at the Musée de l'Orangerie.

“I really don’t have the money!”

Browsing through second-hand clothing stores has always been one of my favorite activities. In the UK, I often frequented various charity shops and occasionally found great deals on various garments. I couldn’t miss the numerous vintage shops in Paris. Paris has fewer charity shops than London, and second-hand stores are mostly privately owned vintage shops. The clothing in vintage shops is usually carefully curated by the shop owner, resulting in a more distinctive style and slightly higher prices than charity shops. There were several shops near the hostel where I was staying. I braved the blazing sun and searched for them one by one. Compared to London and Cambridge, the clothing styles in Parisian second-hand stores were noticeably bolder and more avant-garde. Fluorescent pink patent leather jackets that dazzle your eyes, dark velvet corsets adorned with red gemstones resembling extravagant anime character costumes (which I bought), and mismatched jeans with one leg longer than the other… I wish I had my girl friends with me to make snarky comments while browsing. Our ugly item contest would have had plenty of new material!

In a small alley, there was a little shop run by an elderly lady. Beautiful dresses hung tightly together, piling up to the ceiling. I picked out a black denim sundress with a form-fitting cut at the chest and waist, and a delicate hem that seemed to be just my size.

“This one is 500 euros,” the old lady conveyed the key information in broken English. I immediately said it was too expensive.

“This is Christian Dior. It’s 2000 euros in the store. I’ll sell it to you for 500 euros. It’s very cheap!”

I shook my head, “I don’t have that much money.”

“Today is so hot, there are no customers. 400 euros for you!” I still shook my head.

“How much do you want to spend on a dress?” I thought maybe I could pick one for the May Ball (end-of-term prom), so I said no more than 200 euros. The old lady got up from her wicker chair and rummaged through the pile of clothes, holding up one, then two. They were unremarkable, and I didn’t like them. “You don’t like these either!” “Forget it, forget it,” the old lady said, “This one is 300 euros for you, not a cent less!” After a few rounds of back and forth, I inadvertently managed to haggle the price down by 200 euros. Hahaha, it looks like clothing stores in Paris have their own set of complexities and hidden rules for good price, just like shopping malls back home! I suddenly recalled my mom taking me, a primary school student, on shopping sprees at the clothing market. In the psychological warfare of haggling, my mom is a seasoned veteran, and her tactics are foolproof. If my mom spoke French, maybe she could have gotten the dress for 100 euros, hahaha, the thought made me laugh. “I know Dior, the dress is beautiful, but I really don’t have the money!” I exclaimed as I fled the store. The sun outside was so hot that it felt like it could melt people. I breathed a sigh of relief, finally, no one was trying to sell me clothes anymore!

Perfume Perpetual Motion Machine

The train from Paris to Geneva, as expected, was delayed again. Is it true that every train passing through France is going to be late?? I got up early to rush to the train station, only to see a sign indicating a two-hour delay, which left me on the verge of tears. More and more tourists piled up in the waiting hall, making even a seat to rest scarce. Well, I might as well go shopping. After buying a chubby mascara in Sephora, a salesgirl kindly gave me a Chanel perfume sample – my imagination was instantly ignited! Buy ten mascaras, combine them into a full-size Chanel perfume, sell the perfume, and use the money earned to buy more mascaras… This way, I could create a perfume-mascara perpetual motion machine! Maybe waiting for the train was too boring, causing all sorts of strange ideas to pop up in my head.
The modern style rubber ducks at the second-hand market.

Heroes from Young Age

Honestly, I was extremely lucky on this trip. Although I didn’t have any plans, I mysteriously encountered many events. Early in the morning, when I went out to send a parcel back to the UK, I saw vendors at a weekend second-hand market setting up their interesting goods right as I stepped out of the building. When I returned to the hostel in the evening, the street downstairs was filled with a large crowd, including several journalists with cameras and some police officers setting up caution tape. Following the Chinese people’s natural curiosity for excitement, I asked a person next to me what was going on. This curly-haired young man who looked like a high school student began to explain to me in English – they were waiting for the French Prime Minister election results to be announced in twenty minutes. The current president is Macron, who doesn’t do practical things for the poor, so he is not well-liked. The gathered people are supporters of Mélenchon, a left-wing politician who does good things for the poor and considers the future of young people. Mélenchon is in the house right in front of us; if he wins, he will give a televised speech from inside, and the Macron government will be forced to agree to a coalition government.

“Are you a high school student? How old are you this year?” He really looked like a child, but he already knew so much. “Yes, I’m sixteen.” I suddenly wanted to tease him with the advantage of East Asians looking younger, “Can you guess how old I am?” “Seventeen?” I laughed, “You are sooooo sweet!” and told him I had already graduated from college.

“Do you want to be president in the future?” I asked, looking into his deep brown eyes. “Of course!” he said without hesitation. He said he wouldn’t compromise the common people to please the rich and noble; he would be the people’s president. I said, “Politics has always been complicated. Perhaps if Macron didn’t compromise for the interests of big businessmen, he wouldn’t be able to hold onto the presidency.” I paused, “As long as he fundamentally seeks the welfare of the people, he is still a qualified president.” “But he hasn’t!” the curly-haired boy firmly and thoroughly denied his president. “Okay, I believe you, young people of France!” “Do you want to be on TV?” I asked. “I want to!” his eyes still had the momentum of just surveying the political arena. “Come on, let’s go up front!” I pretended to push him to the front of the crowd, where the cameras and microphones were, “Today, let everyone know—this is the future president of the French people!” We laughed heartily.

Mélenchon's victory speech.

The time to announce the prime minister candidate was getting closer, and the big screen was showing the election results of various state representatives. If a person from Mélenchon’s side won, the crowd would erupt in cheers; otherwise, there would be boos. Finally, the final election results were announced on TV! Although I couldn’t read French, the cheers of the people let me know they had won! Everyone was in high spirits waiting for Mélenchon’s victory speech, and the staff under the sunshade started distributing sweet fruit wine, biscuits, and pizza. “Do you want to eat something?” the curly-haired boy asked. I was a bit surprised, “Dinner? With your family?” “No, no, no, they’re giving out free food,” he pointed to the stacks of bottled water in the tent. “Can I eat even if I’m not French?” “Of course!” Following the principle of not missing out on free food, I took a glass of fruit wine and a handful of biscuits. Mélenchon spoke slowly, and the crowd around me clapped, cheered, and even sang together from time to time for his words. The setting sun and fruit wine were the same orange-red color, intoxicating people with the joyful atmosphere.

The future President of the French people and me.

“Hey, we have to pack up and go home,” the curly-haired boy’s voice brought me back to reality. His mother and sister were waiting for him nearby with their things. His mother had gentle black eyes and the same long curly hair as him, and she asked if I could speak Spanish. I shook my head and said her son was talented enough to serve as our translator! “My mom said we could exchange phone numbers,” the curly-haired boy was a bit shy. “Of course!” I said, “I’ll be waiting to see you on the news and brag to people around me that I have your number!” He laughed easily, leaving me his phone number and name. “I’m so happy to have met you today!” We hugged each other and waved goodbye at the sunset-lit intersection.