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I arrived in Toulouse, France. Off the plane from Prague, the contrast is stark. The streets in France are wide, even, and shaded by leafy branches towering overhead. Shop fronts are seemingly always freshly painted, their signs detailed in modern yet classic scripts. Chickens roam free in the Toulouse parks. The French are flawlessly yet understatedly elegant, riding the tram, cycling past, their hair perfectly in place. They sit on painted metal folding chairs drinking their coffee, sipping their wine, served by a waiter, a white apron tied around his waist, beneath the awning of a perfectly placed street corner restaurant as the golden sun of the late summer evening turns the whole scene a magical hue. It’s not a dream it’s just, France.
The first morning I left my apartment in Toulouse around noon for lunch. I had a spot in mind that was about a 20-minute walk. It took me at least an hour and a half to get there. I didn’t get lost. I got distracted. A church here, an alleyway there. Vintage shops, cafes, wine bars, flea markets, Toulouse is distractingly, and unexpectedly, enchanting.
My bit of French, ‘bonjour’ ‘merci’ ‘au revoir’ get me a long way here. The people smile, switch to English and are happy to chat. I don’t feel like I’m being looked down upon for my lack of French, I don’t feel that snobby energy that I noticed five years ago when I visited Bordeaux, France. I feel welcome and wanted in this part of France. I get asked where I’m from and hear stories of adventures in the United States in response.
I eat, I window shop, I walk, a lot, I sit, I watch, I listen. Even on rainy days Toulouse is full of life.
I see a man, toplessly sunbathing in the park be told by the police to put his shirt on. I watch two homeless men yelling on the street. But I also see the peaceful diversity of France. Perhaps it’s not really there, we see that on the surface, in the news it’s not there, but when you walk the streets, see the real people, you see that maybe it is. Again, the contrast to Prague is immense in Toulouse. White, black, brown or green. Curly hair, straight hair, or head scarf. Everyone is just living their same life.
Drinking wine on Saturdays. Eating brunch on Sundays. Watching the sunset on the river. Listening to the drum circle. Walking the streets. Running by the canal. Yelling at children. Dodging dog poop. Riding their motorbikes. Going to work. Buying baguettes.
It’s all just life. French life. Exactly as French life should be, according to an American.