I glanced at the clock, and it was noon. It was a warm Saturday afternoon in Paris. From outside my window, the cloudless skies were tempting me to come out and bask in the sun however..
Lunch was the only thing on my mind. In my head, I started listing all the possible meals that would satisfy my appetite.. No, I’m not in the mood for du pain au thon, nor a kebab. Des pâtes au saumon sounds delicious but no, I had that yesterday. I truly have a taste for African food. Preferably Senegalese food. I whipped out my iPhone and google searched “Senegalese food near me” BINGO. Juste 400 mettres away.
I took the tram and a few minutes later I arrived at O Lac Rose. The small restaurant was situated in a shopping center and when I walked in, the cooking oil fumes, and the Sauce Yassa I saw the cook stirring in the back kitchen reassured me the meal I was about to order would blow my mind. Naga def? the Cashier asked me. Mangi fee rek! I replied with a big grin on my face. I smiled because it felt nice to encounter a Senegalese person and instantly recognize one another, but I wasn’t in the mood for small talk. I began my order: “une assiette de dibi yappe s’il vous plait”. I took my seat and 10 minutes later a large plate of seasoned lamb, salad, and rice over a sautéed oignon sauce was handed to me.
As I was enjoying my meal, in walked an Asian man. He studied the menu scrupulously before he made eye contact with first, me and then my plate. He said to the Cashier (IN ENGLISH), “I want whatever she’s having!” as he pointed at my plate. Mind you, this was not an English speaking establishment. I mean for pete sake we are in Paris, it’s crazy to assume that every person you encounter you can go around speaking English to and they will comprehend. But I digress..
He took a seat near me and then asked the waiter for “WATER” again in English. The french speaking waiter, confused and oblivious to his request asked the Asian man to clarify. The Asian man pointed to my glass of water to convey what he wanted. At this point I was mind blown. It is 2019, most of us have iPhones or smartphones, right? So, my thing is, why not google translate simple phrases when you are traveling abroad? Even if your french is bad, when people see you are making an effort to convey your point, it creates a colorful cultural exchange.
At this point, I just had to ask this man.. “where are you from?” He must have been startled to hear someone else speaking in English because his eyebrows were raised to his forehead. He replied, “H—iiiii, I’m from China but I have lived in the US for several years now.” Nice, I’m Salyma, it’s a pleasure meeting you. “David”, the stranger said as he took my hand. Then for the next hour in a half, we both ate the same meal and debated on identity, race, oppression, minorities, marriage, and racism.
From living in Paris and from my interactions with others I’ve realized that Paris is not just Paris. It’s a window onto Dakar, Senegal; or Morocco; or Mumbai, India, China, etc. It is a melting pot of people from all corners of the globe. Here, I have found true beauty in multiculturism.