Because women have all kinds of emotions

What is panic?

I don’t know what panic is, but I know what it feels like. Panic sets in the moment you bop one of your kids on the head in Wal-Mart. You feel this knot in your stomach, and then you look around to see if the Wal-Mart security camera saw you because you don’t want to be the next viral video of an angry mother on You Tube, especially if all the ad revenue goes to some 20-year-old security camera tech who never dealt with a toddler who wants a Sponge Bob cherry lollipop. (You can tell this is just a creative story, because I would never let my kids watch Sponge Bob. There is enough foul language in this house already.)

There was another time I panicked. Last summer, I boarded a train from Brussels to Paris for a day trip. I imagined I’d stroll down an avenue lined with cherry blossoms (even though it was summer) carrying a pink parasol (even though I do not own a parasol) and posting instagrams of the Eiffel Tower from my cell phone (without a signal).

So I did take a picture of the Eiffel Tower with my cell phone, but I did not kiss a Pierre there.

That’s not what happened. When I got off the train in Paris’ north station, I looked around at the chaos and thought, “Uh. Now what?” I didn’t think about how I was actually going to get to famous places around Paris. I had no idea what to do. There were no tourist signs, no pictures of the Eiffel tower and an arrow pointing to the right, no glossy brochures, no little blue “i” information kiosks that I could inquire at.

So here I am in a foreign country alone– without a translator, a clue, or a plan. I can only ask three things in French, and one of them is highly inappropriate. (I got punched by my sister when I asked my French brother-in-law this question, so I knew it meant what I thought it meant.)

Eventually, I figured out how to ride the city bus to the Eiffel Tower, noticing that the stop I needed was the one when the bus driver yelled angrily at me. Afterward, I took a little canal ride that explains what the Notre Dame is for all the people who think it’s a football team. From there, I hiked to the Louvre museum and looked at the Mona Lisa even though I don’t know anything about art history. I just figured this was what you’re supposed to do if you go to a famous place.

So, I figured out how to navigate in another foreign country, but I will never forget that moment of initial panic when I got off the train. It’s exactly what I felt like after we bought rental properties and got a letter in the mail from the city saying that our building was 30 days from being condemned. True, one of these moments was infinitely more expensive than the other.

On the bus to the Eiffel tower, there was a Portuguese couple who were also having trouble with getting around the city. As they were talking to each other, I could tell that they were making plans. Together they were solving their dilemma. Neither of them spoke French, but they were figuring it out together. That’s when my panic turned into something else, and I knew what loneliness felt like too.

Did you know that if you looked at every piece of art in the Louvre for only 30 seconds, and did this continuously round the clock, 24/7 without a break it would take you 100 days to see everything? That's what the internet says.

19 Responses to “Because women have all kinds of emotions”

  1. 1

    My husband and I got lost in the Louvre when we were there. And they started closing it. They had these big walls that the security guards kept pulling shut behind us as a woman’s voice over a loudspeaker commanded us to “sortie.” It was evening and they were turning lights off, and we had NO IDEA where the door was that we had entered, or our metro stop.

    Yup. I’d say I know what panic feels like.

    We never found the Mona Lisa, either.

  2. 2
    Amy Scott

    Ruth,

    This post would’ve been infinitely better if I told how I got around. Alert, alert: bad writing!

    Since there are no signs for the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, I kept moving toward the halls that seemed to have the most people traffic. Viola. It worked.

  3. 3

    I went to high school in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN. In French class, our teacher told us that on her previous trip to Paris, she scoured the Louvre for the Mona Lisa and finally found the spot where it was supposed to be. But there hung only a small sign informing the public that said painting was on loan to… the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. Go figure.

    I’m so glad you found it! Your strategy was fantastic!

  4. 4
    Lois

    You could do an appendix?? Tell us. Did you get on a bus and say Eiffel Tower in English and he knew where you wanted to go and then … not sure. Were the other things close by then? I’ll have to inform my husband about Notre Dame. Not sure he’ll believe you though. ;)

    And I felt the panic each time. and the loneliness.

    Smart move on finding Mona Lisa!

  5. 5

    Voulez-vous couchez avec moi? I have a feeling that’s one of the questions you know! :) And, yes, there is no panic quite like the lonely panic of being in a place surrounded by people who speak a different language than you do. Kind of makes one a little empathetic. Well, sort of! :) My sister and I looked everywhere for the Bastille. There were signs talking about it, there were brochures that gave you the address and which train to take. When we got there, nothing. Evidently, the Bastille was torn down maybe a century or two ago, and you can just go to the place where it USED to be! Now it’s just a normal street with normal buildings. I seriously wanted to see the guillotine and the cells and the dungeons and all that stuff! :)

  6. 6
    Amy Scott

    Carla, That’s the one.

    Lois, yes, mostly. I think I can write the post I should’ve written next.

  7. 7
    Lois

    or did I mean addendum. whatever… good!

  8. 8

    I’ve been there! But I had a French-speaker along (and I had taken college French, although it probably would have fled if I had needed it). It was pretty neat to see the Mona Lisa. Thanks for your story!

  9. 9

    Would I be totally off base in thinking that in this post Paris was more of a metaphor and it was more of a life-insight than a travel guide?

    Cause I recognise that panic, and the loneliness – like when I got married thinking I’d turn into Mrs. Brady and realised that we both brought a moving van’s worth of emotional baggage each even though our belongings fit in a station wagon. Like when I had baby number one thinking I’d be perfect at this mothering caper and found that I am still fallible. Like when I had baby number six and she has a genetic syndrome and severe heart defect and I am thinking “I really should have bought a guide book.” But somehow, we do find our way around. It is good to be reading your words again Amy, I’ve missed you.

  10. 10
    Robin in New Jersey

    Yup, that’s what the tour guide told us when we were there in 2000. (100 days) It was a company trip and they paid for everything, otherwise we would never had been able to go. I am so thankful I stayed with the tour guide. She started our tour in the moat, which was fascinating, and we worked our way up to the Mona Lisa. I had chills. On another day, I ventured out with one of the ladies in our group, while our spouses were in meetings, we could not believe all the streets and how one looks just like another. If I had been alone, I would have panicked for sure. And there was the day we walked up and down the, oh, what’s that famous street? and went into a shop to look and got chased around by an old man when we said we were “just looking.” He gritted his teeth and said, “Just looking! Just looking!” We high-tailed it out of there real fast.

    Thank you for sharing, Amy. You are a great storyteller.

  11. 11
    Robin in New Jersey

    Thank you for the links in your sidebar. I printed out a copy of the 100 Ways to be kind to Your child. Good stuff there. I will give it to my 28 year old daughter who has 4 children. And the Judge’s video~~Excellent.

  12. 12

    [...] being judged by standards not our own. And the consequences for misbehavior remain the same no matter how many cameras Wal-Mart might have trained on me. (Hit that link. Amy’s a [...]

  13. 13
    Jo

    I was shocked at how little the Mona Lisa was. Somehow, I’d just thought it would be bigger after all the build up.

    That place is huge. I get a headache after a while w/ all the stimulation. It would take a lifetime to do it justice. I am amazed at how many brilliant artists there are out there. Mind boggling.

  14. 14

    You are in Paris!!! Wow!!! I have always wanted to go!

  15. 15
    Ouida Gabriel

    But now you are back home on the farm with a husband and 6 babies to tend too. Being wanted is the wonderful for the soul!

  16. 16
    Amy Scott

    Jess, There is always metaphor because I don’t think anyone really cares about dying farm animals. I imagine people want to punch me in the face for going to Paris, so it’s really not about that either.


    If this post was halfway decent and interesting, I would’ve mentioned how one could navigate in Paris without a map or a translater and how one could find the Mona Lisa in the Louvre when there are no signs for her. Who knows? Maybe you might be on one of those TV shows and need look for the Mona Lisa one day. I believe in do overs, so I’ll tell you now.

    One of the hassels of traveling alone in a foreign country is transportation and the language barrier. You have to really pay attention because getting lost is kind of adventurous when you’re on a backbacking trip with a new lover, but it not so exciting when you’re alone with 50 euros in your pocket and need to catch the last train home at seven o’clock.

    This is how I found the Mona Lisa inside the world’s biggest museum with the world’s worst signage. I followed the hall with the most crowds. After I found the right hall, I watched for which door seemed to have the most traffic. Okay so that’s how I found the Last Supper. I recognized it.

    Watching a little bit more, I found another section that seemed a little more crowded than usual. When I walked into that room, there was lots of pushing and shoving and chaos. I shoved my hands into my pockets so I wouldn’t get robbed. And that’s how I found the Mona Lisa.

    Maybe you’re wondering how I found the Louvre, which is where the Mona Lisa is found. I was walking along the Reine and stopped to ask a street painter, “Parlez vous Anglais?” He said, “Oui,” and so I asked him which way the Louvre was, which of course, was the exact opposite direction that I was walking. Then he asked me if he could take me there, and I knew that didn’t mean what I thought it meant, so I said, “No.”

    Maybe you’re wondering how I found the tourist section of Paris from the north station. I studied the bus map on the wall for a long time, and then finally said, “Forget it.” I found someone who worked there which bus number I could take, and when I found the bus and spoke French-English to the bus driver, he yelled at me and motioned for me to sit down.

    Maybe you’re wondering how I got to Paris on a train from Brussels when the tickets are in French, and you don’t know which number means the track and which number is the compartment and which number is the seat. (I realize this could all be solved with a French-Flemish-English dictionary, but nothing says “Rob me” like a woman with a fannypack and a dictionary.)

    The answer is pretty easy. You ask three people and take the most common answer. The reason I say three people is because my experience with people has taught me that they will lie to you or not admit that they don’t know. If you are an American woman and ask a Muslim man for directions, go the exact opposite way that he tells you to go. It has worked every time.

    One time, I hopped on the metro in Brussels and confirmed with a passenger that I was going the right way. He told me, “No, no! Hurry! Get off!” and I jumped off the crowded train at rush hour as the doors closed while he pointed in the other direction. He was right, and I saved myself two euros.

    Another trick is knowing when to get off the train. For example, in Holland, the signs are in Dutch and say things like, “Next station: xxx,” so you don’t know if the word you are looking for is this station or the next station or if it’s the last city on the line. In these cases, you have to know what time your train is supposed to arrive and then subtract any delays. I did this on my way to Amsterdam and it worked out beautifully. The nun got off one stop too early, and I know this because I looked at her ticket.

    Getting to the airport in any city is very easy. Follow the people with the black rolling suitcases. Get off when they get off.

  17. 17

    Dear Amy, welcome back. I have somehow missed the day you picked up your blog again, so now I spent a lovely half an hour getting caught up. So glad I did! I enjoy reading you, you have a gift.

    My sympathies about your sister. Cancer is awful.

  18. 18

    You are much braver than I. This week I chickened out on an opportunity to take my son into NYC to see a Broadway show. I was just too scared. And the signs are even in English.

    So we stayed home and my son volunteered all week (i.e. worked for free) in a local coffee/sandwich shop, but today the boss said he was going to try to pull some strings and get my son a paying job. He’s good with the espresso machine, this kid. And he can chop vegetables and make sandwiches and hummus. Also, when he is there he washes dishes for hours on end without complaining.

    So I guess it is ok, even if I am the biggest chicken in the world.

  19. 19
    Robin in New Jersey

    Oh no! NYC is not that bad. If you bring a street map, you are good to go. Plus, people are really helpful and many are there as tourist too. Take the leap! You will LOVE the Broadway show. Which one was it?


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