Living in Paris can be quite a struggle for a foreigner who could barely sustain a conversation in French. Sometimes, I do admit that the lack of hospitality especially in administrative offices (that are supposed to welcome foreigners) can be a huge deal breaker. It has actually made me curse a few times and question why I picked this city for my graduate studies. But I never did develop a grudge for the French. There is something unintelligible about the crisscross bureaucracy that even the French people admit have inconvenienced them equally but somehow it just works and untangles itself in the end. Outside the walls of the stressful bureaus are actually the most passionate, tolerant, and intelligent people you can ever meet in your life.
Most often, on chill coffee breaks and lazy afternoons, along parks and outdoor cafés, you overhear discussions on politics, meaning of life, dreams and ambitions, religion or lack thereof. Gossip is scarce unlike from where I came. They are aware of diversities and differences and they know people can exercise their own beliefs whichever they find suitable to match their unique lives whilst being sensitive to that of anothers’. Philosophy has been deeply woven into the French mindset and even though some may have been stung by beliefs that are otherwise unconventional in other parts of the world and even opposing from each other’s perspectives, they have developed a way of peaceful and respectful discourse – over the delight of freshly brewed coffee and embellished desserts or evening aperitifs and hors d’oeuvres. Everyone in Paris feels they have the right to argue for what they think is right and the sense of equality here is something that has surprised me, someone who was raised in a country with a huge power gap in society. Sometimes, this can come off as a bit standoffish in the form of grumpy waiters and administrative employees after a slight hint of complaint. But, although they have put me out a couple of times, I do admire that, even though they are from various strata in society, they always feel they have a voice and that they can fight for their rights without the harm of being censured or worse, assassinated.
The French people and their Republic are behind each other’s backs, protecting their unalienable rights and I guess, throughout history, they have made their citizens feel secured about their freedom. And now, in light of the recent attacks, this is being challenged. The incomprehensible terrorists who were hallucinated and hypnotized by destructive ideologies have tried to put a dent on this exercise of positive freedom – ideologies that I could not ever grasp.
But the French never yield. In fact, these events have made them stronger. To show the world that the freedom to express and have peaceful discourse are fundamental rights that everybody should exercise is something that the French have demonstrated well for quite some time. The countless artworks, prose, and poetry that challenged conventions and helped shaped the intellectual world are testaments to this. I am one with the French and to all those who have been victimized by the terrible onslaught in various parts of the world. I am one with them in their fight for freedom – to love freely and materialize my passions in a free and just society. Today, tears and blood may flow, but tomorrow, the bliss of living life undeterred.