Lessons from Paris

Denee and the boys and I just returned a couple days ago from a 3-day Paris adventure (really almost 6 days counting travel and a full day in Dublin, Ireland!)  It was an amazing trip and as I started sharing pics on Instagram I also was reliving the experience and thinking about all the great lessons I learned about travelling internationally.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a blog post if I didn’t make one of these lessons about DOING HARD THINGS, but I hope you’ll find that the theme here is not about traveling for mental toughness, but traveling for the sake of opening up your view on the world and all its amazing places and people.

Here are my Top 4 Lessons from the Wolf Family Trip to Paris, 2023.

Immerse yourself in the culture
With much respect given to my Whole Life Challenge teammates that began a pretty strict nutrition plan on Saturday… I did not.  I feel like if you’re in Paris and you’re holding yourself to a diet that feels restrictive and you’re longing to eat all the good stuff that is available but you know that you can’t… you should have stayed home and dug into your nutrition fighting position there.  If you like croissants and crepes and red wine and chocolate mousse, then by all means enjoy yourself for this limited time.  Have a great trip that you’ll remember forever, partly because you immersed yourself in the local dining experience as well as everything else that the culture has to offer.  I drew the line at chain smoking cigarettes, but I feel good about that decision.

Try to do things you know you’ll fail at
Whenever it was feasible, I spoke French while we were in Paris.  Some of you may know that I lived in Geneva, Switzerland for six years, basically all of elementary school, and so by the time we moved back to the States in 6th grade, I was fluent in French.  But then I stopped speaking it and instead started taking Spanish, and now my French is hard to come by and usually comes out in a slurry of multiple languages, some of which is probably neither French nor Spanish.  Or English for that matter.  But I spent some time studying before our trip – as did Denee and the boys – and I committed myself to practicing with native French speakers again.  I had some good moments where I initiated a conversation, usually based on asking for something, and the person would respond in French and I understood and responded appropriately and we both went about our day but not before I gave myself a little mental high-five.  Usually those moments had been so scripted in my head from practicing that exact conversation for five minutes beforehand, trying to anticipate what the other person might say and how I would respond.  Google Translate helped a lot with answering my question, “ok, now how the hell do I say that?”  But having those successful conversations helped me gain the confidence to speak more and teach the boys what I was saying.  They tried ordering their food in French a couple times too!

And then there were the times when, even after my mental rehearsal was complete, the other person’s response left me standing there with my mouth open, searching my database for the words that I frustratingly knew that at one point in my life were there.  Thankfully, this was usually met within a few seconds with an English translation and I would surrender and start speaking English as well, telling myself I was now helping them learn “the global language”.  Afterwards I would debrief the conversation and rehearse how I would respond in French next time this EXACT scenario came up, which was probably never but this also helped build my situational confidence.
So, try to do things that are hard, to the point where you’ll probably fail at least some of the time.  It’s good for your soul to try and fail, try and fail, then (hopefully) try and succeed sometimes.

Make sure you know what “fun” will look like for everyone
Our trip to Paris was a family trip – Denee and I took our two boys, just short of 11 and 13 years old now.  Denee has been dreaming about going to Paris for years, and our boys were super jealous about our couples trip to Italy last spring.  So, we had to make it happen.  Our trip to Paris would have looked very different if it was just Denee and I – probably even more walking and museums and random café stops in quaint neighborhoods – but we still did do all that stuff.  We just made sure that we also did the stuff that the kids wanted to do!  After visiting an old church and spending too much time admiring the architecture and religious art, we would ask them what they wanted to do next.  Hot chocolate and a crepe!  Alright, well let’s do that.  Each morning we had a general plan of the day, but we would be ok if it changed a bit so that their final thought of the day wouldn’t be “Paris sucks.”  We spent 20 minutes one day laughing at way too many dogs wrestling each other at a dog park.  We went off menu at a famous brasserie and asked if they could bring the kids some fries so they wouldn’t just be sitting their staring at their food while we scarfed ours down.  In the end, I think our boys got a healthy dose of French culture and history without beating them over the head with it, and they had a lot of fun being kids in a big city.

Paris is just like New York:
The taxi drivers are insane.
The city is very walkable, but there is also a dependable subway system (Metro).
There are very distinct neighborhoods within the city itself, each with a lot of history.  If you go, try to visit Montmartre and Le Marais.
There are obviously very touristy things to do, and we checked off a lot of those boxes in Paris, but it’s also fun and freeing to just wander around and tuck into little cafes for a snack and a drink and just watch city life happen around you.  Side note: the kids did not enjoy this part nearly as much as Denee and I.
Most of the people are very friendly and hospitable.  There were a few that we encountered that you could tell would prefer not to have their city ransacked by tourists 24/7, as there are in every global city.  We just remained friendly and smiled and focused on interacting more with those that enjoyed helping us.

My point here is that Paris is like New York is like London is like Tokyo is like Washington, DC.  Every major city in the world has so much culture and so many life experiences to offer.  I think it’s important for us to explore – to leave our little island, whether that is a literal island like where I live or our figurative “islands” of our closed-minded opinions of the world.  We live in a globally connected world thanks to technology, but most of us have not really seen it – met the people, learned about how they live and maybe why they hold the opinions that they do.
I hope that someday you’ll get to visit Paris, or maybe another great city that is a little more accessible for a weekend trip.  Dive into the experience, do things that are a little bit uncomfortable (speak the language, or try new foods!), and make sure everyone gets to check a few boxes of things that will make it a fun experience.  Then send some pics and tell us where to go next!


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