So, an American gal and a guy from Cameroon walk into a Chinese restaurant in Paris.
No, that is not the beginning of a joke (though it definitely could be! Send me your best punch line…). It’s actually the beginning of my lunch last Sunday. You see, I went to the American Church in Paris (ACP; check out acparis.org if this intrigues you) to worship for the second time last Sunday morning. ACP was founded by Americans in 1814 but has since grown and changed to form a truly international community. All the services are in English, and that seems to be the common denominator that brings such a diverse community together. I’ve met a lot of other exchange students – both undergrad and graduate-level – and several American and British expatriates or visitors. There’s also a significant number of Nigerian immigrants, and a few native French speakers wanting to improve their English.
So, lunch. I met a man named Thomas (pronounced like toe-MAH) the first week I was there and sat with him during the service the second week. He offered to take me to lunch afterward, so I accepted and we found this nice little Chinese place a few blocks from the church. He wanted to hear about my faith life and also how I decided to come to Paris. I got to hear about his upbringing in Cameroon, and also how he came to live in France and never really looked back.
As a side note, Chinese food in France is quite different from both American Chinese food and Chinese food in China (which, I guess, is just called “food”). This has come up before; someone in my study-abroad program grew up in Italy and she refuses to eat Italian food in any other country (even other European countries) because they tend to tailor their food to fit the tastes of customers specifically by region. Interesting. If I make it to Italy this semester I’ll have to try a pizza, but then I might not want to go back to any other version!
Back to ACP. I have also been to their Tuesday night young-adults group meeting twice now. They just started an “Alpha” discussion course, which involves a 30-minute video lecture followed by 30 minutes of discussion in small groups. My 13-member group represents 9 different countries of origin, which is really cool. The lecture is in English, and the discussion is mostly in English, but once the “official” activities are over everyone starts cleaning up the room and chatting with other friends, and English becomes less prominent. It seemed as though I heard a different language being spoken every few feet as I moved around the room.
Several of us went to a local bar/café afterward and continued to chat in a mixture of French, English, and whatever else happened to be a common language. I really enjoyed having the chance to just grab a beer with new friends and talk about life, travel, things back home, and Jesus. We’re all from entirely different backgrounds, but when we sit down and talk to one another we find we’re not that different at all.
BONUS! Coincidence: About halfway home from the young-adults meeting last Tuesday night, a woman got on the metro and stood next to me. She was about 6 inches shorter than me, and the profile of her face was almost exactly like that of a woman I know from home (said woman is about 6 inches taller than me, so that made it even weirder). On my way home from school on Thursday, the same woman got on the metro at about the same stop and again stood next to me. Whoa.