I still catch myself saying the ‘s’ every now and then but, like a lot of things in the French language, it’s silent. But, whatever, I didn’t mind, I was going to Cannes, the French city of the rich and famous.
That seems to be a common theme in the south. The French Riviera is beautiful with its rocky coastline and glittering Mediterranean waters; it’s no wonder people pay millions to live there.
We woke up early in Nice and started our day in Ventimiglia, Italy for a real Italian cappuccino, stopped by Monaco, and took the train to Cannes around mid afternoon. It wasn’t exactly a short ride – a little over an hour and a half – and it was enough for the fatigue to set in. We arrived tired, but ready for some good southern food, possibly seafood if we could find a decently priced restaurant, and maybe another gelato or two. I’ll always have room for gelato.
I became used to not carrying my passport in my tiny town (I’ll always carry some form of identification, but my drivers licenses has been useful enough here) and felt hesitant to keep it on me while in Nice – I’m constantly aware of pickpockets. I make sure to keep my hands on my camera, but I’m not always as aware of something as small as my passport (I almost had a heart attack a few days ago when I thought my phone had fallen out of my jacket pocket while hiking) and while losing my phone would be bad, getting my international ID and my legal status stolen is daunting to think about.
Trains closer to the boarder take longer because there are random checks along the way. Many people try to stow away on the trains from Italy in order to get to Nice. Once to Nice, many head to Marseille.
As we pulled into one of the first French stops on our way back from Monaco, dozens of uniformed officers were waiting. I wasn’t sitting next to my friend – we had spread out to take in the beautiful window views of the sea. She was a few rows back. I had my identification ready to go, but I was curious if anyone was even going to stop me. I’m covered in freckles and I had just dyed my hair red. My friend, on the other hand, is Mexican. While the French are a lot of things, anyone can be racist.
There was an Italian family a few seats ahead of me. The policeman stopped when he got to them, asking for identification. They looked at them with wide eyes and the young man nearest him, in a very heavy Italian accent, said, “we do not speak French.”
The policeman didn’t seem to care, just repeating his sentence again, still in French. After a few moments of confusion, they pulled out their IDs. The cop just glanced at them and walked away without saying anything, right past me. He didn’t stop my friend either.
Over the half a year here in France, I have noticed that they aren’t really that impressed if you can speak French. Not that everyone expects it to be a given – I mean, not everyone speaks English – but French isn’t exactly one of the world’s most widely spoken languages. And, since we were so close to the Italian boarder, it would only be expected that not everyone on the train was a native French speaker.
On the way down to Nice my friend witnessed something similar. And since we were only on the train a few times during one weekend, it probably happens a lot. I’ve hear horror stories of friends being stopped on public transit because they happen to genetically fit a stereotype. One of them didn’t have his passport on him and was detained in a interrogation room somewhere under the Paris metro until one of his friends could go back to his hostel and retrieve it.
I haven’t had any good experiences with French security and understandably so. I knew that moving over here would be hard. Getting in (and then back into) countries, touristic landmarks, and even shopping malls can be difficult. I’ve also been given the cold shoulder because they’ve glimpsed the flash of navy blue and gold in my wallet while taking out tickets or cash. You can feel the change immediately.
However, it doesn’t happen all the time; some people are intrigued. And then they usually ask about Trump. But I can show them that not all Americans are like how they have been perceived. I want to see the world, I want to learn different languages, I want to experience different cultures . . . and I’m not going to let other people scare me into not following my dreams.
Our search for affordable seafood was a dud, so we stopped at a pizza place that wasn’t your stereotypical French restaurant – most of the pizza places in the south have an Arabian feel to them. The man behind the counter was bald and greeted us with a strong accent. There were a few people already eating, which usually is a good sign.
We got the menu and took a seat in the back. There were two options; demi or whole pizza. I thought you could pick whichever pizza you wanted out of the list (which is what the menu clearly suggested). The half pizza sounded fine – I didn’t want to walk around Cannes with a doggie bag. The menu recommended a pizza with goat cheese and honey. Sounded weird, but I like weird.
We got up and went to the counter and I ordered the half pizza.
“No, you have to pick from the ones here.” He motioned towards the cold pizzas on the counter. “I am not going to make a half pizza for you.”
But if we were going to pay 10 euros, I didn’t want reheated pizza that had been sitting out all day. When we asked to share, so that we could get a fresh pizza, and he said that the prices would still be the same as if we would have bought a combo meal alone – still 10 euros each.
“What about without drinks?”
He hesitated for a moment, thinking, making up some number off the top of his head. “9 euros.”
When we asked why, he just shrugged us off and said that while we can share the food we can’t split the price. I told him I guess we really didn’t understand the menu then and he got defensive. We started talking about going to another place.
That made him even angrier and he said something like – my food isn’t good enough for you? We thanked him and started to leave, but I had left my coat on my chair and had to do what felt like a walk of shame back through the cafe. He and my friend shouted at each other as she waited for me in the street. He glared at me on the way out, yelling that we were too cheap – “It would only be a euro? You can’t pay a euro?” He made rude gestures behind my back at my friend as we walked away.
We continued our search for food, fuming. We stumbled upon a little hole-in-the-wall kebab shack that put the fries inside the sandwich. It ended up being about 4 euros cheaper, with large drinks, and, even better, they had wifi.
While we were still upset, we weren’t going to let one rude man ruin our day in Cannes. We explored more of the touristic parts, finding the building where they host the famous international film festival. There was a function going on and most of it was blocked off, but we were able to see some of the cement handprints on the sidewalk, kind of like the stars in Hollywood. Even some Americans made their mark, including Meryl Streep and Sylvester Stallone.
At the top of the hill in the center of Cannes’s old town is a church turned museum. Sadly, it was closed, but we stayed up there for hours, taking in the spectacular sunset. It was a popular spot with locals as well as tourists.
We still had enough time when we got back to Nice to get one of those orange Arabian pastries I’m in love with – the one’s that taste like orange chicken, only without the chicken. Check out my Nice post if you want to learn more about this beautiful orange pastry.
I don’t think I’ll be heading back to Cannes. That’s the thing about traveling – not all of the places you visit are going to agree with you. Sometimes it’s the culture, sometimes it’s the people, and sometimes it’s just because it happened to be a bad day. While Cannes didn’t work out for me, I still made the best out of what I could. I’m grateful I got to see another lovely city on the French Riviera.