I spent 34 days in France, long enough to start to feel almost settled there. I took the Paris Metro every day, went shopping for groceries, hung up my washing to dry, made friends with the neighborhood cats. Then, suddenly, the World Cup was over and I was sprinting through Charles de Gaulle with my carry-ons; three in-flight movies later, I was in Boston.
I started the day in Paris and ended it sleeping in my own bed after spending the evening trying to bribe my cat with treats to love me again despite having been away for five weeks.
A lot can happen in 34 days. It’s enough time, in my opinion, to experience a decent cross-sample of daily life, at least in Paris. When you spend long enough in one place, the vacation shine wears off; you start to notice the bad jostling for space with the good, which is normal and healthy.
With that bad vs. good dichotomy in mind, I drew up a list of the best and worst personal experiences I had in France while covering the World Cup.
I wrote about this already; unfortunately, another notable encounter occurred in Lyon when I dropped off my laptop to get fixed. “What’s the name, Ling, Ting?” the repair guy asked. I needed him to fix my computer, so I just ignored it and paid the deposit. The racism directed toward me in France seemed to take on a different flavor from what I get in the United States — both suck, but in France it felt far more casual, tossed out almost offhandedly — and was rooted in a different historical context compared to what I experience stateside. That’s to be expected, as the US and France have different ways of viewing Asian immigrants. Didn’t make it any less uncomfortable, though.
It’s everywhere and if you have allergies, it really, really sucks.
The one night in Lyon where I got eaten alive by mosquitoes
The French heat wave, la canicule, dropped on us like a ton of really hot bricks. The French are used to a climate where it cools off nicely during the night, but la canicule meant even with the windows open and fans blasting at max, you were baking all night long. The French also don’t typically use screens on their windows, so when I went out to the slightly cooler living room of my Airbnb to try and at least get a few hours of sleep, I turned into a delicious mosquito buffet.
Getting got by Parc des Princes because I tripped up the steps
I was so careful at Parc des Princes precisely because of the uneven steps, yet at my last game there I still tripped going up and scraped my leg in such a manner that caused it to sluggishly ooze blood.
Men throwing tanties in the press areas
I was not impressed with a number of the male media members I saw having loud public arguments in the media zones, especially as it was to the detriment of everyone around them who was trying to work.
Learning that you have to have photo ID for metro passes
In Amelie, [spoiler alert] one of the characters is obsessed with the mystery of a man who makes use of the photo booths at metro stations and always immediately throws the photos away. For me, the sticking point was why there were photo booths at so many subway stations, but finding out you need to have a head shot in order to get a subway pass suddenly made Amelie make a lot more sense. Also, my Navigo pass head shots turned out pretty well, since I was having a good hair day.
The food, the food, the food
I’m seriously going to miss waking up to my one-euro espresso every morning and sauntering down to the local boulangerie for fresh croissants. While away, I definitely missed Dunkin’ because I’m a simple northeasterner, but I don’t like Dunkin’ because it’s good; I specifically like it because it’s trash. I think I finally understood what coffee snobs are talking about while sitting in a little cafe in the 6th arrondissement, sipping my espresso and tasting all its flavor notes.
Scooter gang adventures
The hotel the USWNT stayed in before their semifinal game in Lyon was a bit far out from the city center, so on one of the days with media availability, the Athletic’s Meg Linehan and I rented two scooters and followed the Saône north on a water-level trail. It was a gorgeous trip on a nearly-empty path, so we were able to open the throttle on the scooters and zoom along the riverbank, which alternated between open views of the far bank and park areas with tall grasses and trees growing out over the water. It was enchanting, even in the heat, even with the wrong turn we took up an extremely steep and not-scooter-friendly hill. The ride down was fun, anyway.
Meeting lots of incredible people
Social media has helped me form international connections, but there’s something to be said about meeting people face-to-face and just shooting the shit in a dark, stifling apartment while waiting out the worst heat of the day, or playing cards late into the night and not talking about soccer at all.
Reuniting with faraway friends
In the same vein, I have several soccer friends who, due to distance, I only get to see once a year at most, and sometimes only every four years. I spent my downtime at this tournament reconnecting with these good people who could rattle off an all-world starting XI just as fast as they could offer to buy you a drink.
The 2019 World Cup made for a nonstop, exhausting, and ultimately completely draining month that I would do all over again without hesitation, although maybe I would invest in a CamelBak and some antihistamines the second time around. Yes, some bad things happened. But bad things happen anywhere you go; that doesn’t mean they suck any less, but it does help to put them in a larger context. The larger context of this World Cup is that I had a banging time with people I admire, love, and appreciate, and I’m already planning for 2023.