Waiting for Azure in the airport I saw three guys my age in suits go up the stairs and into a bar to pass the time. While I certainly don’t consider myself poor, I know that I’ll never be a part of their world – the world where you drop 6 Euros for a scotch because that’s what you do with your friends. At the time I was sitting at a table outside a cafe writing in my journal, hoping they wouldn’t kick me out because I couldn’t bring myself to pay 3 Euros for a muffin.
Earlier in the day I was parking the scooter and a homeless woman asked relentlessly for money. She said if I gave her money then nothing would happen to my scooter. I thought, “Is this woman threatening me?” then “If she is, could she even pull it off?” I doubted it and didn’t give her any money.
To be wandering dirty through France with a mohawk put me in my place pretty quick among the almost-homeless, as a guy that people in bakeries watch out of the corners of their eyes. I identify much more with the gardeners and the janitors than I do with the guys in suits even though I feel I’m being deceptive doing it. I mean, I grew up in Bellevue and have a degree in polisci… I feel like I was born in a suit world and am kinda posing as a laborer. But it feels strange to know that even if I know this, nobody else in France does (and I wonder to what extent the people in my life do). My identity in France is only the clothes I’m wearing and how I style my hair, really. If I went and bought a suit and shaved the hawk, I could walk with those guys. But I find I like laborers more, they have less to lose and less to prove. If you can even split the world into laborers and businesspeople. Maybe you can.
We live very well. And even though I consider 6 Euros way too much to pay for a drink we live luxuriously in other parts of our lives – we have a lot of time. We’re cheap, but we have a lot of time. After being in Colombia, it would be grotesque to actually consider myself poor, but here on the French Riviera I feel poor, I feel other people consider me poor. If being tossed around the social classes doesn’t make travel valuable, I don’t know what does.
We went to Juan-les-Pins today and despite still being on the modern coast, we saw the ancient human pastime of old people gossiping. In this case they were playing Boules, as they do all over Europe. You toss a little ball, then each player has two chances to get his or her bigger ball closest.
No huge insights today – we started the day by running some errands (we got panniers for the sides of the scooter, we found the best price for a ferry to Corsica, and we got in contact with a farm where we can wwoof) then made our way to Juan-les-Pins for the afternoon. J-les-P, as the kids might call it, is a well-off area of the coast where we walked and window shopped and even took in the sun for a few minutes. There were people on the beach with their shirts off and even a few swimming.
Amendment – I wish I’d saved this blog for the next day or at least rewritten it a couple times to clarify what I meant.
I don’t feel poor. What I feel is that I’m looked at as if I’m poor, and even that could be as much in my head as it is on the street. In Colombia, as we wrote, people literally crossed the street to beg from us, restaurant hosts would go out of their way to invite us in, specifically us, because we’re white.
The experience in France is on the other side of the spectrum, where restaurant hosts might hope we don’t come in because we don’t throw our money around, we split courses (including mains), we get the cheapest thing on the menu and we don’t get expensive bottles of wine if we get wine at all. Azure and I are travelers, and while we’re not poor, we’re certainly cheap. Next to the middle-upper class travelers and businesspeople who order whatever they want, we appear poor. But wealth is relative.
Traveling alone, the mohawk temporarily makes me an Other. My anxieties about my relative fiscal status are influenced by seeing how people have responded to my appearance with apprehension. I don’t feel “poor,” I feel “other,” though here in the South it hasn’t been nearly the oddity it was from Paris to Albi. I still, after all these years, am working to disconnect my ideas of social acceptability from ideas of fiscal success. I understand that being fiscally unsuccessful is acceptable, but in this post I revealed that I unconsciously link being an “Other” with fiscal failure.