In 1987, Russell and I scheduled a trip to Amsterdam for ten days during which he would go off to Frankfurt to a business convention and I would take some time in Paris by myself. Since I took the train to Paris and was only staying a few days, I traveled very lightly. A small bag with a change of clothes, toothbrush and paste, and Nikes on my feet. My first reaction out of the train station was a Peggy Lee "Is That All There Is?"
I checked into a small but decent hotel, centrally located, and proceeded to explore the city. Since I don't even know rudimentary French, I depended on my Fodors to guide me as much as possible. The first sign of trouble was when I made my way to the Metro to go to Notre Dame. As I stood, holding a pole as I would on a crowded Manhattan subway, I found people pointing and sometimes smirking at me. This has to be my imagination, I thought, as I could not see how I stood out all that much. But people continued to look at me, not in a good way, and finally I noticed their eyes were directed downward to my shoes. My white Nikes.
Mustering as much bravado as possible, I stormed off at the right stop, went to Notre Dame and well, shrugged. Ok. One sight seen, one to go. I headed to the Eiffel Tower and that was truly spectacular. To stand directly underneath it and look up at its intricacies was powerful. It was a misty day and its strong steel arms lifted into the clouds.
I went into a little cafe and ordered a sandwich and a Coke. I fumbled with the order and the money as apparently no one in this little bistro had ever heard English before. I quickly ate and headed back to the safety of my room. I checked with some Gay Europe guide before I left for Paris and had two leather bars in my cross hairs.
I had on my biker jacket, 501s and my white Nikes. This outfit would, in 1987, pass muster in any American bar but, as I was quickly reminded, I was not in America. The first bar I went to had a little speakeasy window. I knocked, the little castle-of-Oz door opened, the man looked at me head to toe, and slammed the window shut. When I knocked again, he opened the whole door and pointed at my feet. He was yelling at me in French, I mean really yelling, as he looked down in horror and then slammed the door again. Ah. I get it. Dress code. No Nikes allowed.
I hailed a cab so I could try the other place. It turned out to be out in the Parisian boonies. After finally arriving, I walked through the standard issue black leather slabs that was the entrance. Immediately I was, once again, yelled at for my shoes. This club, however, was prepared for a lowly American. They had a pair of boots I could wear. I had to put them on right there without stepping on inch further into the inner sanctum of this bar. The boots were a size 15; I'm a size 10. In I walk, as proud as I can be at this point, with these clown boots on. The only thing missing was a red nose and balloon animals to complete my level of comfort.
After a few beers, I was drunk enough not to care if I didn't speak French or that I had on ridiculously large boots. I played pinball and drank. And drank. When I was stumbly drunk, I had the bartender call a cab as there were none to be grabbed outside the door. I made my way back to my hotel and passed out onto the very thick feather bed.
I woke up in a puddle of my own doing. It was one of those rare times where I just couldn't find the awake button to make it to the bathroom. I had soaked the luxurious bedding through and through. All I could think was to get out of there as quickly as possible without anymore French embarrassment. No such luck. As I was groggily checking out, the chambermaid came running into the lobby pointing at me and again, yelling at me in French. I threw down some money for the room on the counter and ran. I ran like the wind in my Nikes. I made it to the train station and got back to Amsterdam where people spoke English, ate french fries for a meal, and into the nice room Russell and I had there.
The simple lesson I learned was do not, under any circumstances, wear sneakers in France.