Toward the end of high school, Firoozeh goes to UC Irvine to compete in an impromptu speaking event, the prize for which is a two-month stay at the Alliance Française in Paris. She’s given an hour to prepare a speech, in French, on “Responsibility Toward Technology.” By this point, Firoozeh has become nearly fluent in French. In order to compete in the event, she has to sign a form saying that her parents aren’t native French speakers. Firoozeh truthfully signs the form—her parents know almost no French, and the language she usually hears in her house is Persian. The other language spoken in her house, Shustari, is a version of Old Persian, which is still commonly spoken by farmers in certain parts of Iran.
Firoozeh’s success in the French speaking competition might suggest that she’s become a more confident, articulate person in the process of writing scholarship essays about herself (which Firoozeh mentioned at the end of the previous chapter). Firoozeh is also adept at learning other languages, since she was almost forced to learn English after coming to America as a child.
Firoozeh ends up winning the competition—which certain people in the audience find suspicious. They think that her accent is too authentic and begin investigating. Within a few weeks, Firoozeh’s parents begin receiving mysterious calls in French. Shortly afterwards, Firoozeh prepares to enjoy her prize for winning the competition: a two-month trip to Paris. When she lands in Paris, however, she’s detained by two officers, who find it suspicious that an Iranian should be going to Paris alone for so long. Eventually, the officers allow Firoozeh to go free.
The hostility Firoozeh receives after winning the French competition, it’s loosely implied, is tied to the racist suspicion that an Iranian can’t possibly be the best French-speaker—she’s so adept at the language that the other contestants suspect foul play. Firoozeh continues to encounter other forms of racism in Paris, showing that hostility towards Middle Easterners is not limited to America or the time of the Iran Hostage Crisis.
Firoozeh stays with a host couple, both of whom work for a left-wing French paper. The couple is cold and inhospitable, and on the first night they inform her that they’ll be traveling to the country all summer—clearly, they’re just hosting Firoozeh to make extra money. Firoozeh is disappointed not to have hosts for her time in Paris, but goes to talk to the concierge in her apartment. The concierge is a pleasant woman named Noëlle, who seems very excited that Firoozeh is from California. The next day, she takes Firoozeh to the Champs-Élysées (a famous Parisian avenue) to enjoy the Bastille Day festivities. The parade is so crowded that Firoozeh can’t see anything. By the time the parade is over, it’s one am, and Firoozeh is extremely tired. She and Noëlle walk all the way home, which she finds exhausting.
Firoozeh’s trip to France gets off to a disappointing start: evidently, she’s been counting on having someone friendly to show her around. Although Noëlle is kinder than Firoozeh’s cold, inhospitable host family, she’s not particularly sensitive to Firoozeh’s needs, hence her suggestion that the two of them walk all the way home at night. Firoozeh’s visit to Paris, like the Bastille Day parade itself, is a disappointment.
Firoozeh begins school a few days later, and the classes are disappointing. The teachers seem apathetic, and Firoozeh doesn’t make friends among the other students, most of whom are considerably older than she. The “silver lining” of Firoozeh’s time in Paris is that she becomes fully fluent in French. After Firoozeh returns to California, she receives a letter from Noëlle explaining that she’s moved to New Caledonia to meet more men. Firoozeh’s time in Paris wasn’t the romantic coming-of-age film she’d hoped it would be—instead, it was dull and black-and-white.
Firoozeh doesn’t particularly enjoy her time in France, but she relishes the opportunity to improve her language abilities. Firoozeh loves to travel, but she realizes that her expectations for what a trip will be like don’t always measure up to reality.