We’re Not So Different, and Yes, We Are

ndwindowSo it’s been a week since I returned from a two week vacation in Paris.  Paris in April?  It wasn’t quite as romantic as it sounds.  I experienced all four seasons while there, and I’d packed for warm.  One day I wore a sundress and got a sunburn.  A few days later? Long sleeves, a coat, scarf, mittens, and still I was freezing.  It rained, it was windy, it was sunny.  I suppose I can’t complain because it was PARIS, for heavens sake.  (That’s the rose window in Notre Dame to the left.)

While there everything I saw, touched and ate served as research.  And I noticed a lot of differences between the French and the tourists.  First, I have to say that Paris during high season is a nightmare.  SO many people, and all rushing around and pushing and shoving and waiting in lines, and well, I’m surprised the locals even mixed with all that madness, but they were there, and they were easy to pick out.

While you could spot a tourist a mile away in tennis shoes and sweatshirt, the French dress well.  Most especially I noticed the men like to wear the slim-fitted suit, clean, polished leather shoes (narrow with longer toes; loved that) and were well-groomed.  Metro-sexual, at its finest.  Everyone wears a stylish scarf, including the men.  Most male tourists did not wear scarves; they should pick up some pointers.  The French women walked about in heels of all heights that made me cringe just to imagine the pain their feet must be in.  And the most amazing sight was all the women in business clothes, nice skirt and jacket, on bikes, riding to work amongst the harrowing tangle of rush-hour traffic.  Literally taking their lives in their hands, and looking so stylish while doing it.

The French eat for a long time.  While we tend to inhale our food in America, you can easily spend an hour or two over a nice, simple French meal of meat, potatoes and lots of bread.  And don’t wait for the check.  You have to ask for it in Paris.  And another cool thing they do? They slash your credit card right there at the table; it never leaves your sight.  Loved that.

SAM_0846The French have a few national holidays, and who would have thought May 1st was so big that all the stores are closed, save for flower shops?  It was our last day there and we’d planned to hit a museum and then do some last minute shopping.  Museums were closed as well as all shops, save touristy stands.  The Red Cross sold lily of the valley on street corners, and, well, we looked for protests and did actually find a few people wandering about with signs, but no big gangbusting riots.  Sigh…   (Pic above was taken outside Notre Dame.  Yes, spring was there.  Most of the time.)

The French do bidets.  We had a rather strange garden hose version in our bathroom.  Go figure.  I just let that thing stay where it was.  The idea of testing it out was more daunting than the actual test may have been.

The French do natural foods.  They don’t put a lot of preservatives in their foods, even the packaged stuff, and they regulate chemicals and additives well.  So my body was kind of happy with the food, even though I dropped my no sugar policy and consumed massive quantities of macarons and hot chocolate.  Didn’t gain a pound.  Must have been all that walking.  I’m also putting a notch in the ‘purer ingredients’ column, which I believe doesn’t bother my system the way chemical-laden ingredients do.

The French don’t all speak English.  And even though you would think the biggest tourist town in the world would at least have some English speaking people on staff in the most touristy of stores and sites, think again.  I was relieved to have a few French words to hand, so I got by.  But trust me, if you don’t speak their language, they are not going to go out of their way to try and speak yours.  But with some attempt at their language, and maybe a few helpful hand gestures, they will meet you halfway, and the whole experience can be a little fun.

SAM_0738The French like their old buildings.  But most of those old buildings were not originally designed with bathrooms.  Warning: the public bathrooms in this town are few and far between.  And when a building does boast one, you often wind down old medieval stone stairs into a dark hallway, and then share one or two stalls with both sexes (and they are usually not cleaned too often, either).  I was with a group of 3 other women.  Trust me, you don’t want to get in our way when one of us needs to find one of those rare bathrooms.  ;-)   (Pic above taken in the Catacombs; no bathrooms there.)

The French will take a look at a fully-loaded subway car that’s come to a stop (and no passengers have gotten off to make room) and decide “We can fit 3 or 4 or 12 more people on that packed car”.  And then they do it.  I’m so over closeness and all the strange smells you experience during the Metro ride.  Ugg.

What surprised me most is how alike the French are to us.  The most common accessory in a French person’s arsenal?  The cell phone.  Walking down the street, standing on the corner, sitting in the restaurant or in the Metro, they were all gabbing into their phones.  Annoying.  Just like we Americans.  ;-)

So where are you planning to vacation this summer, or have you been lately?  What was the most surprising difference or similarity to you about their locals?

Michele

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22 Responses to We’re Not So Different, and Yes, We Are

  1. roxrustand says:

    Michele, your post was delightful! It was so interesting to hear about the differences you encountered and the fascinating things you saw, but also a bit daunting, because my dh and I don’t speak a word of French. I would love to visit there someday, but we’d be like two timid bunnies hopelessly wandering around without a clue. :)

    • michelehauf says:

      Roxanne, it is a bit daunting and humbling, but if you even have a handful of words, then you’ll do just fine. Merci, and, s’il vous plait go a long way. Also, non Francais, and parlez-vous Anglais?

  2. Teresa Hughes says:

    No vacation this year:( The last place I went was Ohio. It wasn’t too different from NC however I did get picked on about how I eat and my accent from time to time. I only got to go there for the weekend. I’m hoping I can go back for a longer trip next time.

  3. Kathleen O says:

    France has always been on my bucket list. I may get there one day. I want to visit Lore Valley and Bordeaux and Champagne and Paris too of course. I just would love to spend a month or so visiting all the wonders France has to offer. As for the French speaking problem, well I know a few words and would make sure to bone up on my French before I leave home.

    • michelehauf says:

      i think if I ever go back, I will only do Paris a few days, and hit the countryside instead. We did get out to Vaux-le-Vicomte, a chateau about a half hour train ride out. It was awesome (if you don’t count the harrowing time we had finding a cab just to get to the chateau.)

  4. Guy D. Ogan says:

    The French have “style” however they are not “tourist friendly.” Even if they speak English (and most in Paris can) THEY WON’T – unless you are spending a lot of money with them. And yes, they close everything up every chance they get. When we were there, Paris was CLOSED on Tuesdays (but that was 40 years ago)!

    • michelehauf says:

      What I did like about their business hours was they usually don’t open until 10:00 am and stay open until 8. For a bunch of late sleepers like our crew, it was a dream. Sleep late, get up and head out just as everything is coming awake in the city.

  5. Stephenia says:

    I love Paris. I had a wonderful visit there a few years back with my daughter. We were there during Bastille day s d experienced fireworks under the Eiffel Tower. So many fun things to see, wonderful things to eat and experiences to treasure. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip!

    • michelehauf says:

      Bastille day would be fun to experience there. Just seeing the Eiffel Tower twinkling at ten minutes before the hour was also magical.

  6. CateS says:

    My mom and sister were in Paris… Mom used the bidet to soak her tired feet!!
    We have visited friends in NC and will visit some other friends in KY later this summer!

  7. michelehauf says:

    ha! i love that! When my hubby arrived (he came over a week after I’d already been there) he didn’t know what the bidet was for, and thought to use it to spray in the toilet to flush it. Don’t tell him I said that here. ;-)

  8. Ah, Paris. Thank you for the vicarious visit, Miss M. I haven’t been to Europe in sooo very long, and I keep dreaming. I loved Paris for the history, architecture, the arts. Did you go to the Follies? That was so much fun. I was surprised by how much French I understood. I had a hard time stringing decent sentences together, but I was able to follow better than I expected. Nice was deliciously different. The shop keepers were very friendly to tourists. And the beach was quite an experience. My mother and I were the only people there who kept our tops covered. When in Nice do as the Nice people do? Mama was tempted. But since she wouldn’t let me go to the top of the Eiffel tower, I wouldn’t let her go native in Nice.

    • michelehauf says:

      No Eiffel Tower? I didn’t go to the top this time, either. The lines were so long. The ‘climbing the stairs’ line was short, but I didn’t think I could handle that. Though I was willing. The hubby declined. Whew!

  9. Lois Greiman says:

    So interesting, M. I’m jealous. I would like to do Paris but I’m not seeing it in the near future. Other locales?? Well, I was in North Dakota recently. But they’re pretty much like we are…except colder. :)

    • michelehauf says:

      Oh, North Dakota. You know how I feel about that place. ;-) No trees. Wind. Snow. In-laws. ’nuff said.

  10. Nicole says:

    That’s ecxiting, I’m going there in a few weeks. My husband is going there for is work and my youngest daughter and I are going too. My oldest daughter spend last summer there to study. French is not an issue for us, it is our first language.
    The bathroom experience in Europe is daunting, it is what I’m not looking for. They are not very clean and when I was in Amsterdam none of them had soap. :( So true about the medieval staircase, I remember looking and some of them and thinking “is it safe down there?”
    When I was there last year, I enjoyed all the food I wanted and lost weight. I think it’s the combination between less chemical in the food and a lot of walking.
    People are not that different from one place to another but those little difference can be hard to bridge sometimes. When we moved to California many years ago, we could see all of those differences and now we don’t notice it except when we have relatives visiting. They will notice it but to us it’s just the way it is.

  11. Quilt Lady says:

    Paris’s weather sounds just like the weather we have had here. Cold, rainy, and then warm and then do it all again. It has rained here for the past two weeks and my back yard is like a swamp. We don’t take vacations any more we can’t afford them.

  12. Kylie Brant says:

    Oh fun! When we were in Paris it was mid-March, so the temperatures weren’t nearly as nice as now. All the women were in skinny pants and boots (this was five years ago). I noticed the dark dark clothes. Everything black, gray or navy. No bright colors. My black and yellow coat really stood out :) And the women all size you up–check out the hair, the shoes, the nails, the clothes. We found the French to be singularly unfriendly…they wouldn’t help even if they did speak English unless I begged. No signage…very difficult to make our way around. I noticed the long meals, and having to ask several times for the check…I think they thought we were rude to rush off. Loved the Louvre…stayed for five hours. Was very disappointed with the Eiffel Tower. But the Cathedral of Notre Dame was absolutely breathtaking.

    • michelehauf says:

      Ah yes, the lack of signage. Again, you’d think the biggest tourist town in the world would have the occasional sign directing you to one of their major tourist sites. But…nada.
      My favorite part? We went to the Jardin des Plantes and they had a very tiny insect exhibition. Two small rooms, but yet we paid our 3 euros for entrance. Big bugs! Loved it!

  13. leannebanks says:

    I know you had a wonderful time! It sounds fabulous! We visited Paris a little over ten years ago and I was told to at least learn French greetings. The French would appreciate even that little bit of effort with their language. It was very true. It seemed they were always eager to help after we said Bonjour or Bonsoir. :) I loved the way the French people dressed. Hated the urine smell of the subway, but it got us where we wanted to go! Loved our field trip day to Versailles! What a blessing to be able to visit Paris! :)

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