So 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.
The 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.
The 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?