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Paris – Observations

This week since my days are busy with French language class again, I thought I’d present some observations I’ve been accumulating while here…..

– Florists in Paris are really special. Their flowers are always artfully displayed, overflowing out onto the sidewalks.  The arrangements are lush and creative. French patisseries tend to get all the oohs and ahhs but I think the florists are right up there and may even be tied with the fruit sellers who also outdo themselves in presenting their produce. When in America have you ever stopped in your tracks while on a walk and just gawked at a fruit stand? Here it happens to me almost daily.  And then I pony up and pay 6.50 Euro for a little basket of strawberries. So you see, all that special care in merchandising works!

– Speaking of beautiful displays, I cannot pass over the patisseries with their delightful pastries. Oh. My. God.  They are works of art. You’ve never seen or tasted anything like them. Some patisseries are like mini museums all glass and good lighting, showcasing desserts that look like hours were spent crafting each one. Alternatively, some pastry shops are full of big rustic, homemade looking baked goods that still make your mouth water even though they are not visual works of art.  What looks like a humble plain chocolate cupcake can turn out to be one of the best things you’ve ever eaten in your life. I have this little French food guide book which covers the various popular French pastries in all their glory and we have been working our way through it, one by one.  If I come home 20 pounds heavier, you’ll know why.

– Shops in Paris are big on handing out their “carte”  – their business card – to shoppers. It’s great because sometimes you are eyeing something but can’t decide or you are in a rush and want to return later. And now you have their well designed shop card in your bag and a means to find them again. Especially useful for a tourist!

– The French really do say “Ooh, la la!” I have heard this stereotypical little exclamation used quite a bit, even by people just watching the world cup!

– Women here wear dresses with sandals in the summer. All day long I admire the cute dresses. Men going to work are often in suits. Stylish, slim fitting suits and nice shoes. No baggy pleated pants or wrinkled shirts for these Frenchmen. Parisians look great and we could learn a thing or two or three from them about how to dress.

– Clothing here is expensive. With the much hyped bi-annual sales going on now in July, you would think you could finally get a deal?  Nope. Clothes here are an investment and quality matters. Therefore people seem to have smaller wardrobes of better clothes. Smart. And it’s environmentally friendly. Don’t you always cringe inside when you walk by a Forever 21 or H&M and see the thousands upon thousands of disposable fast fashion that changes inventory constantly? I always wonder what becomes of all the clothing that doesn’t sell by the time the next batch hits the racks.  Here many clothing shops have a very limited, very curated inventory.  It is refreshing.

– On that note, unlike in Italy where shopkeepers assault you with “Dimmi” when you walk in the door (Literally “tell me!” – meaning tell me exactly what you are looking for) the French boutiques allow you to browse in peace. So much better.  Especially if you don’t speak the language well.

– Nobody rushes you in restaurants. You can sit nearly as long as you like. It’s amazing and automatically relaxes you. In fact, if you want to pay the check you have to pointedly ask for it – they won’t just drop it on your table and glower at you until you leave. Why is this? Servers here are not paid by tips alone. They get paid normal wages.  (I read, on average, about $2000 per month.)  This means they can relax and just do their job without trying to turn your table for the next tip. We Americans could learn from this and find a way to eliminate restaurant tipping and the sad minimum hourly wage that servers are paid stateside.

– The French very much like to picnic.  Or, rather “pique-nique”.  Along the Seine. On any patch of grass. These are not elaborate meals and there is always a baguette or two or three. Plus cheese and wine.  This is a super easy French habit to pick up and I recommend it!

– Buildings are beautifully designed. Care is even taken with the design of the door and with the knocker. Every single day I see one beautiful door after another, with its own unique knocker, on an architecturally stunning building. It is so rare to see a plain unadorned building that when you do see one it almost stops you in your tracks.

– Air conditioning is a luxury. The metro is hot, the buses are hot, inside the cafes are hot. Some shops will have AC but generally not.  And yet, the Parisians never look sweaty or uncomfortable.  It is an absolute mystery to me.

– Let’s talk bread.  Specifically baguettes. Parisians buy one every single day. I can’t count how many baguette ends I have seen poking out of peoples purses, brief cases, or sacs. And it is not uncommon to see the person munching on a piece of it while they walk.  When you get a warm one handed to you it is heaven.

– People here are generally friendly and helpful. The grumpy Parisian stereotype is unfair. If you try a few words of French, that is enough to satisfy them.  If you look remotely confused or blank, they switch seamlessly to English.  I give them full credit for this skill.

– No foods are forbidden here. People eat LOTS of cheese and croissants and butter and the aforementioned baguette. (No it’s not just the tourists.) And most people are indeed thin. Think about that and if you come up with a 100% explanation for it, please email me.

– A glass of Rosé in the summer heat is perfection. Light, refreshing and the perfect outdoor drink at a café at lunch or dinner. Sorry Kir. I tried you and you’re too sweet. Aperol meanwhile was a bit bitter for my taste.  Pour moi, Rosé it is.

– It’s easy to walk 4 or 5 miles a day without really trying. I’ve been taking public transportation – metro & bus – if it’s really far.  But stops are not everywhere and usually walking takes nearly the same amount of time and it burns off all that amazing food.

– If you go in a hardware store (a “droguerie” specifically) you will be shocked by the attractive, orderly, stylish care that has been taken with their wares. You can literally be staring at shelves of rat poison and you almost want to take a photo. Why can’t our hardware stores do this and make cleaning products and paint shopping a more enjoyable sensory experience?

In conclusion, I’ve found that no matter what the product, the French can make it look good. No matter what the food, the French can make it beautifully and give you full permission to eat it often. And they look good while doing all of the above avec plaisir!