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Life in Italy vs. Life in France: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, Erica Berman shared her most telling anecdotes about the difference between life in France and life in Italy. While most of us can only envy the lifestyle that makes intimate knowledge of those details a part of daily life, Erica’s insight into the particularities of French and Italian culture helps us live the dream. In part two, she moves beyond general life to get to the juicy stuff : how the natives operate.

Vongole CamogliPhotos Erica Berman – Seafood Pasta in Italy this summer

Differences between the French and the Italians…

  • Nothing is a problem for the Italians…everything is a problem for the French. I think there are numerous posts to be written on this thought… a suivre!
  • Italians miss pasta and coffee when away from their beloved Italy. The French are hands down pining for bread and cheese when far from home.
Croissant Erica ParisCroissants in Paris
  • The French do not ask personal questions. Italians ask many. The French find asking questions a sign of indiscretion, and they take the utmost pride in being discreet, sometimes to the point of ridiculous (when applying for a job they may not feel comfortable asking the salary).
  • The Italians are curious and their inquiring minds want to know. In elevators in Italy I have had personal conversations on where I’m from and why I’m in Italy with people I have never seen before and will probably never see again. In France a bonsoir or bonjour is possibly all the chatting you will get after years of being neighbors.
  • Italians remember you after seeing you once. The French might, of course, remember you, I am convinced they do, but will do their very best to pretend that they have never seen you before (my corner bakery in Montmartre is in the running for longest possible non recognition of a regular customer – almost 18 years. The bread is so amazing and their complete neutrality so fascinating, I keep on going).
Continue Reading »

Posted in Italy tips & suggestions, Parisian Living, Travel | 50 Comments »

Slowing Down: The Art of the Apéro in Paris

Apero Hour: drinking in paris cafeFrench apéro cafe scene, Paris. Mecredis

If there’s something the French know how to do well, it’s give themselves a break (or rather, a pause). They see downtime as a preventative measure, a means to avoiding exasperation (as opposed to an emergency response to it). Whereas many of us wear ourselves so thin that we desperately need whatever it is (a break, a drink, a vacation), in France, it’s more about “we deserve this” than “we need this.”

L’heure de l’apéro (the French equivalent of cocktail hour) is the moment when the French consciously create some space between the workday and the dinner hour, demonstrating their talent for slowing down and, somehow, miraculously expanding time. On nice days, the apéro coincides with the moment when the city is suddenly bathed in that rosy, only-in-Paris light, and you suddenly feel like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be in the world.

France Apero on the SeineNon-traditional apéro settings are also appropriate: river banks, parks, benches… Boklm

Practically speaking, though, the idea of the apéro (a colloquial form of apéritif) is to whet the appetite for the meal to come. (The word comes from the latin aperire, which means to open). When at a café or bar, it’s typical to have glass of wine or champagne, a beer, or a kir (white wine with a splash of Crème de Cassis). Old-school traditionalists go for a pastis (an anise-flavored liqueur mixed with water and ice), and among my friends, Lillet (a sweet wine infused with citrus liqueur) has taken off of late. Take note: l’heure de l’apéro is not a time to pound American-style cocktails, which makes sense, considering a whiskey sour will do little to prep your palette for any kind of serious dégustation. And while cocktail culture is on the rise in France, mixed drinks have not historically been part of the French tradition. Continue Reading »

Posted in Food, Parisian Living | 13 Comments »

The Summer That Wasn’t: 20 Paris Rainy Day Solutions from the Locals

Paris Rainy Day ActivitiesPrakhar – Rainy view from Montmartre

Fifty degree weather? Rain? What’s next, sleet? The summer is obviously on vacation somewhere else this year. It packed up and went on a tour of Italy and Spain most likely, because it’s definitely not in Paris! The sun has been taking a big ole dump on my outdoor plans for quite a while now. I’ve been cooped up in my apartment too long, another week of this and I’ll be eligible for the hermit of the year award.

It’s time to brave the weather and see Paris from the inside out. Here are a few things that are tempting me at the moment:

YSL expo at Petit Palais: I’ve heard great things about this exhibit, but haven’t gotten around to going yet! It’s open until this weekend, so I’m down to the wire to get around to doing anything that could give me the slightest insight about how to dress my sorrily-clothed-self.

Kentrige 5 Themes expo at Jeu de Paume: This is by far one of my favorite museums in Paris; the expos never fail to disappoint! This expo looks particularly good. I like that it’s a mix of mediums – drawings, prints, films & all that. This is good because I have a real attention span pro- DID YOU SEE THAT BIRD FLY BY??

Paris Rainy Day ActivitiesSupagroova, Lemmiworld

Tea at l’Hotel: My friend Rebecca introduced me to this place and it was love at first sight. It’s the perfect place to cozy up and drink your self warm again. Luxurious, a bit swanky, but they’ll let you sit and relax for hours with a good book. (Read: I’m cheap. 5€ is already a lot, so I’m getting my money’s worth!)

And here are suggestions from the Paris experts via Twitter! These people REALLY know their way around the city, you can trust them with your rainy vacation days! Please be sure to check their blogs and add them on Twitter for more insights!! Continue Reading »

Posted in Arts, Events, Parisian Living | 7 Comments »

Apartment Makeover: Before & After in Erica’s Montmartre Studio

Hip Paris blog friend and fabulous resource on all things Paris, Parisien Salon, recently stayed in our little Montmartre studio and published this article about our very own Erica Berman and her amazing job renovating Pilleux, Haven in Paris’ cozy Montmartre studio. We are pleased to share the story and the before-and-after shots here.

Paris Pilleux Montmartre Studio ViewView from Pilleux Montmartre Studio


Erica Berman has a gift. She can look at a crumbling shell of a hovel and see its potential as a beautiful apartment. This gift has served her well over her 18 years living in Paris, as she’s renovated upwards of 15 apartments that started out as “blah” (at best), only to be transformed into “wow.”

Pillexu far wall after renovations
Pilleux Wall before renovations Pilleux Studio – Murphy bed with antique doors, after and before

Her most recent project really put her abilities to the test, as she and her partner Alain renovated a small studio overlooking the Cimetière de Montmartre. Having stayed in what is now a fantastic apartment, I was stunned when Erica shared the story of its evolution.

“There was nothing there but the bones when we bought it,” explains Erica. “Just a shelf.” Looking at some of the “before” photographs also reveals peeling walls, unremarkable floors and an enclosed bathroom that cut the space dramatically. “There was nothing in there we wanted to keep,” she adds.

Erica and Alain worked with an architect to determine the best way to use the space. Once they agreed on the layout, they got to work with a contractor. Continue Reading »

Posted in Design, Homes, Parisian Living | 13 Comments »

Life in Italy vs. Life in France: part 1.

Cappuccino ItalyPhotos Erica Berman – cappuccino Genova

I’m back in Paris after 2 months of learning Italian in Genoa, Italy. The cool Paris weather is a shock after the heat of Italy, but I’m excited to be home.

Naturally, I can’t help comparing the (Genovese) Italians to the (Parisian) French with whom I have cohabited for almost 18 years. Little differences and similarities between the daily life in both countries are entertaining, endearing and often surprising.

Italians and dogsDoggy love Italian style

Things I have noticed: Life in Italy vs France

  • You will be scoffed at in both countries for ordering a cappuccino in the afternoon. Mind you, I do it anyway. How gauche is that?
  • Both Italians and French cut lines with zeal. Little old Italian ladies are surprisingly cunning. Be alert!
  • Taxis in both cities can, and will, try to rip you, the foreigner, off even if you speak the language. Be aware.
  • Both Italians and French love their doggies and bring them in trains, restaurants and just about everywhere they can physically go. In both countries you will see many a person out and about deep in conversation with Fido. Continue Reading »

Posted in Italy tips & suggestions, Parisian Living | 34 Comments »

Your Boyfriend’s Guide to Paris

Your Boyfriend's Guide to Paris: Kissing on the Seine Riverbanks

We’ll be the first to admit it: Paris is girly. It takes a strong man to admit he loves this city. But the good news is, such men exist! In fact, they’re everywhere, and they seem to be enjoying themselves. So we thought we’d dig a little deeper to find out what makes the Parisian man (or the Paris-going man) tick.

In researching this post, I polled a few of my Paris-savvy guy friends about what they love about the city, and across the board, the answer was pretty much the same: the women. Fair enough. Guys who like to gawk in a consequence-free environment would do well to position themselves at just about any café, and enjoy the show.

But if you’re traveling to Paris with your boyfriend or husband, then ogling ladies is probably not an activity you’ll want to encourage. If your man is docile and cooperative (go you!), he’ll let you drag him from store to store, from romantic park benches to cafés to the opera without complaint. But if he feels that certain stops on your agenda are a threat to his manhood, allow him to reassert himself by making the following detours.

Your Boyfriend's Guide to Paris: Place des Vosges, Balcony
Melanie-m, quinn.anya

Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 14 Comments »

Ice Cold Drinks in Paris: The Search for Cool Cocktails

Forest Collins, the savvy writer behind discriminating Paris cocktail blog 52 Martinis, shares with us here her frustrations with France’s strange aversion to H2O’s solid incarnation. She also has the low-down on where to go for seriously refreshing cocktails. Hint: it’s not your corner bistrot.

Cocktails Paris: Search for ice cold, Quinn.anya

As an American expat in Paris, the question I get most often is: What do you miss most about home?  Honestly, this question usually stumps me.

While, of course I miss friends, they come frequently for visits, so it’s less of an issue. In a pinch I can find a reasonable substitute for many of the readily available items from the U.S. that I might miss.  If not, said stream of friends usually keep me in a steady supply of goods and sundries that evade me here.  But, there’s one thing I can’t ask even my nearest and dearest to lug over in a suitcase: Frozen water.  Yes, you heard correctly.  The thing I miss most about the US is ice.

When I’m back home, I get a special thrill out of sitting down to a table from the grungiest of roadside diners to the fanciest of upscale eateries and immediately being served a large glass of water full of sparkly, playfully tinkling, cold-making ice!  While, in France, you’re lucky to get a small votive candle holder full of warm tap water after asking…twice.

Cocktails in Paris: Search for Ice cold drinksMalias

And, this epidemic goes beyond commercial establishments into the very hearts of homes nationwide. Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 8 Comments »

Paris Tourist Scams: HiP Tips For A Hassle-Free Trip

Flickr Esellee Esellee

I was lucky enough to live in Paris earlier this year. During my time in one of the fairest cities, I soaked up the language, tossed back (a few too) many glasses of red and practically inhaled the food. I also wandered, a lot. I’m the sort of tourist who likes to explore the nooks and crannies, those precious spots that are forgotten on a map but hold a special magic beyond the typical grand Paris sites.

Oh, I did fit in the requisite amount of “grand” though. Naturellement! I was a trooper, performing my tourist duty by visiting all of the major Parisian landmarks, leaving my gasps and wishes in the same spots you likely did. I gazed at the Eiffel Tower and marveled at the views from both Sacré-Coeur (très vaste) and the Centre Pompidou (très spécial). I even strolled down Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore, a street speckled with bright shop windows that are filled with tiny sparkling items more valuable than my not-as-tiny house in the States.

I saw it all, hoping I blended in among the fashionable locals but knowing deep down, way deep down, that I still looked like the typical tourist – wide-eyed, a bit awestruck, mouth permanently agape, cheeks flushed from all the wine, and generally feeling quite blessed and lucky.


Alas, all that wine blushing up my skin totally gave me away. While I was living in a dream, a few unsavory locals easily spotted my tourist moves (you know, the wide-eyes, mouth agape, flushed cheeks) and attempted to weasel me with their foolish scams. I was forewarned by local friends and, fortunately, able to avoid the embarrassment. Many of my tourist brethren were not so lucky.

Luck, however, is on your side. I watched, appalled, as each tourist, high on the city of lights, repeatedly fell for scam after scam. I’m busting out the scams I discovered here so you don’t have to succumb to their same fate.

First and foremost, you must remember this key piece of information on your next stroll through central Paris: No one would sell you a real gold ring for 10 Euros. Not in Paris. Not anywhere. Not even your real grandmother would sell you a piece of 18-karat gold for 10 Euros. Just wouldn’t happen.

So when your sweet Parisian fairy godmother or godfather finds a pretty gold ring at your very feet, they’ll explain how they’re certain it belongs to you. When you insist that it isn’t, which naturally you will, they’ll start raving about how genuine the ring is and how they’ll be only too glad to sell it to you for whatever you’re willing to pay. Two words: Don’t pay. In fact, don’t bother. Just perfect a très Parisian scowl and move right on along. If they persist, shout at them, preferably in French, and, remarkably, they will vanish. Continue Reading »

Posted in Travel | 22 Comments »

On Being a Vegetarian in Paris: Tien Hang Bistrot & more

Rosa Jackson, the fabulous food writer and chef, is based in Nice where she conducts market tours and succulent Provençal cooking classes. She travels to Paris frequently (as one must) in order to keep up with the restaurant scene. Here she checks out Tien Hang, a true haven for Parisian vegetarians!

Rosa Jackson Vegetarian Restaurant Paris
Rosa Jackson’s vegetarian son Sam in Zen restaurant

A few months ago, my son Sam declared himself a vegetarian. Now, if we lived in California this might not sound unusual, but this is France, proud land of steak-frites and saucisson, andouillette and tête de veau. What made his decision even more surprising is that both of his parents are meat-eaters. If much of my cooking relies on fresh vegetables from the market, I also can’t deny having a passion for steak tartare.

At first I wasn’t sure how to react. He had been making noises about becoming vegetarian ever since watching a cooking show on the television channel Arte in which a group of 12 to 14 year-olds visited a rabbit farm to see where meat came from. Picture the poor bunnies dangling from hooks, then cut to the skinned rabbits a few seconds later, ready to be chopped up for lapin à la moutarde. Who could really blame Sam?

For two years (he saw the show when he was five) I persuaded him that eating a little meat and fish is not a bad thing if you choose it carefully. But, as he got older, he became convinced that anything with a heart and a brain shouldn’t die in order to feed him. When he started to categorically refuse meat and fish, I decided not to fight it.

Rosa Jackson’s Stuffed Tofu – Tien Hang

I quickly discovered, though, that becoming vegetarian in France isn’t so simple. First, there was the school’s reaction. The teacher and canteen supervisors came to me saying, “Is he serious?” When I assured them that he was, they frowned and shook their heads. In France, school canteens operate on the principle that every child should eat everything, or at least try everything, unless they have a religious or health reason not to. The upside of this is that France is a nation of unfussy eaters. The downside is that la différence is not welcomed.

I went to see the économe, the woman in charge of collecting money for the canteen, and explained the “problem.” She gave me a sympathetic yet puzzled look.

“Vegetarianism is not a recognized diet in France,” she said. “We’ll have to put everything on the plate even if he doesn’t eat it.”

Thus, my son who doesn’t want to animals to die for his sake still gets served meat or fish every day at school, and has to eat around it.

As any vegetarian who has travelled to France knows, eating in restaurants is also a challenge. Fortunately, I live in Nice where the Italian influence means that gnocchi and fresh pasta with pistou or tomato sauce are nearly always on the menu. Nice also has one of the best vegetarian restaurants in France, La Zucca Magica, where children under 12 eat for free. Paris bistros are a bit more problematic, but since Sam is not fussy in other ways he will settle for almost anything that doesn’t contain animal protein (as long as goat cheese is not involved). He is also thrilled to eat miso soup and vegetable maki at my favorite Japanese restaurant, Zen.

Last night, as we were meeting a friend who has also gone off meat (or at least non-organic meat) after reading Eating Animals, I decided to see if we could find a good vegetarian restaurant in Paris. Continue Reading »

Posted in Food, Parisian Living, Restaurant Reviews | 27 Comments »

Paris Fashion Showrooms: The New Way to Shop


Last winter, I was strolling through the Place des Vosges, when I came upon a seemingly endless line of women snaking around the walkway. I wondered what could possibly inspire these women to wait patiently in the cold. Was Johnny Depp offering free massages inside? As it turns out, a designer had opened her showroom to the public, and these fashionable females were simply waiting to get their hands on the fine frockery inside.

In a city known for its fashion sense, designer showrooms have become the new temples for shoppers, offering a more exclusive alternative to the well-groomed Parisienne. A cross between a designer’s workshop and a boutique, these showrooms give the shopping public access to the latest lines, where they can make purchases and maybe even meet the designer. Here are just a few designers who’ve opened their showrooms to the public:


Swedish jewelry designer Viveka Bergström is at the center of haute couture, and

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opens her showroom on the canal Saint-Martin from Monday to Saturday and by appointment to present her new collections. (23 rue de la Grange-aux-Belles, Paris 10th, Tel +33 (0)1 40 03 04 92; Monday to Saturday, 11am-7pm)

Médecine douce welcomes fans of trendy accessories to its bohemian-chic workshop on rue de Marseille. (10 rue de Marseille, Paris 10th, Tel +33 (0)1 48 03 57 17; Monday to Saturday, 11am-7pm) Continue Reading »

Posted in Shopping | 7 Comments »