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My First Paris: Lindsey Discovers the Art of the Stroll

Bonnaf

I don’t think anyone would dispute that the French are the masters of leisure and purveyors of refined hedonism. Meals, apéros, discussions, and strolls are all to be conducted tranquillement – without haste and with an utmost respect for life’s little pleasures. With a vast selection of renowned terraces, parks, shops, secret passageways and charming cobblestone streets, it’s no wonder their capital city ranks highly for a laid-back kind of lifestyle.

But for Paris neophytes, particularly those accustomed to a far more hurried pace, this leisurely style is a bit of a head scratcher and is my most vivid first memory of the city. When I first arrived in Paris, my legs only functioned on two speeds – fast and faster – and this immediately perplexed my husband on our first date.

Was I in a rush? Trying to escape him? Neither, really. I was simply conditioned to stride with purpose, leaving aimless wandering for rare occasions or to aid in digestion after a heavy meal.


Couple strolling on rue Montorgueil (Lost in Cheeseland)

My feckless attempts at regulating my speed made us both chuckle and helped to abate all visible signs of first-date butterflies.  With a winsome smile and blushed cheeks, he reached for my hand and pulled me back toward him to match his gait.

Where’s the fire? We’re enjoying ourselves”, he reminded me. And that set the course for the rest of our 8-hour date.  As we walked from our rendez-vous point at Odéon, through Luxembourg Gardens, and eventually winded our way through the 2nd to rue Montorgueil for a cheese plate, I began to understand why the French have a word to describe the very act of strolling. Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 23 Comments »

Paris: Plus Ça Change… the More It’s the Same

Little Brown Pen Paris restaurant sign

Little Brown Pen Paris buildingsAll photos courtesy of Little Brown Pen

When I leave Paris for extended periods of time, I’m sometimes overcome with a panicky feeling that I’m losing touch, losing ground, floating into a France-less obscurity, and that when I return, I won’t recognize the city anymore. Or worse, that it won’t recognize me.

But as soon as I come back—as I have now, for three weeks—I realize the futility of such thinking. If there is any city that is adamant about retaining its traditions, its quirks, its pace and its “sameness,” it is Paris. So I’m happy to report that the French are more or less wearing the same thing (black), eating the same things (steak frites, baguettes, macarons), waiting for the same thing (retirement) and complaining about the same things (everything).

Little Brown Pen Chairs Paris Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 17 Comments »

Cult of Quality: Meeting the French Standard

EBBErica Berman

If there’s one thing I learned while living in Paris, it is that mediocrity is unacceptable. It is for idiots and Americans—it is not for the French. I was once walking up my street when a particularly agitated French woman came charging out of a little cheese shop. She was perturbed in that very French way: shaking her head and quietly fuming, as if someone had just done her a grave disservice. When I got close enough to hear what she was griping about, she uttered the phrase: “C’était tout à fait médiocre.” It was completely mediocre.

She was talking about the cheese, or maybe about the shop itself­—its merchandise, its presentation. Whatever it was, it had greatly offended her, and she uttered the word “mediocre” as if it were the most vitriolic insult she could possibly conjure up. Mediocrity—the ultimate shame.

Mediocrity French Attitude Paris

The incident seemed indicative of a larger theme that reiterated itself in myriad ways while I was living in France, particularly when it comes to food. In the United States, bigger is often equated with better, and mediocrity is sort of the norm. When something exceeds mediocrity, we’re often pleasantly surprised. Conversely, the French have higher expectations and stricter standards, particularly when it comes to edibles. Quality and moderation trump quantity and excess. If it’s not good, vendors do not sell it, people do not buy it, one does not eat it… or wear it… or tolerate it. I have drawn a little chart to help illustrate relative tolerance levels. Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 17 Comments »

It’s True Because the French Say So: Rules To Live By

French people are born with an innate sense of how to thrive in their natural habitat. Dressing well, eating well and comporting themselves with general discretion are key elements in this survival strategy. But there is also a set of hard-and-fast rules that underlie the attitudes and behaviors of the population and provide crucial (albeit completely illogical) societal structure. When I was preparing to move to Paris two years ago, a friend warned me about these rules. To the outside observer, they sound like a collection of crazy Old Wives’ Tales, but to the French, they are serious business. If violated, they will probably lead to instant death… or worse.

French Women Scarves Paris A Cup Of Jo, Egor Gribanov

Note: The rules need not be substantiated by any kind of real factual research or tested logic. We don’t know why they’re true, but we know they are because they always have been. So stop asking questions.

1. Wear a scarf at all times. It’s no wonder that the French have multiple words for different kinds of neck adornments (écharpe, foulard, fichu, châle, etc). If you go outside without one, you will not only violate the rules of French fashion, but you will also risk your life. Your neck is fragile; protect it. Note: scarves cure not just the common cold, but nearly all known ailments.

2. Be suspicious of air-conditioning. It is unnatural and is to be avoided at all costs. Anyone who has suffered through a sweltering August night in a Parisian garret can attest to the fact that the French take this rule seriously. Some hotels provide an exception—tourists can be sacrificed—but your average French family steers clear. Better to overheat than to die of a mysterious AC-related affliction.

Paris Woman Street Girl’s Guide to Paris

Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 33 Comments »