Parisians working out – Photos by: Celso Flores, Erica Berman
When I first moved to Paris, there was a billboard near my apartment that advertised a French chain of gyms. It pictured a somewhat wan man in a dress shirt, seated, calmly smiling but looking somewhat unsure of what to do with the small hand weight he was gripping. You could easily have Photoshopped an espresso in place of the weight, and it would have made just as much sense (if not more). This offers a telling glimpse into the French psyche, I thought.
In the United States, this type of ad usually depicts a healthy, young, tan, fit, teeth-gritting exerciser in the midst of an intense-but-rewarding workout, muscles flexing and sweat flying. The message: It’s hard, but we still do it. Or even, we do it because it’s hard.
This doesn’t fly in France, where the motto is more like: “If it’s hard (not to mention unflattering), why do it?” Why not just go for a drink instead? Take a load off. So apparently, the way to lure the French to your gym is to convince them that they need not sweat, exert themselves, lose their composure, or even change out of their street clothes. They simply have to show up.
Parisian running – possibly surprised at her own body moving! Photo by: Олександр
Easy as that sounds, I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of Parisians still do not show up, or even deign to work out in private. Why bother? To stay en forme, they simply walk a lot and steer clear of over-indulgence. It’s worked for centuries; why mess with a good thing? Plus there are plenty of beauty products that claim to do what physical activity would otherwise accomplish, and paired with occasional sessions on a vibrating plate, you’re good to go.
There are a few brave souls, however, who actually jog, or shall I say, experiment with the idea of jogging. I’ve spent a fair amount of time observing them as they turn laps around the idyllic paths that encircle the Jardin du Luxembourg. (For the record, I have seen French runners who are pretty hardcore and seem to have it down). But others clearly didn’t get the memo about how to dress and behave while jogging.
Nonetheless. I have to applaud them for getting out there, even if they are wearing pleated denim pants and button-down shirts, even if they forgot to put real sneakers on, even if their arms are kind of hanging awkwardly at their sides like flippers, even if they’re looking around as if they have no idea how they got to this jardin in the first place or why their body is moving as it is—as if this was not their idea at all.
Because in a way, it wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean they can’t dabble in it—in their own French way—and then reward themselves with a cigarette. Ah, le jogging! Que ça fait du bien.
Written by Tory Hoen for the HiP Paris Blog.
The real Parisian workout: dancing, drinking and smoking – photo by Alain Ollier