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.
Flâner – the French term for stroll which was developed further by Baudelaire to reflect “a person who walks the city in order to experience it”. Paris is absolutely a city that must be walked to truly imbibe its splendor.
Even as the New-York sense of urgency and speed has begun to infiltrate the city – with a surge of take-out restaurants, greater willingness to eat on-the-go and an overall faster pace of life- the French have yet to drastically change their habits.
Spending hours nursing drinks at the latest hipster hangout or cocktail bar falls into every Parisian’s weekly schedule. And that same priority is given to leisurely strolling, whether along the cobblestone-lined banks of the Seine or up and down the highly frequented shopping streets.
I have since learned to adapt my pace to a more Parisian speed but will always remember with fondness those early moments of discovering Paris à pied with baby steps. Because really, unless there is a flash sale at Hermès , why rush?
- Our very own Tory Hoen was also impressed by the importance of strolling in Parisian life
- This post from My Mélange lists 5 great streets to stroll in Paris