I’ve been keeping a mental list of the things I loved about Paris, things I wish we had here, or that would be possible to integrate into our lives here. I will do another list, of things I like better about the U.S. But before I do that I need to actually have a list. Two things is not a list.
Ten Things I Like Better About Paris (in no particular order):
- French pharmacies. Oh, mon Dieu. If only the Walgreens could be like this! Fancy French hair products (Renee Furterer, Kerastase), skin care products (La Roche-Posay, Vichy, Caudalie) and cosmetics (T LeClerc). I bought some of their famous pressed powder, after asking the pharmacist what I could do about the redness in my face. She said, gently: “I do not think you have so much red. But this product, this will help you if your face gets a little greasy, no?” This is not to say that these products are not available in the U.S., or any cheaper in France. In fact, they weren’t, at all. But I love that you can buy a Mason Pearson brush and then, in an intimate environment (most Parisian pharmacies are cozy spaces), ask the pharmacist for advice about your psoriasis. Not that French women probably get psoriasis.
- People read paperbacks. Steve and I rode the Métro a lot, which was a great place to observe “real Parisians” (and tourists). And I saw lots and lots of people reading books. Real paperback books. I actually wondered if maybe Amazon’s empire didn’t extend to France, but yes, indeed, there are French books available for Kindle. And I own a Kindle. It just pleased me to see people reading actual books.
People weren’t glued to their smartphones. Certainly, people had smartphones. Steve observed that everyone in Paris seemed to own an iPhone, in fact. But we didn’t see Parisians walking down the street texting, oblivious to their surroundings. Another bonus: Because my smartphone didn’t work in Paris. I wasn’t glued to mine.
- Women look their age. This deserves a post all its own, but for the purposes of this list, I’ll say this: Parisian women weren’t all shot up with filler. They didn’t have highly complicated hairdos. Many that I saw didn’t wear makeup. They had freckles and age spots and wrinkles. And they were beautiful in their imperfection.
- Public transportation. The Métro goes everywhere. It’s inexpensive. And trains come every three minutes or so. Also, they’re quiet. I’d read somewhere that you’d show your Americanness if you were loud on the Métro, because Parisians are very quiet. And it’s totally true.
- Children are well behaved. Paris is a city of 2.2 million people, and we saw only a small fraction of that. And of that fraction, only a fraction were children. But the children we saw were remarkably self-composed. I’ve read about half of “Bringing Up Bébé,” by Pamela Druckerman. I only read half because I started disliking her writing style, in particular the way she described Parisian women first by their body type. It was irritating. Still, I saw real-life examples of some of the things she wrote about in her book — that French children are able to play independently, for instance.
Here’s an anecdote, that illustrates how different Parisian children behave, as compared to my child or any other children I know in the U.S. Steve and I decided to go see the Ron Mueck exhibit at the Fondation Cartier. It was a Saturday afternoon, around 2:00. And as we neared the museum, we realized that there was a line. A very, very long line. We got in the queue behind a group that consisted of a family of five (mom, dad, baby in stroller, two small kids) and the family friend, who had her own small child. We stood in that line behind them for 45 minutes. The one mom gave the kids chalk, and they amused themselves, drawing on the sidewalk. People who were walking down the sidewalk didn’t tsk in irritation, they didn’t act affronted that children with chalk were interfering with their walking experience. They smiled, and went around the chalk and children. When the chalk was no more, one of the moms took plastic bags out of her purse and told the kids to collect things. One of the kids brought over a cigarette butt, and the Parisian parents laughed and said “Non.” Once inside, the kids were respectful of the art. They didn’t try to climb on it or destroy it. They just looked at it, and asked questions. The museum even had a handout for children, on how they could experience the exhibit.
I cannot imagine, ever, calling up a friend of mine and saying, “Hey, let’s take the kids to a gallery today. There might be a wait. A long wait. What do you say?” Also, try to imagine how an American mom, at least here in helicopter-parent land, would react if their kid brought them a cigarette butt. Anti-bacterial gel, for sure. Maybe lawsuits. Lots of keening.
Also, I noticed that when the adults were talking, all it took for the kids was a gentle, firm “Attends (Wait)” for the child to not interrupt. Just this afternoon, when I was on the phone, Bini came up and said, “Mom. Mooooom. Moooooooooom,” until I was off the phone. I thought it was a 5-year-old kid thing, but apparently, it’s an American 5-year-old-kid thing.
- Nightly shopping. I loved living in a Parisian neighborhood (and granted, it was a posh neighborhood) for a week, the nightly hustle and bustle along Rue de Buci as people shopped for fresh produce, fresh meat and a little something sweet at the pâtisserie. It didn’t take long for Steve and I to get into the swing of it, bringing our reusable bags (they’ll charge you in Paris if you need plastic) and getting yogurt, produce and a baguette.
Commitment to design and art. I knew, of course, that Paris had art. I knew about its historic public spaces and its grand gardens. But when you’re there, strolling through the meticulously maintained Tuileries Garden or taking in the Place de la Concorde, you realize that this is a place that takes beauty very seriously. Everything has been well thought out, from the green chairs ringing the pools at Le Jardin du Luxenbourg to the bridges crossing the Seine. On a smaller scale, there’s the apartment we rented on Rue de Savoie. It was a rental, so it’s not like the furnishings were top of the line. But the lighting, the curtains, the way books were stacked and the symmetry of the furniture arrangement was something every American interior designer tries to emulate.
- Food. I’d been off grains (mostly) for four months prior to traveling, and I was concerned about how eating a little bread might impact me. It didn’t. At all. One day, when Steve and I walked something like five miles, I had a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) for breakfast and then another as a late-afternoon snack and I waited for my stomach to revolt. It didn’t. When I’ve slipped up in the States, I’ve paid for it. So what was going on in France? I drank wine every night and had crepes and crusty bread and chocolate religieuse and ate a nine-course dinner at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and I felt fantastic. I don’t own a scale, but my clothes tell me I actually lost a pound or two in France.
- Less stress. I’m sure there are Parisians that are in a hurry. I’m sure people have busy lives. But Parisians don’t radiate stress like Americans do. And we weren’t just knocking around tourist spots, mind you. We rode the Métro all over that city, and walked along major boulevards. I saw lots of chilled-out commuters, and not a single incident of road rage. And the neighborhood shops didn’t seethe with gotta-get-there self importance, either. People chose their wares with care, got in (often long) lines, and went home. The women I saw shopping with young kids in tow didn’t appear harassed, like I often am. It was life, absent the fraught pace. I’m addicted to busy, so this was a revelation for me, and it’s something I’m trying hard to emulate, now that I’m home.