It’s interesting to me that whenever I talked to people about our upcoming trip to France, people would comment that it sounded fantastic, but (with an air of concern and caution) they hoped we would have a good time in Paris. I know that Parisians in general have a bad reputation of being rude and the perception is that this is especially directed towards Americans, but for so many people to say this means that the idea is pervasive.
Having had only exceptional experiences with Parisians on every trip (5 times), where they are helpful and courteous, I could spend time trying to defend them that they perhaps are equal-opportunity city dwellers who perhaps direct their rudeness at all tourists. But instead, I thought I would write a bit about what Parisians do unequivocally correct.
No one can argue that this city is positively alive. It amazes me as we sit in our apartment overlooking a small café in the 11th Arrondissement how this city is teaming with energy. It is 8:15 on a Saturday morning, and the out-door café is already a quarter filled. By 10:30, it will be ostensibly filled with people, having coffee, smoking (my one major complaint), and talking. And I mean talking. People sit in groups of two, four, six, eight, it does not matter, leaning towards each other, engaged in dialog that is animated and exciting. And this will go on, no matter the day, until far later in the evening than my poor American body can handle.
I have never found this level of pure engagement from café to café, restaurant to restaurant, park bench to park bench, in any other city in the world. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Nairobi, Stockholm, Munich, Sydney, etc. can’t compete with Paris’ pure interest in communicating and talking. Maybe it’s the planned design of the city as a spiraling outward group of Arrondissements (districts), or the fact that outdoor dining is encouraged (something Placerville could use), or perhaps it has more to do with community and a way of life.
The fact is Paris is an experiment in mixed-use buildings. The ground floor seems to be almost always made up of small and very small shops and cafes, and the upper stories are all residential. This has a two leveled effect on how the city seems to flow. Shops, first of all, are focused on one type of product. If you sell fruit, you sell fruit. If you sell cheese, you sell cheese. If you sell flowers, you don’t sell chocolates. And with a large population inhabiting the small apartments above (with small refrigerators), you have a very large number of people coming every day or every other day to buy your one particular product. It also means that the quality of food is outstanding and fresh. The reason we have 5 boulangeries (bakeries) within a block of our apartment is that people are buying fresh baguettes every day (and for us two times a day as we over-indulge).
But I would have to say that the Parisians, with a less frenetic pace than we endure in the United States, incorporate their time together, their love of good food (and wine, beer, coffee), their impeccably stylish nature, and their adoration for their complex and beautiful city has won me over once again. And the best part is that it’s no act. They love life. And even though the French social systems have problems, and their productivity may be lacking in comparison to ours, and they smoke like chimneys, I think there are many things we as Americans could learn from the French (as they could no doubt learn from us). But these are just my thoughts (and remember it’s Saturday morning, and it can’t be the wine speaking this time!).
Open air market in Paris video.