1. Everyone’s always in a big hurry.
…except the ones who are waiting on you.
2. Could there possibly be any light more unflattering than the lighting on the Paris métro?
3. All the newspapers are in a funny language.
And the Sunday New York Times is 13 euros.
4. The coffee is universally awful.
Yes, much of the coffee in America is horrid and/or disgusting, but at least the possibility exists of finding decent coffee in America.
5. Parisians will just walk right into you. Even if you’re on a deserted sidewalk, they’ll veer away, then curve around, and bam!…walk straight into you.
6. Les Madames.
I don’t mean hookers, I mean those mean women of a certain age who wield their shopping chariots and expect you to move outta their way. You can easily spot them; they wear squared-off wire-rimmed glasses and are proudly bundled up in overcoats, and cut in line pretending not to see you. Then when it’s their turn, they spend 5 minutes arguing with the vendor over the price of one fig or a slice of cheese (and then take forever trying to count out the centimes to pay, acting like it’s a big surprise and inconvenience when they have to fork over the cash.
As my pal Kate pointed out, this is the last generation of them.
7. Everything is so damn expensive (except bread, wine, and cheese).
Le Creuset cookware, made in France, is cheaper in America than in France. My Delonghi heater (Italian) was 3 times the price it is in the US… and why is a Phillips Sonicare (Dutch) toothbrush twice the price?
Can’t they just truck stuff across the EU border?
8. Dog crap is everywhere…and it’s disgusting. Even most French people think so.
If you have a dog, pick up after it. I had a dog. I picked up after it. It’s part of ownership. If you have kids, you clean up after them. It’s a unknown concept called “responsibility”.
(Although I should let you know that with all the dog poo here, the last time I stepped in some was in, of all places, San Antonio.)
9. The French language has 14 verb tenses. English has 6.
Really, how many past tenses does one language need?
10. The French are explosive.
An organic bakery I visit often, Moisan, is lovely. Everything is picture-perfect. Glistening, caramelized fruit tarts, rustic hearth-baked breads, golden croissants, and little savory pizzas bubbling with melted cheese and fragrant with fresh herbs. I go in there all the time and the saleswomen could not be nicer.
Last time I went in, there was a lovely tray of fresh-baked Madeleines; deep-golden, buttery, and still warm from the oven. And they were picture-perfect.
So I complimented them, “Ce sont très jolie, madame.” (“Those are very beautiful.”)
The saleswoman, who’s always been so very nice to me, snapped back, “Ce ne sont pas jolie, Monseiur. Ce sont delicieux!” (“They’re not beautiful, they’re delicious!”)
And with that one little interchange, she will no longer wait on me or speak to me. If she happens to get me in line, she ignores me.
NEWS FLASH: At a dinner party tonight, I asked some French friends about this. They said if you use the word jolie (beautiful) to describe something, it’s rather pejorative. Like saying it’s ‘cute’, in a trés-Disney kind of way.
Who knew? (see #9)
11. The French don’t seem to be as interested in coming to conclusions, instead preferring to discuss things forever without resolution. Everything takes a lo-o-o-o-ong time.
You also realize that it’s not about helping the customer, but about employing as many people as possible to keep them working (25% of the people in France work for the government.)
Last week, for example, I needed shoelaces.
Simple task. Right?
The enormous BHV department store has everything.
Sure enough there’s a wall of shoelaces…every variety, material, width, brand, color, and size imaginable.
Except, or course, the one I needed.
(And forget asking for help; it’s non-existent. Their normal tactic is to send you to another floor just to get rid of you. Now I’m on to that ruse and don’t fall for it.)
12. Why does it take 2½ hours to wash your clothes in a French washing machine?
(See previous entry. Perhaps the washing machines are also more interested in the “process”, rather than the “results”.)
And good luck finding unscented laundry detergent. I took me months and months to finally find some. The smell of the normal laundry detergent was so strong and fragrant that I couldn’t sleep in the same room with my freshly-laundered clothes.
13. Charles de Gaulle Airport is consistently rated the worst airport in the world. It’s a major embarrassment that one of the world’s greatest cities has an airport that would rival one in a third-world country. Gee, I wonder why?
For two years, all the bathrooms were broken in the Terminal #1 Arrivals terminal, where you pick up your luggage. After sitting on a plane all night, you gotta go.
How many years does it take to fix a bathroom?
Last time I arrived, each and every elevator in the terminal was hors service (broken). People in wheelchairs and those with luggage carts were scratching their heads figuring out how to get downstairs.
How long does it take to fix an elevator?
And once you check in and go through security in Terminal #1, there’s no bathroom. Since you need to check in two hours in advance, you have to leave the waiting area and re-go-through security.
(I am sure the Olympics organizers who arrived at the primitive and crumbling Charles de Gaulle were as shocked as most visitors, and it sealed the fate for Paris hosting the games.)
14. Le President™ Camembert
France has the greatest cheeses in the world. Walk into any cheese shop, or even a supermarket, and you’ll find a bounty of delicious products from dairies and cheesemakers across France.
So why do the supermarkets stock some of the worst cheeses in the world right alongside the good stuff?
Because people buy them. They’re vile, rubbery, flavorless cheeses with little resemblance to the real thing. It can’t be the price difference, since they’re roughly equivalent or a few centimes more.
15. French people smoke too much.
I don’t mind cigarette smoke. Really I don’t. I’m used to it. But recently, the past few times I’ve been out for dinner, the people next to me as soon as they sit down they drop their packs of cigarettes on the table and chain smoke the entire night. I don’t mean one to two cigarettes, I mean lots of cigarettes. The other night the woman next to me had six cigarettes during the course of her meal.
I’m not on an anti-smoking crusade, but how many cigarettes does one person need to smoke during a dinner out?
And did you know that one-third of all people in France smoke, and 50% of all teenagers between the ages of 15-24 years old smoke too?
The French parliament is taking up the no-smoking ban in restaurants this fall, as they’ve done in Italy and Ireland. I think it’ll pass.
What are the French going to do? Take to the streets and go on strike in support of smokers?
Once you get started, it’s hard to stop.