15 Things I’d Miss About Paris If I Moved Away

At a recent book event, there was a little Q & A session after I chatted and read from my new book. The only guidelines were that I told people that two questions were off limits.

white asparagus

One was; “Why did you move to Paris?”, and the other “How long are you planning on living in Paris?” Because I get asked them at least six times a day, and I’ve been here seven years, (so do the math and you’ll understand why j’en ai marre ), I figured I should just answer them in the book and be done with them once and for all.

Except when I said that, for a moment, I kind of blindsighted the crowd as I could tell that everyone was about to raise their hand to ask one of those two questions. Multiply that by 150+ people, and I’m not going to ask you to do the math again, but you see what I’m up against.

But someone did ask me a very good question: “What about Paris would you miss if you moved away?” which rendered me uncharacteristically speechless. In the book, I wanted to be truthful about my life here and balance the good with the not-always-good, and sometimes people focus on the less-alluring aspects of my life in this city, mostly because they’re more fun than to hear what a spectacular city Paris really is.

So here are 15 things I would miss if I moved away from Paris…..

gilet de pêche

1. The Dorky Sense of Fashion

For the most part, Parisians are a pretty fashionable group. Well, younger ones, that is. But the older ones tend to dress more for comfort than for style, and if anyone over 50 is wearing jeans, either they’ve been starched, heavily perma-creased, or the elastic waistband is a few centimeters north of their navel.

But it’s kind of quirky to pass men on city streets, wearing fishing vests, strolling on sidewalks where there’s clearly nothing biting, and seeing sixty-seven year old women wearing skirts that are short enough to make the gals pole-dancing up in Pigalle blush.

2. The Lack of Wacky Diets & Exercise Freaks

With the exception of the woman I saw jogging last week in the Tuilleries wearing espadrilles, most people aren’t obsessed with exercise or working out. (If you’ve even been in a gym here, you’ll see why they likely avoid them.) The French are a sportif lot, but no one gets up at 4:15 am to do a circuit, take a Spin class, then pump iron for an hour before their morning wheat grass juice. Hence you see very few over-inflated gym bodies like you would in say, California. And I’m thankful for that.

Curiously you also fewer overstuffed bodies either. There’s a panoply of reasons for that, which get me into trouble every time I bring it up, but from what I see, few people here are afraid of food. I recall during a baking demonstration I was doing in the states and remember one person telling me they were giving up fresh grapes because “they had too many calories”…and another person asked my opinion of “low-carb chocolate.”

I doubt few people in France thinks fresh fruit is the enemy, and am certain that if low-carb chocolate had ever existed, it has come and it has gone—thankfully.

scone-dive

3. Vélib’

Sure we got off to a rocky start, but after a couple of years of using the nearly-free bikes, the only way you could get me to take the métro is to hold a bar of low-carb chocolate to my head. (Or my mouth.)

“Aren’t you scared of Parisian drivers?” I’m asked. To be honest, I’m only scared of them when walking because they tend to speed up and see pedestrians as nuisances. (If they see them at all.) But bicycles are treated like vehicles and people share the road with them. Of course, you need to be brave and not be scared of swerving in front of a speeding bus or taxi. (Ok, the taxis I don’t recommend.) But I’ve had far more harrowing experiences with crazy drivers in San Francisco balancing lattes, yoga mats, and tapping messages on their iPhones in their Priuses than I have in Paris.

The other upside of the Vélib’ program, which they really should tout, is that the baskets make excellent cooling racks, in case you’re making a cross-town scone delivery. The downside is you need to be careful when applying the brakes when it comes time to stop, unless your scones are pretty-well secured.

jeune homme

4. Les jeunes hommes with Impossibly Small Waistlines

Wait. Before you call the feds on me, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s just that I’m astounded by how slim some of these young men are around here. I mean, some of them are so lithe that you wonder what’s holding those jeans up. (Often not much, judging from the undergarments sticking out all the time.)

I don’t know how they do it, but I want one.

A waistline like that, not what you’re probably thinking.

5. The Brusque-ness

While at first it may be off-putting, once you become brusque yourself, life becomes so much easier. “No” is so much easier than saying “Yes” and shoving someone out of the way is far less-effort than contorting yourself to try and move around others. If you’ve ever wondered why there’s so many kinésithérapists here in Paris, it’s because everyone’s spines are all outta whack from the never-ending twisting and turning.

So why keep your feelings inside? Running for President? If some kid tries to pick your pocket, slap that little scoundrel across the face. If someone cuts you off on their bike, yell at them. Feel free to ride full-throttle on your scooter down the sidewalk. I mean, who do those pedestrians think they are, anyways? Don’t they know who the sidewalks are for?

And I’ve come to enjoy the art of finding out who is the stronger of the lot when it comes to dealing with bureaucrats and salesclerks: if you don’t stick up for yourself, they’ll take you down in an instant. So I’ve really worked on my assertiveness training and curiously, all my back pain has vanished, too.

The Parking Goddess of Paris

6. The Sense of Humor

French people are really funny. And they appreciate a sec sense of humor. There is that thin shell of veneer that needs to get broken through, but once you do, you’ll find they like to have a good laugh. Unfortunately a few have been at my expense, but I’m not holding that against them. Because I’ve had a few at theirs, too.

butter & jam

7. The Butter

A Parisian chocolatier I know had some hot-shot investors lined up to open a confectionery shop in New York City. He went, looked at locations, did the rounds, had meetings with everyone, and came back.

When he returned, I asked; “So, are you going to open in New York?”

Non,” he told me, “c’est pas possible. The butter is pas bon.”

You can find acceptable butter in the states, but really, when you’ve had amazing French butter, most of the stuff (even the fancy organic-groovy-whatever butters taste bland) in America is pretty average. I’ve gone back and forth between Beillevaire and Bordier (I’m back to Bordier, for now) which is like choosing between Daniel Craig and Colin Ferrell. And with choices like that facing me every day, people still ask why I moved here?

rosé

8. The Cheap (and Drinkable) Wine

Last time I was in California, I went to a slightly-upscale pizza place. Because there was a long wait, I ordered two glasses of rosé, which clocked in at $13 each. So, for two small glasses of wine, with tax and tip, I was out 30 bucks. For two half-full glasses. I wanted another, but I didn’t dare. Okay, yes I did. But was not thrilled when my credit card bill came.

Look, I don’t begrudge anyone who owns a restaurant, since it’s hard work and the pay isn’t nearly commensurate with the headaches or the insanity. And I also think people that produce our food deserve to be properly compensated for their work. But if someone can tell me why 2 ounces of wine costs the same as an entire handmade pizza pie made with organic flour, locally-made cheese, and hand-picked vegetables, or twice as much as a slice of chocolate cake with freshly-churned ice cream and chocolate sauce made from bean-to-bar chocolate made nearby, I’m listening.

Wine in France is so integrated into everyday life that it just has to be inexpensive. And while I wouldn’t trust a $3 bottle of wine in America (sorry, that two-buck stuff is pretty bad, and that’s coming from someone who is not a wine snob), for everyday drinking, you can find very decent wines for less than €5 here. As in, €5 per bottle.

I don’t think even a 3-star restaurant in Paris could get away with charging €10 for a glass of rosé. And if they tried, they’d get run out of town.

9. The Lack of Beating-Around-the-Bush

One of the things I had to get used to is how “honest” French people are. That’s kind of a sweeping statement and you might be scratching your head since last time you came back from the market you found a rotting peach in the bottom of your bag, or you counted your change a few minutes later and realized you were short a few centimes.

But a good example of the brutal honesty I’m talking about is if you were following my eyeglass saga, I finally decided to get the glasses I’d picked out. And after going to the store and declining all the expensive specialty lenses she was trying to push on me, I asked the woman what she thought of the glasses I was buying.

“Well, they’re fine…as long as you don’t leave the house wearing them.”

10. You Can Get Anything You Want By Flirting

In addition to the straightforward fashion advice, she also knocked the price down 10% because I made her laugh.

showerhead

11. The Volatility

French people don’t baby you, even if you’re a baby. In fact, if you ever see small children misbehaving, it’s likely they’re not French because children are meant to be controlled, not granted carte blanche to act like children. Which is fine with me.

But if you’re walking down the street and a bike or car cuts you off, arguing with the bank teller about why you can’t get a receipt (or change), or madame cuts you off at the market, you can let loose and no one will think the worse of you. In fact, you’ll gain their respect for standing up to them.

(Disclaimer: Don’t try this unless you can do it with great élan and/or your French is pretty good. Otherwise I’m not responsible for any consequences.)

12. Dining in Restaurants

The last time I was in the states, I could barely eat out: the restaurants were so friggin’ loud! On all those online bulletin boards and such, everyone complains about how loud restaurants are. But—hello? Have you heard all those diners screaming at the top of their lungs?

And let’s hear if for Service Compris. Pay people what they’re worth, tax earnings and use that money to pay for universal health care for all (not just for those in the certain businesses and not others), get rid of the gross discrepancy in how much waiters make as opposed to cooks, toss those stupid tip jars begging for spare change, forget people grousing about good or bad service (if a place has bad service, don’t go back; like all other service industries, you don’t tip flight attendants, salesclerks, dry cleaners, and librarians), forget trying to figure out if you should add 15%, or 18%, or 20%, and just make it easier all around, for diners, owners, waiters, and cooks.

13. Cafés

Corby Kummer wrote a wonderful piece about me, the tone of the book, and my feelings about French coffee. But the impression that that French cafés are “unfriendly and dismal” isn’t quite on-target. The cafés are meant to be gathering places and to me, the less-fancy, the better. My favorites are the old ones with the hunched over waiters in long starched aprons who grunt when you order. And I spend my few hours there trying to win over their affection, and I haven’t yet not succeeded.

I love cafés. Just not the coffee. Recently Romain asked a barman, “Why is the coffee so bad? It tastes like aluminum.” I think you need to be a certified native Parisian to pull that one off, but the guy behind the counter came back with, “C’est comme ça, monsieur…” (“Because that’s how it is”) and walked away. He must be un vrai Parisien, too.

14. Cutting in Line

Many people find this annoying, but for me, now it’s part of my life, and the daily game. And I’m a willing player. I mean, who out there likes waiting in line? Me neither. So I do whatever I can to slide to the front now, too. I’ve maimed old ladies and trampled babies in the name of bumping up my place in the queue.

Although I wrote about my techniques more extensively in the book, the main thing is not to yield to anyone, and don’t make eye contact either. And if you get busted, just do the shrug of denial, and carry on.

French breakfast

15. The Bakeries

A lot of visitors come here with lists of places they just simply have to visit. Especially foodies, who want to see all the best chocolate shops, boulangeries and pastry outlets. And I don’t blame them at all.

Except when you live here, it’s pretty unthinkable to travel any farther than a few blocks for your daily bread. As much as I love going to Poilâne, I have to cross the river to do so, and that’s just too much effort. A baguette from that award-winning place in the 17th? Are you out of your mind? Who goes up there?

Like most Parisians, I keep it within a few block radius, even though I know there’s better bread beyond my boundaries.

Ok, so there you have them. Fifteen things I’d miss about Paris if I moved. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go press my jeans, put on a fishing vest, and head to the eyeglass store to pick up my glasses that the saleswoman said looked horrible on me.

On the way home, I’m going to dodge the scooters jetting across the sidewalk, and I may have to push a few people out of my way en route to the wine bar for a cheap glass of rosé. Then I’m off to the bakery to get the bread to go with my fantastic French butter.

But if there’s a queue, I don’t plan to wait. After all, why live in Paris if you gonna stand in lines all day?

Sweetlifecoverhomepage.jpg

Note: Tomorrow, May 28th at Noon (EST) I’ll be speaking with the ever-entertaining Adam Roberts, the Amateur Gourmet, on BlogTalkRadio. Tune in, or call in. Or both!

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111 comments

  • Hi David,

    A long time reader and very infrequent commenter here..
    This post inspired me to start my own list of things I love about Paris on my own blog (not nearly as indepth as yours but I figure I have many years of pictures to troll through so it will be ongoing!) I lived there for nearly 6 years and now, some 9 years later, I still miss it incredibly. We manage to get back to France most years so I get my “fix”.

    Thanks for your site – it gives me a little fix every time I read it!

  • Bonjour David -

    I am travelling to the Eastern Med with a group of 45. One day we’ll be in Limmasol Cyprus (Nov) – do you happen to know anyone with a food background who might consider a cooking demonstration??

    Merci Beaucoup.

    Joh

  • I read your web site (one of the best! of any kind) frequently enough to have the opinion that you have been in Paris long enough to adopt the French manner of being very demanding and, may I say, a little annoying about your desires. If you dont want people asking you questions, why give them the forum to do so?

  • Hi Jayne: Thanks for your message. The site was started for fun, to share my experiences in Paris and elsewhere, which I’m happy to share. I’m a cookie-baker and what I say shouldn’t really carry all that much weight. But instead of shutting the comments & questions down, I think it’s fun to poke fun at all the goofy stuff in life, rather than taking it so seriously.

    So I make light of the questions I’m asked frequently. I’m happy to answer lots of questions, about baking, life, or whatever, which readers of the site can attest to, but I’ve answered those particular questions which I mentioned in the post many, many times, and addressed them exhaustively. And the answers really take more time than what I’m allotted in the few minutes of a q + a session during a reading. I’d rather use that time to chat with people that come to meet up.

    So I think it’s more fun to be asked something more intriguing, like the woman who asked the question which prompted this post did. I didn’t catch her name, but whoever you are, thanks! It was a great question.

  • Great answer David…so very nice that I just ordered your book…a gift for a friend who just got married and loves Paris like all your blog readers!

  • Dear David!
    That was me who asked the question!! I am sorry to be reading the post so late, I’ve spent the last 10 days with friends in town, (sure enough, as soon as I moved to Paris, everyone wanted to visit!), and fell behind reading your blog. What a pleasant treat to see this post. As soon as I saw the title, I hoped it was inspired from my question at your book signing at WHSmith. I really enjoyed hearing you read from your book, which I’ve already finished reading, and I am slowly trying out some of your favorite places here in Paris too. You have some great insight on the French people and Paris, keep sharing!

    Thanks for creating such a great blog, particularly sentimental for me now that I have been in Paris for 5 months.

    Cheers!
    Markell

  • Hi Markell: Thanks for the question! It gave me something fun to write about & hope you enjoyed the event…merci… xx DL

  • Ah, Paris. I lived in the 5th off the main drag rue Mouffetard. The same street Audrey Tatou visits in “Amelie.” Where there’s a restaurant that runs up against a steep yard filled with collection of lawn gnomes. When I arrived on May 1st, the street was filled with families on holiday insouciantly strolling the narrow cobblestones, sweaters tied around shoulders sharing fresh baguettes. On the street corners, boys and girls, Romanian emigres, I was duly informed, selling lily of the valley bouquets tied with yellow ribbon in celebration of International Workers Day. But best of all the food sellers. The neighborhood shop, the farmers’ fresh produce – I never knew there were so many varieties of currants!- artfully but idiosyncratically diosplayed on makeshift tables setup on saw horses outside of the 16th century church St. Medard with the coq d’or atop its mansard roof. Across from it, the Pain Quotidien serving cold lunches and homemade tartlette du pomme. Ooo, the scents of goat cheese, little pyramids embossed with a ram submerged in barrels of ash a piquant note co-mingling with oven warm chocolat pastries and spitted whole lapin crusted with mustard browning on the outdoor rotisserie, the pomme frites piled below with the self-service shovel to scoop into the paper cones. And all this right outside my front door, open everyday from 8am – 8:30pm. Yes, I miss Paris. Oh, I shouldn’t forget the hammams! Or Le Mouton Cinq Patte which
    masquerades as a thrift shop.

  • Hi, just stumbled upon your blog today. Haven’t been to Paris just yet, but your description of cutting queues sounds almost exactly like how it’s done here in the Philippines.

  • This is too funny. My brother-in-law,an avid fisherman, and a podiatrist in Canada, wears his fishing vest ALL the time, no matter what city he visits. I haven’t the guts to approach him on this subject. And I always thought Parisiens are so fashionable…

    Brusqueness, I knew. We were hanging outside our cousin’s Japanese restaurant in Clichy, speaking our native language, when some young guy walking by told us to speak French! When my husband tried to speak French (it was a little rusty after being away for over twenty years!) asking for some direction at the airport, the guy actually said “Would you prefer if I spoke English?” We were shocked to hear that from a Parisien.

  • Totally agree with lots of your points. I missed Paris so much. I used to live there for about 4 yrs. I still remember the fresh bread smell around 4:30 pm and all the picnics that i had with my friends. Not to mention the pot-luck at Champ de Mars, salsa dancing near La Seine, la nuit blanche..i can go on forever.

    Parisians might seem cold at first sight, but their sense of irony and how they like to joke around will be something that you will never forget. (at least that’s something you can’t find in U.S, people often think it’s offensive.)

    Hope i will be able to move back to Paris again! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your Parisian life style!