Recently in Parisian Culture category

Time to Pay

coins

I won’t comment on the current foibles of a few amorous souls in Paris, although I’ve had a number of discussions with friends about it, both here in France and in the United States. It seems that not only do Americans and French have different views about the behavior of their public officials, mostly regarding what’s tolerated and acceptable to publish and discuss, versus what isn’t. After watching a presidential press conference where there was a spirited pledge to save a whole bunch of money via methods that have yet to be revealed (kind of like the upcoming discussion about the pesky task of coming up with a seating chart when it hasn’t been revealed who the guest of honor is planning to bring as his paramour), the rest of are spending our time pondering those who act with their unique version of plain ol’ common sense.

Not only do the French and Americans have different relationships politically, socially…and intimately with each another (being from San Francisco, admittedly, my views are a bit more skewed than others), there is also a difference in our relationship to money. The difference is easily observed at the cash register; when it’s time to pay in the United States, as the cashier is ringing up your stuff, you plan ahead and get your money ready so you can pay up when the time comes promptly, and be on your way. In France, when it’s time to pay, you stand and wait until the cashier gives you the total that’s due. And then, and only then, do you painstakingly extract your wallet from your pocket, and start the process of le règlement.

I assume that most adults have been buying things all their lives. But it seems like a shock to those who are told that the price of a head of lettuce will cost them 95 centimes. And it takes a moment to let it fully sink in. Then, and only then, each centime is counted out with more scrutiny than that which is bestowed upon our remarkably fearless leaders. Including someone who doesn’t fear slipping out the back door and zipping through their fancy-schmancy neighborhood of Paris strapped to the back a scooter in the dark of the night.

la-derniere-en-date-apres-la-revelation-par-closer-d-une-eventuelle-relation-entre-francois-hollande-et-julie-gayet-capture-d-ecran-sixt-fr

(But for those who wish to be a little more prudent, a local car rental outfit offered that perhaps éviter, or ditching, le scooter and switching to a car with tinted windows might yield a little more privacy.)

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La bombe d’F

grasse de phoque

A wave of Americanism has been sweeping through Paris over the past few years, from le street food (which, finally, is actually being served on the street) to a desire to remake Paris in the image of New York. Or more to the point, Brooklyn.

Brooklyn in Paris

I don’t quite know where this came from, but I do wish it would stop. Granted, in the US, we have our share of “French-style” kitchen gadgets (most of which I’ve never seen in France) and croissan’wiches (which I am now seeing in France), but hopefully we still have enough international goodwill so the French will overlook some of our infractions. Yet a new trend has been sweeping through France and I’m not sure it’s building much goodwill in the other direction, in spite of how benign they might think it to be.

(Speaking of good-will, I should probably let you know that even though I am too bien élevé, or well-raised as they say in France, and don’t have a potty-mouth, there are some pictures that use a 4-letter word in this post. So if that might be offensive to you…and I have to admit, they make me wince as well – although I don’t have a choice because they’re all around me – you might want to not scroll down or click after the jump, and skip this post.)

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The Glass Half-Full

white wine

I usually have to spend a lot of time speaking in the conditional around here (using “it could be said that”, or “in most cases”…which is starting to make me sound like a politician) because there are always exceptions to every rule. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that one rule that is almost steadfast in France is that glasses are rarely filled more than half-full. (Noticed how slyly I popped in “almost” and “rarely”- which are obvious proof that it’s going to be a hard habit for me to break.) It was never explained to me why, or in the case of a glass being half-empty, why not. Yet I think it’s one of those “only in France” rules that gets implemented because a full glass is simply pas joli, or not attractive.

It’s a hard concept for us Americans to fathom, a place where full=better, and an oversized steak hanging over the edges of a plate is more appealing than a few slices of beef neatly plated up and arranged on the plate. And it amuses me that many people judge the quality of a restaurant by how full they are when they leave. Probably the biggest complaint, in fact, you hear coming from people when they didn’t like a place was because they left and weren’t full.

I don’t know how that’s possible because when I go back to the states, I can barely make it though my main course because the appetizers are about the same size as a French plat principal. And I am bound to be stripped of my San Francisco stripes because I can no longer make it through a Mission burrito. But when it comes to wine, I somehow find the willpower to get through whatever is put in front of me.

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Le courant d’air

French windows

I had no idea my mother was French because wherever she sat in a restaurant or – well, anywhere – no mater what the season, there was invariably a courant d’air, or a draft. For all the years I lived in San Francisco, I never really though about winds, drafts, or too much air movement nowadays. Especially since, as anyone who’s lived in a San Francisco Victorian house knows, if you don’t want to sit in a drafty house, you’ll have to move to another city. One that isn’t essentially an ongoing, ever-present, courant d’air.

It’s quite a contrast to the city where I now live, Paris, where doors and windows are closed most of the year due to the weather. But come summer, when the temperatures rise to sometimes hazardous conditions, the outdoors is an enemy and windows are kept closed to protect ourselves from – well, I haven’t quite figured out what. But in a curious paradox, people flock to the outdoors, especially to the café terraces – and not just because they can smoke there – but to soak up any precious bit of sunshine that we’ve been missing for the past 10 months. And probably because their apartments are so hot because all the windows are closed.

Belleville cafe

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Change

change

One of the things that you need to have when shopping for food in France is a big, sturdy shopping basket. You also need to have a bit of patience because the lines can be long, and lines in Paris are like airplane restrooms; when it’s your turn, everyone behind you disappears and suddenly, you seem to have all the time in the world. But more important in Paris than having a big pannier, and an even bigger bladder (because few markets have a place to, uh, “go”), is that you also need to have plenty of change.

France and America have a curious relationship. Each is fascinated with each other and have a camaraderie that’s built on admiration, a little of frustration, and a soupçon of envy. For every American that rattles on about “free health care” (no matter that it’s not free, it’s paid for by – or from – a percentage of your earnings) there is a French person exclaiming how much they would love to live in New York City because of l’energie.

(No matter that if you walked right into someone as if they weren’t there, as happens in Paris, they’d certainly get a real “New York Experience” from a real New Yorker.)

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Verjus Sandwiches

pulled pork sandwich

[UPDATE: Verjus is no longer serving sandwiches in their wine cellar, nor are they open for lunch. The regular restaurant is still open for dinner and the wine bar is open in the evening for wine and top notch bar snacks.]

A friend who’s been living here quite long time once wondered aloud to me, why Parisians sandwich-makers weren’t more creative. I never really thought about it; because I buy sandwiches so infrequently, I’m really happy to have a simple, classic jambon-fromage with a smear of butter on a baguette. But I suppose if I ate sandwiches daily, like so many people now do, that I’d also want a little diversity between the slices. (In my defense, I’ll sometimes see if I can get goat cheese on my sandwich, rather than the usual Emmenthal.)

That probably explains in popularity of the Subway chain in France, who offers something different from the French classics. According to their website, they now have around 66 outlets in Paris. But I’m not joining the lines, though, because it’s where I had one of the worst sandwiches of my life back in the states. You’d think it’s pretty hard to f-up a sandwich. Thankfully, things have taken a turn for the better.

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Eau

water/eau

Water is a right in France. Water flows freely from the Seine from our taps into our homes and apartments. Wallace Fountains scattered throughout the city provide a flow of complimentary drinking water to all who want it on the streets. And there is a law in France that notes that a café has to give anyone a free carafe of water, or free glass of water (at the bar) to anyone who asks, unless there is a sign posted somewhere that says that they don’t do that.

(After ten years of living in France, I’ve only seen one café – out in the countryside – with a sign like that. But I’ve also – in ten years of living in France – never tried going up to a café counter and asking for a free glass of water without buying something else.)

Even though Paris is a modern city, a fair number of visitors ask me if the water in Paris is safe to drink. I’m always a little perplexed by that question because it’s not like France is a remote island where people don’t have plumbing. (Although I’ve been in restrooms in Paris where the plumbing could use a little work to bring it into this century.) But on the other hand, with waiters pushing bottled water, which of course, costs a bit more than tap water, I guess it’s easy to see where people get that impression.

tap water

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Smoking

cigarette butts in paris

You probably don’t like looking at that picture above. And I hear ya. But that’s what some of the streets look like in Paris. It’s something that’s become such a problem that the mayor of Paris has decided to try to tackle the issue, and I share his concerns, although progress is evidentially slow-going. But what confounds me, as well as others, is why do so many people in Paris smoke? And why is the number of smokers increasing in France, when the US and other countries are seeing a decline?

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