“Where are you from?”

It’s considered rude in France to ask people who you’ve just met—“What do you do?”

It’s kinda like asking someone how much money they make.

We Americans are used to freely discussing money, or anything financial, and have no qualms about admiring someone’s new shirt, and in the next breath asking them how much it cost. Or walking into someone’s apartment and asking them how much they pay in rent. My pet peeve is when people take you on The Tour of their remodeled house and tell you how much everything cost. I always feel like they want me to chip in or something.

fairway cheeseburger

Around here, the most common question seems to be—“Where are you from?” In France, people seems to move much less than Americans: we’re often born in one place, go to college in another, then move somewhere else after that. Plus in France, people always want to know your genealogy; like where your parents and grandparents are all from, and all that kinda stuff. Since America is a jumbo melting pot, and few of our relatives hopped off the Mayflower together, it can get a bit complicated.

So when I’m asked “Where are you from?”, I never quite know what to answer.

Do I say where I was born? Or where I lived during and after college for eight years? Or am I “from” San Francisco, since I lived there for the longest time of my life, before moving here?

I usually do tell people I’m “from” San Francisco, since Europeans like the city a lot, and they can pronounce it easier than my home state of Connecticut. I was explaining to Romain last week how to pronounce Poughkeepsie, which is even more of a killer. The look on his face trying to pronounce it was rather priceless.

Curiously, a lot of people in France think I’m from England, for some reason. In addition to my gleaming-white chompers and an inability to drink more than ½ pint of beer unless I’m baking in the hot sun on a Mexican beach, I’m not-terribly British, but très américain. And during my last couple of weeks in the US, I had a great time reveling in all that is American, from my mini shopping spree, to getting my badly-needed fix of burgers.

I’d heard a lot about the hamburger at the Fairway Café, which got lots of favorable reviews. But I wasn’t particularly impressed. The burger was overcooked, the fries were uninspired and dull, and the service was beyond lax: I don’t mind if a waiter forgets my drink order and has to ask me again, but I do mind if after the third request, he fails to bring it at all. And rare and medium-rare I think means that the meat inside should have at least a touch of red left in it. Right?

But…oh, did I indulge in other Americanisms, from endless shopping to tucking in some darn good bar-b-q with Luisa and Adam, and sucking down as many chocolate malts, glasses full-to-the-brim with ice water, and downing as many bottles of root beer as I could. And why not? In America, there’s bathrooms everywhere!

root beer

And speaking of bathrooms, is there anything better than the thunderous water that comes bursting forth from the American shower heads? If so, let me wallow in that splendor for a while before you break the news to me. Especially when afterward, you can dry yourself with one of those big fluffy, plush, thirsty towels that Romain fell in love with, instead of the tissue-thin Euro ones that seem more suitable to a Romanian prison than to an after-bath experience.

I was having a great time in America…where I’m from, and didn’t want to leave. But eventually my time ran out and this morning, I arrived at 6:13am back at Charles de Gaulle Airport, with two overstuff suitcases filled with ancho chiles, a new iMac, Rancho Gordo beans, a stack of new cookbooks, a spiffy new tripod and lens, chapstick and razors, and a jumbo Sunday New York Times, which I plan to savor over the next several weeks, one delicious section at a time.

petit dejeuner

When I finally got my bulging suitcases into the elevator, then into my apartment (a feat which had overtones of my overly-eventful arrival in Paris years ago) I found myself craving French food again. I suddenly had to have a very fresh Tradigraine baguette from my bakery smeared generously with lots and lots of salted butter. And I missed my morning café au lait, which only I can make exactly the way I like it: anyone else would need to be a microbiologist to get the proportions just right. So after jamming the first of four loads of laundry that I’m working on today, (with no dryer, French-style) I did the rounds of places in my neighborhood, then sat down to the perfect petit dejeuner.

Fortified, I decided to head to the BHV department store to get an adaptor for my new iMac. I was a little nervous, since I tried that with a brand-new ice cream cone-maker a while back, which caused quite a bit of smoke to start coming out the moment I plugged it in. And while I like the idea of homemade ice cream cones, I like the idea of typing away on a shiny new iMac even better.

Walking through the Marais, en route to the BHV, at least six or seven Parisians walked right into me without making even the slightest acknowledgment that there might be other people on the sidewalk.

But on the plus side, only one car sped up when they saw me in a crosswalk.

Safely back home, with my adapter working well, I hopped in the shower and realized that I’d kinda missed home, with my feeble shower head which produces a mere trickle of tepid water, rather than the powerful cascade I’d become re-acquainted with back in the states. Stepping out of the tub, I noticed on the ledge was a can of Lysol-brand disinfectant spray that I guess one of my friends who stayed here while I was gone, left behind. I’m not sure what kind of message they were sending to me, but with all the bleach my housecleaner goes through, most surfaces are so clean that I’d feel pretty comfortable having open-heart surgery on anything bleach-able around here.

Okay. I didn’t really miss my lame shower. Or the scratchy towels. Or Parisians that walk right into me. But I did miss a few other things, like fresh bread, delicious butter, and my morning coffee made just the way I like it. So I guess when people ask, “Where are you from?” from now on, I’ll just say Paris. Since that’s where I make my morning coffee.

It’s good to be home.

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  • Axel
    October 20, 2008 1:25pm

    I think you can blame Jamie Oliver for the fact that French people think that you’re English: an English speaking cook has to be Jamie… or from UK.

  • October 20, 2008 1:31pm

    Oh how I take Root Beer for granted! And somehow, though my shower is located here in the States… ooh what a pathetic stream it is. I’m glad you had a lovely, belly busting trip over to this side of the ocean!

  • Kaytee
    October 20, 2008 1:40pm

    Regarding the blowing up ice cream machine. There are transformer converters that are sold here for anything stronger than your regular voltage (i.e.: computer, hair dryer, insert two pronged electrical device here, etc…). They’re super heavy, but incredibly useful for such things as meat slicers, bread baking machines and yes, ice cream machines. I’m sure you’ve heard of/seen them already, but in case others who read you haven’t, it was a lifesaver for me and my sewing machine!

  • Lu
    October 20, 2008 1:46pm

    David, I really did laugh out loud when you wrote this: “But on the plus side, only one car sped up when they saw me in a crosswalk.”

    On my very first visit to Paris years ago (and I’ve been back many times since because I love it: that’s my disclaimer!), I told someone: “In Paris pedestrians don’t have the right of way as they do in the US, in fact, I rather noted that they accelerate and maybe even aim at you in the crosswalk”.

  • October 20, 2008 1:54pm

    I’m glad you’re home too David. I liked your stories in the States, but your Paris stories are so much fun to read. Living back home where I’m from, makes me miss my life in France….so I live vicariously through people like you. Thanks!

  • October 20, 2008 1:54pm

    I’m glad you’re home too David. I liked your stories in the States, but your Paris stories are so much fun to read. Living back home where I’m from, makes me miss my life in France….so I live vicariously through people like you. Thanks!

  • October 20, 2008 1:58pm

    Welcome back! Do you do like I do and tell Romain that most of his suitcase space is for your purchases since you’re visiting “home?” That always works for me ;)

    Let me know if you’re still coming down for the Salone del Gusto, I may be in Torino next weekend!

  • October 20, 2008 2:02pm

    Welcome back, David!

    I have the same problem in France. If someone asks me where I’m from, I assume that the US would be entirely obvious – or at least I did, until I started asking friends where they thought I was from when we met. Most say Germany or Ireland! I’m not sure why – Germany especially; Ireland I can understand because I have dark hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. But apparently though I speak French with a non-native accent, it isn’t easy to recognize as American because I don’t flatten my vowels or speak with a twang. Usually I tell people I’m from wherever I’m living at the moment, though when I was living in Ireland strangely I wouldn’t say Cork. Even though I lived in North Carolina straight through the first 18 years of my life, I never say that anymore. I have also noticed that when I travel now I say I’m from Iowa – even though I’ve only lived here a couple of years and am so not Iowa-like in any way. It’s interesting to think about, anyway. I’ll tell you one thing I always do add when I divulge my American roots – “…but I didn’t vote for Bush!”

  • October 20, 2008 2:06pm

    I love this post. I guess home is where you make it – and in your case, it’s where you make your morning cup. I hope I get the same feeling when I come back from my trip to the States – right now I’m worried I may “accidentally” miss my return flight while stuffing my face with as many chopped-beef sandwiches I can at the Salt Lick in the airport. Welcome back – Paris just isn’t the same without you!

  • sam
    October 20, 2008 2:18pm

    this post made me laugh and then cry. Crying was caused by the sentimental ending (that i can relate to having chosen to move to the other side of the world, also.) It also helped clear up some things about living with a Frenchman I didn’t understand before. So the not talking about money is a French thing, ah, now I see. Also explained why the new fluffy towels are not being met with full approval. I thought it was a crazy man who was suggested “they need to bewashed a few times to make them harder first”, but now I just realise it was a typical Frenchman speaking.

  • October 20, 2008 2:27pm

    Sounds like a wonderful trip back, and from now on I am going to savor every hamburger (my favorite!) and bottle of root beer!

  • TONI
    October 20, 2008 2:28pm

    Hi David, I got turned on to your blog from nyc/caribbean ragazza and have been hooked ever since. I think i’ll also have the same dilema – i’m originally from Jamaica, have been living in Toronto for the past 5 years, and am planning to move to Italy. I never know if I should say i’m Canadian or Jamaican (when I say the latter, I then have to explain why I don’t “look like a Jamaican” which involves tracing my genealogy back through to the beginning of time!) and what will I say after i’ve lived in italy for a while?!

    In any case, I loved this post because of how you define where you’re from – you are right, wherever you make your morning coffee is home :)

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • October 20, 2008 2:30pm

    Sounds like a wonderful trip back, and from now on I am going to savor every hamburger (my favorite!) and bottle of root beer!

  • Jane
    October 20, 2008 2:56pm

    Sorry to extend the question, but…where are you from in Connecticut? I’m from New Canaan. Just curious about you and your original home.

  • October 20, 2008 3:01pm

    Lu: Every day when I go out, I know I’m taking my life in my hands. And every night when I get home, I close the door behind me, and say thanks that I made it through another day…

    Kaytee: Actually, since the ice cream cone-maker was 110V, I did use my transformer. But…well, let’s just say no one around here is going to be getting any homemade ice cream cones in the near future.

    Sam: Romain was rubbing the towels over and over and over. I think it might have something to do with the fact that so few French people have dryers and those nice, thick towels take such a long time to wash & dry. I say, Get your own towels! And Fred can use the old cast-offs : 0

    Toni: I have a friend who’s slightly dark-skinned, who’s British, and people here keep asking him “Where are you from?” And when he tells them, “London”, they follow-up, “Well, yes, but where are you from?” *sigh*

    Sarah: Have fun in Austin! And you can have Amy’s for dessert, too!

  • October 20, 2008 3:08pm

    What a wonderful, varied trip you had, and a nice haul of treats to bring home! Funny how it’s the American shower that many people miss, including me (oh, the travails of the Chinese toilette).

    I have a great book recommendation on that subject: “Cathedrals of the Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath” by Alexia Brue.

    Welcome “home.”

  • October 20, 2008 3:24pm

    Glad you’re home, David. I also live vicariously through you, and miss my ex-home so much.

    I agree on the big transformer–we got ours in Germany at some electronics store (Saturn?). The Mac cords have one built in, but it’s handy for other stuff.

    As for the walking into you, after a while, I got sick of it. I always carry a shoulder bag, so I started hooking my left thumb on it (they always hit my left shoulder) and making it into a hard fist. Then I just tried to look pissed off. After a couple of bonks, nobody hit it! It worked great, and my bruises faded.

    Enjoy du bon pain for me, and the special butter. Oh, how I miss the special butter…

  • kudzu
    October 20, 2008 3:24pm

    Curiosity about lineage is universal — and can be very confounding. I have a friend who was born and raised in Trinidad, but she is Indian and speaks with a British accent because of her schooling. Nobody can figure her out and she is constantly being asked very odd questions like “Are you from Madagascar?” And then, naturally, hardly anyone knows exactly where Trinidad is. “Isn’t that near Puerto Rico?” Consider yourself lucky.

  • October 20, 2008 3:26pm


    This conundrum answering “where are you from” used to bugs me when I lived in the States. I am a military brat and well, what do you say? The longest place currently residing, where your parents are from, where the little pieces of paper that states your residency but have only stayed there for the holidays to visit the grand parents? Now it is just easier to say I am from the Bay area…But now I live in Germany, and ummm I get a lot of people asking me if I am from Turkey, Italy, or somewhere else other than American. It is so weird.

    Thanks for the laughs, and I hug and love my thick plushy towels, and wish I had some good rootbeer. *sigh*

  • jessie
    October 20, 2008 3:32pm

    hmm that is funny europeans always ask me if I am german too… I have no idea why. I think they assume that all americans look like pop stars or cowboys. The only answer I ever got was that I don’t dress like I’m american. ?!

  • Melanie
    October 20, 2008 3:35pm

    We Americans are much nicer and politer than any foreigners like to acknowledge or believe–I’m a New Yorker–and I used to get so much merdrie everytime I told anyone I was from New York–they always thought I was English or German and finally I let them believe so–glad you had a great trip–

  • Susan
    October 20, 2008 3:51pm

    I enjoyed your enthusiastic posts while in the U.S. I am guilty of taking forgranted the many amenities we have here. It’s fun to see it through an appreciative eye, for a change. Now, if I could just send some enthusiastic postcards from Paris….

  • October 20, 2008 3:57pm

    I cannot swear to this, but I hear that if you batter your towels against a sturdy table or counter (or rock) before hanging them, they will be softer. Where I live is windy enough that I don’t find it necessary. What made a good start was 24 heavy white Ralph Lauren towels so you’ve got something to work with. Better than a mac. Plus you can often bribe visitors to bring various chilies, yes?

  • October 20, 2008 4:54pm

    “Where are you from” …sigh. I was born in NYC but grew up in the UK and so my accent in French apparently sounds like well-educated Brit (well, except for the lagniappe of Louisiana Creole from years in Texas). Co-Diner, on the other hand, is an American born in Japan and raised in Alabama and Germany, so his German is excellent and his accent in French is, well, not. We cause considerable confusion to our Paris landlady.

  • October 20, 2008 5:02pm

    The crosswalk is a sacred space to Parisians. I have one French friend who swears at the drivers when she’s jaywalking and then tries to run over the pedestrians when she’s driving. I find it safer to take public transport when I’m doing something with her.

  • rouquinricain
    October 20, 2008 5:27pm

    it’s not just the dreaded “what do you do” question. i’ve read about (but not experienced personally) french disapproval with personal names as well, i.e. the crazy notion that you would ask someone their name once you meet them, which apparently is considered to be typically american. now that i think of it, french people do tend to wait a while into the conversation before asking vous vous appelez comment? certainly makes anonymous trysts easier.

  • October 20, 2008 7:13pm

    I agree with everything except one thing- the availability of bathrooms. In New York especially, finding a bathroom when you are out and about is very difficult as there are exactly 2 public bathrooms in nyc. In restaurants, yes, and in Starbucks (with a huge line of people, though)- but I would much rather have the Parisian public coin bathrooms.

  • October 20, 2008 7:31pm

    Long time lurker (more than a year :)) First time commenter – your line “But on the plus side, only one car sped up when they saw me in a crosswalk.” made me laugh out loud so I had to write. I can relate to what you are saying – I lived in India the first 16 years of my life then have been living in US for the last 24. When people ask me where I am from I want to say Maryland – but that is not the right answer :)

    I love you blog – both your anecdotes and your recipes.

  • noah
    October 20, 2008 8:14pm

    funny post. i remember living in paris and getting ‘home’ – very strange feeling. (even stranger when you get there in august!)

    on the other hand, you probably don’t need a transformer for your imac. if it’s like my pc, you only need a plug adapter. cheaper, lighter. a transformer doesn’t do any damage, it’s just unnecessary, as the computer already comes with one built-in, usually half-way along the cord.

  • Kristina
    October 20, 2008 8:47pm

    The question of where do you live is always an interesting one to answer, or so it has come to be. As an American living in Beijing, I am frequently asked that same question. I answer, “I live here,” which is admittedly an attempt to distinguish myself from a tourist, but is always met by this look of “come on white girl, you don’t look remotely chinese, you are NOT from here.”

    When visiting Paris, I had not noticed people walking into me, but it’s one of my top 5 Beijing frustrations. But also in the top 5 is being in the crosswalk and cars not only speeding up but honking at you. Ironically, pedestrians allegedly have the right of way, yet I feel safer on a bike.

  • Nancy
    October 20, 2008 9:22pm

    Yay Connecticut natives, and I lived in Poughkeepsie for awhile. French people always wondered where I was from when I was living in Paris, though they didn’t even know where Connecticut was when I told them.

  • Meg
    October 20, 2008 9:44pm

    Foreigners never seem to know where Connecticut is, I always get confused looks, I usually just say “New England”. I adore my shower head, I even took out the low flow pressure stopper so I have a full on waterfall that can get you clean in seconds! I’m sure the water pressure is just weak where you are but check to see if their is a stopper, removing it may help!

  • October 20, 2008 11:07pm

    Poughkeepsie! Follow that by Coxsackie, Valatie, and Schenectady!

  • October 20, 2008 11:23pm

    hahaha. the answer to “where are you from?” is a novel in my case. so to make things simple, i usually state munich (where i was born and raised) as my answer. but i feel at “home” in france (my blood) and in manila (my now daily life) too. it’s confusing at times and i understand how one can be torn. but i’ve learned to embrace the best of each world!

  • Julia
    October 20, 2008 11:46pm

    A note on your photo. I did not realize until now that the last six letters of Orangina spells angina. Welcome “home.”

  • Halie
    October 21, 2008 12:07am

    I know someone who thought I was British. They are also American. We were in the United States at the time. Huh.

  • October 21, 2008 12:49am

    As a half Aussie-Filipino living in Sydney, I am continually asked where I am from (I think they’re referring to my heritage, but I always just tell them my suburb!) It frustrated me a little when I was younger, but as a traveler, I love the question, the opportunity to rant on about home put to good use! Interestingly, when I lived in Mexico I was rarely asked (the Spanish blood taking its chance to shine through) and found despite the many benefits this gave me, I also missed being identified as an Australian. I also realised how useful it can be at times to be recognised as a foreigner, particularly when you’re lost!

  • October 21, 2008 2:50am

    Noah: Yes, I use an adaptor, which looked up and found that it’s also spelled ‘adapter’, depending on where you’re from. (yes…really!)

    Hilary: Whoa! I beg to differ with you on that one. Every place I went to in New York City had a bathroom: Office Depot, Banana Republic, the Apple Store, Staples, bed, Bath and Beyond, Old Navy, TJ Maxx, Whole Foods, Pearl Art, etc…in Paris, only the large department stores have them, and they’re always ‘conveniently’ located way up on the 7th floor.

    btw: Those coin bathrooms are now all free; the only trouble is finding one that’s either unoccupied, or more often, hors service!

  • October 21, 2008 4:09am

    This is lovely David. In London I say I’m from the States, in SF I say I’m from New York and in NYC I say I’m from The City. Much of who we are and where we’re from is dependent on the relativity of those around us.

    My experience is much like yours in that I’ve had many homes. I’ve learned that I can carry them around with me now.

  • October 21, 2008 6:00am

    Oh my I have become so addicted to your blog – and this post so hits home for me. I am an American living in Berlin (which I love…they call it the new Paris you know! haha) and I have moved almost every two years since I was like 10. I honestly do not know where I am from.

    There was mention of transformers above – I cannot seem to find any of those buggers at all. Is there an Amazon France or something where I can find something better than the ones on in Germany?

  • Sandra
    October 21, 2008 6:43am

    We both grew up in Connecticut. I definitely understand about the “where are you from?” part–having felt somewhat like an American gypsy after college also. You certainly had a much better place to say you were from in the states in San Francisco. But having spent plenty of years in different parts of New Jersey and 3 brief years in Cleveland, it is much nicer to be able to say Boston now instead of the others. And I also refer to you as my cousin in Paris– and that’s great!!

    How come you didn’t bring back some nice fluffy thick towels? And as for the trickle shower there, change the shower head!!

  • Anna
    October 21, 2008 7:18am

    When I was last in paris recently and often asked where I am from, I answered, “New York.” I figured that covered everything and was a good conversation starter.

    One evening, I ran into the owner of the apartment I rented for my trip who was with his two friends, all three, Parisian men. We started chatting on the street and he invited me to a cafe with them. The other two guys introduced themselves to me by their first names and I told them mine — it was all very natural and easy. We had a really fun chat, with the three of them making light fun of themselves and Parisians and Paris while I too made light fun of New Yorkers and NY. And although my French is at about a C+, none of these men admitted that and continued to tell me that I spoke very well… BAH! NO WAY! Their English was about as “good” as my French. We all used both through out.

    I sat with them chatting for a few hours and I remember thinking they were as friendly and easy to talk with as any nicer folks back in the states — no intruding questions, entirely respectful and genuinely funny and interesting. Now I realize these three men do not represent all men or people of Paris, but they surely did dismantle much of what I’d read about Parisians and Parisian ways. It was one of the nicest evenings I had in my little, short week. We talked about everything from wearing scarves, to cheese to the work week, Bush, Sarkozy, places to see in Paris, food, health care, dogs and cats, the economy, the dollar, sex, movies, family, education, NYC, and French women vs. American women — funny stuff — all, actually, in the ways we discussed. Very fun and interesting getting perspectives from 3 French men and I know they enjoyed my commentary as well. I don’t know what i expected, but i didn’t expect the ease, openness and informality (though respectful) in this “soiree.” PS — the “tu” form took over in about 10 minutes though I can’t remember who broke that ice, but it was a nice touch.

    I’ve only been to Paris 3 times in the last 8 years for one-week stays, so I’m no authority — was this whole experience an exception?

  • October 21, 2008 7:26am

    Anna: They sound great..you didn’t happen to catch their phone numbers, did you? ; )

  • October 21, 2008 7:48am

    I experience the “here and there” syndrome every time I fly home and come back. Now that I think about it, you must REALLY feel that all the time since you travel so much. I laughed about the French bath towels… my mom’s can’t even dry my hands… and it’s never a lack of money, but more a resistance to change. oh my…

  • Inés Agar
    October 21, 2008 7:54am

    I am an Anglo-Argentine married to a Frenchman living in Madrid. Your stories are so funny! In Madrid drivers also try to run over you in crosswalks, so we are used to fooling them, and I do not need to mention Buenos Aires… You can not imagine how well I understand your Paris histories when you need something to be fixed! I love reading your blog.

  • October 21, 2008 8:17am

    I am a long time Northern transplant and I never have a quick answer when asked that question, even though I have lived in the South most of my life. I work for a company that makes the best French towels, so you have me confused on that one. Glad you had a fun trip!

  • October 21, 2008 9:47am

    Wonderful write up David…glad to visit!!

  • October 21, 2008 10:23am

    When I lived in the Hamptons I missed small coffee roasters, sushi that is fresh instead of filmy, proper baguettes and Market Spice tea. Now that I’m in Seattle back I miss, Lucy’s Whey, cakes from Beach Bakery and Wild By Nature. The grass is always greener I guess. Welcome home!

  • October 21, 2008 10:40am

    I am so glad you’re home too, David. This was a really funny one to read, thanks!

  • Arissa
    October 21, 2008 10:45am

    Hi David!
    I really REAALLLY enjoy your website and actually tried one of your recipes (the Chez Panisse Almond Tart of course)! Please next time you are in the city you gotta try Rosamunde Burgers- they only actually make it on Tuesdays- its only fair for the other burger merchants nearby to have their day of customers too. THe line can end on Fillmore sometimes!

  • Susan
    October 21, 2008 11:38am

    “Where are you from” (sounds as bad as “where are you at?”) is easier when you say you’re from the nearest well known city ‘area’ where you either grew up or currently live. I grew up in MD in the Washington DC metro area..so I just replied DC Area to those inquiries. It’s just easier for the person asking to mentally place it on the map in their minds eye. I live in San Jose now..but it’s not as easily identified as saying Silicon Valley or San Francisco Bay area..so I use either of those two identifiers at first, then get more specific if the conversation goes there.

  • Nouara
    October 21, 2008 12:05pm


    I disagree when you say that it is rude to talk about money (how much you make, how much is your rent etc…) with French people. I found that it is the opposite! It is tabou to talk about money with Americans for my point of view! Even to give you the price of their new doormat is “secret d’etat”!!! I am from France…I live in the US for 7 years now…I never had any problems talking about money when I was in France but here in the states I sometimes forgot where I am until my husband reminds me!!!

  • October 21, 2008 12:33pm

    Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I find it is quite frequent for French people to ask each other what they do, especially as a (rather unimaginative, admittedly) conversation starter at parties: “Et toi, tu fais quoi dans la vie ?” (Then they answer something really boring and you have to find a way to change the topic without seeming rude.)
    Glad to have you back! :)

  • October 21, 2008 12:49pm

    Kim: I think there are good towels here, but they’re either A) Very Expensive, or B) Take too long to dry.

    And since I just spent 2 days washing guest towels, I can certainly vouch for B.

    Nouara and Clotilde: Shortly after I arrived in Paris, I went to a party and struck up a conversation with someone, asking him what he did. He got all huffy, and said, “You Americans! Why do you always want to know what we do? All you care about is money!”

    While he certainly doesn’t speak for all (or most) of the French people I know, I didn’t speak to him for the rest of the night.

    His loss! ; )

    A while back, some American fellows were giving us a tour of their remodeled house. It was all, “And this is our new stove, which cost €16,000. And here’s our wine refrigerator—that cost €3500, along with the new wall that set us back….” etc etc.. In America we tend to do that, but afterward Romain told me he thought it was…well, I won’t use the exact words, but he thought it was odd.

    On another note, I actually forgot that in America, it’s not correct to ask someone who they’re voting for. Practically everyone here’s been asking me.

    Viva les differences!
    (Although I’m definitely in the camp of American-style towels…)

  • April
    October 21, 2008 2:48pm

    Not all Americans think it’s okay to discuss how much things cost! There are some of us who have manners (it’s not an “American thing,” it’s just rude). Maybe it’s because I’m Texan, and we’re sort of old fashioned about manners.

    Good to know that Paris treats pedestrians the same way Rome does in case I’m able to travel there next year. We sort of got a kick out of the driver/pedestrian relationship.

  • October 21, 2008 3:43pm

    For some reason, the French seem to think most Americans will not go to France, so if you speak English, they assume you’re from England, or at least, Canada.

  • October 21, 2008 4:31pm

    I was laughing out loud at your comment on how people in Paris just walked right into you.. I live in The Netherlands, am just back from 3 weeks in the US, and on my first day back in Amsterdam I just wanted to mow people down and shout at them: hey! Americans give eachother space, why can´t you all be more civilized?

  • October 21, 2008 5:32pm

    What a great post. I often don’t know where to start when people ask, “So, where are you from?” When I was in Ireland, appropriately enough, I was at the Guinness factory and they have a wall there with a quote, “Home is where people understand you.” And I’ve come to realize, it’s also where you make your coffee. :)

  • Anna
    October 21, 2008 7:14pm

    David, well yeah, I have the number of the guy who rented me the apartment and he is sooo very sweet! The other two were wonderful, too, but alas, the three of them were “not my type” so umm, no, we didn’t exchange numbers… But the plan is for me to go back to the flat next year too and we’ll all have dinner. I’ll give you a ring. ;-)

  • Bob
    October 21, 2008 9:12pm

    David: I’ve been reading your blog for a while now but have never commented. This time I think I must – what a truly beautiful and beautifully crafted piece of writing!

    On another plane, while I agree that the Fairway cafe is less than wonderful, I was surprised you made no reference to the wonderful (and crowded) market below – probably the best in the city.

    Again, congratulations on the piece.

  • October 21, 2008 11:34pm

    Come back, mon cherie, come back!

  • October 22, 2008 1:57am

    After 10 years or so in America I am still getting used to those questions and the “let’s get together for coffee or something”…and it never happens…People down South here don’t like to talk about money but they sure are prompt to give you the grand tour!!
    I am loving your series back home!

  • October 22, 2008 2:26am

    Tartlette: Yes, the grand tour is a little odd. Especially when people take you into their bedrooms & bathrooms. The great thing about having a dinner party in France is you only have to clean the dining room and kitchen, since everything else is off-limits.

    Joy: If you and Jon are up for adopting, then I’m up for grabs!

    Bob: Yes, the market downstairs is pretty astounding. But what was really funny was that I’d warned Romain that it was a push & shoving nightmare, especially on Saturday, but he just barged right through as if there was nothing in his way.

    A lifelong Parisian, he showed those upper west side women how it’s really done. I was impressed!

  • October 22, 2008 8:58am

    I was raised to never inquire about financial things by my French grandmother.

    But David, you MUST adapt the response typical of those of us who are/were affiliated with US government jobs when asked where you are from. My general response was always, “Oh, I’ve moved around quite a lot–I am originally from Central New York state, then settled for a number of years in Atlanta; now I’m back in New York.” Of all the internationals I’ve met & worked with, they seem to enjoy this idea of transience, so quintesentially American.

    When travelling in Europe people thought I was German. Go figure!

  • Eileen
    October 22, 2008 9:30am

    Whenever I travel, it is always nice to come home. Nothing beats home. Now, it would be very nice to be able to say Paris is home, but I’m o.k. with saying Saint Paul, MN is home.

  • Jacqui Muir
    October 22, 2008 10:37am

    As Scot living in US, St Paul MN, and loving it, I still miss the European way of life. Yes French waiters are rude,but the culture and food far outweighs the negatives. It all seems so far away when you were at one time able to “pop” over to France for a couple of days. Hediard, Fauchon, heaven. But I must praise US, certainly the Mid West, which is what I know, for wonderful service, friendly people, and yes I am constantly asked “Where are you from?” And it seems to me almost everyone I meet has some Scottish heritage or is searching for it, something we Scots have no need to do. After all “We are all Jock Thampsons Bairns” Guessing only a Scot will know what I’m talking about. Rough translation, the world over we are all the same.
    Enjoy Paris.

  • October 22, 2008 10:42am

    I just returned to Prague and can relate, except for the delicious food part. Delicious beer, though! The kind I haven’t swilled since I left Prague. But, yes, I’ve had to re-acustom myself to the Czech shower which I usually end up using to soak the bathroom, the sighs of disappointment when I enter a restaurant or pub because the staff may actually have to work, and the beautiful bureaucracy when trying to accomplish anything.

    Before I left the states, my last meal was a hamburger. (I should’ve had a burrito too.)

  • Susan
    October 22, 2008 11:34am

    Regarding waiters: What is up with wait-speak in the U.S. in the last few years? I keep hearing “If you ‘guys’ would follow me” or “what can I get you ‘guys’ for starters?” or “Will you ‘guys’ be having dessert?” When and why did ‘guys’ regardless of the gender of the diner, get attached to the word ‘you’ in a restaurant? Is ‘guys’ the new ‘hun’? Is this done in Europe?

  • October 22, 2008 3:28pm

    Ugh, Susan I am SO with you on the waitspeak. Here they say YouS Guys. Because they think they’re on the Sopranos or something. Because they want to be from NYC or New Jersey, but they’re NOT. It’s disgusting.

  • October 22, 2008 3:46pm

    i gotta say, the breakfast pic is way more appealing than the hamburger pic. and i do love a good burger.

    i know it’s not paris, but god, do i miss living in rome.

  • Meagan
    October 22, 2008 4:52pm

    The bread, butter and coffee breakfast is one of the things that has always stuck with me since living in France. I got such a kick out of how the French liked to dunk their crusty baguette in to their coffee. But now I do it, and I’m hooked. It’s the perfect meal, really!

  • Lesley
    October 22, 2008 7:03pm

    “Walking through the Marais, en route to the BHV, at least six or seven Parisians walked right into me without making even the slightest acknowledgment that there might be other people on the sidewalk.” makes me think of the supermarkets here in Seattle. Yup, this is where I’m from :)

    I am truly enjoying your blog. It’s my first time here. I clicked on a link from “Eat, Drink and Be Mary” while looking for a honey cake recipe.

    Thank you for providing my face with a smile :)

  • Linda Hammargren
    October 22, 2008 9:29pm

    As an Italian explained to me, Italian drivers don’t INTEND to kill you, as the French do, but they will nonetheless.

  • October 23, 2008 8:16am

    In the main, I have found the French to be kinder and more polite than Americans. They smile at me a lot. (They coudl be laughing at my accent.)

  • October 23, 2008 8:28am

    What a great blog! We are living in Vienna, Austria and I can relate to most things you mentioned. But most of all, the pedestrian crossings. We are Aussies and in our naivety actually thought that they were meant for people to cross the road safely on. Not so in Vienna. My latest experience involved waiting at a crosswalk to make sure a car was going to stop. It stopped and I started to cross the road, only to have a car overtake the car that had stopped and nearly run myself and two children down. Having said that, I wouldn’t trade our European experience for anything. It is like living a dream :)

  • October 23, 2008 1:36pm

    Certainly a question with too many answers in my case.

  • October 23, 2008 1:37pm

    You actually can get a decent shower in Paris, but it means going to your local municiple pool and you do have to keep pluging the button or the water stops.
    I’m missed your Paris tales…maybe if I could learn to love ancho chillies…

  • October 23, 2008 4:26pm

    I think I understand. I recently moved and when people ask me that “Where are you from?” I say the name of my new location. I have to be from here or I will never really connect to me new home. People seem to want to know where I came from not where I come from.

    Since we are retired in our new location people then want to know “What did you do (for a living)” Again another question that seems intrusive. (As you might gather I hate being put in a box).

    Having recently returned from what we refer to as the OC (the Old Country) there was nothing better than laying my head on my own pillow and the house absorbing my being.

  • October 23, 2008 5:27pm

    What beautiful post! I revel in your writing …………… thanks for that.

  • October 24, 2008 5:02am

    I can so relate.

    My parents are from St. Martin, in the French Caribbean.

    I was born in NYC. I lived in L.A. for 10 years then moved to Rome.

    A lot of Italians ask me if I’m Jamaican or from Africa.

    When I went to London I was asked the same questions. My friends here tell me some things about me are very American, like I’m organized. haha but yet I have a very European outlook. Okay? Not sure what that means.

  • October 24, 2008 8:01am

    Dear David,

    Great Post. I’m Canadian but currently living in Burgundy, France with my French husband (managing our four vacation rentals here) and our three half French / half Canuck daughters. We all have both Canadian and French passports, but beyond the logistical aspect of things I truly feel now like I have two “homes”. My goal is simple; to put off choosing between them as long as possible!

    Pssst….I have a bit of a confession to make too…when back home in Canada this summer I also went on more Root Beer benders than I care to remember. Yum.

    Laura B.


  • October 24, 2008 8:31am

    Morning David,

    It’s been a few months now since I moved back to NYC from Paris. I miss it tremendously. You raise such a great question about where we come from and where we feel at home. YES sometimes that’s not where we were born, where our families live or where we had our first apartment. Sometimes home is a new place that embraces you. From my own experience, I never felt more at home as I did in the heart of Paris. I finally belonged somewhere. Now that I’m back in I’ve tried to readjust to the rhythm of Manhattan but a large part of me is just hankering to be back in France. So to answer you’re question:

    I am from New York, but if I had a choice, I’d be from France :)

  • October 24, 2008 9:44am

    Maybe because I live in Canada, I’m never asked where I’m from( even though from what my wife says, its quite obvious I’m American). I do always volunteer the information though. For some odd reason, I dont want to be though of as being Canadian, I’m very proud of being an American, even though there is a huge distaste for ” the States”. I think its pure jealousy though( and Robin would say ” oh typical American, thinking you’re so much better than everyone else)

  • October 24, 2008 12:58pm

    David, what a lovely piece of writing, as delicious as your pastries no doubt. Here on the west coast, it’s rare if anyone asks you what you do, especially at a social gathering. In fact when a friend visited from the east coast, he could not refrain from asking the question within minutes of meeting someone. And he was ill-equipped to notice most bristled with his querie. He rebuked me upon pointing it out and said, “what else is there to talk about?” It was a very long visit.

  • Brit in Bangkok
    October 25, 2008 12:46am

    As a Brit who lived in the US for 23 years and now lives in Bangkok, I know what you mean. My accent is so screwed up, most people think I’m Australian LOL.

    I’m glad you’re back home too, David. I liked the blog posts on the US, but I enjoy the ones on Paris more. I haven’t made it to Paris yet, but it’s on my list, and when I do I’ll know exactly where to go for food :-)

  • October 25, 2008 8:26pm

    Where are you from? It depends who you ask. If you ask someone who was in you Hebrew school carpool in, say, 1972, you’ll get one answer. It may be way, way removed from where you’re from now, but hey, some of us can remember you sitting on our kitchen counters.

    Personally, I’m not “from” anywhere, but I live part time in NJ (a lovely part– really) and part time in Paris. And from my experience, Paris is the best place to be from. Even if it does require ending a sentence with a preposition.

  • October 25, 2008 9:33pm

    Aww, David, you could have just as well been describing my life! Well, sort of. I grew up in Poughkeepsie, lived in NYC for a little while (among other places), and now live in Connecticut. But whenever anyone asks me where I am from, I say New York . . . because no matter how much time goes by, I am still a New Yorker at heart.

    But, perhaps if I picked up and headed off to Paris, I too would be in love with that city … though the rude Parisians have never endeared themselves to me when I’ve visited.

  • Melissa
    October 26, 2008 9:54am

    Just got this link from someone after a brief trip in Paris. Very nice blog. A trivial comment: I don’t get the reputation Parisians have for being rude. I go to Paris about once a year (I’m American and live in London) and always find people very kind and helpful. I’m too poor to sit around in restaurants and do most of my eating in the boulangeries, but I think the waiters are quite good and provide very good service. They’re just a bit fussy, and coming from London, I like their professionalism.

  • sandy
    October 26, 2008 1:06pm

    I am an American living in Brittany and I know the french I meet automatically assume I am British. I always let people know right away I am American! I usually say “same language, different animal” which gets a laugh. After living here for 3 years I know now never to bring up money or ask how much something costs! big taboo….I love your blog and am really happy when I hear you as a guest on a podcast.

  • Luis Alberto Moya
    October 26, 2008 4:55pm

    I am mesmerized by the huge, limitless and culturally diverse approach to the topic that I just happened to read on your blog. I only want to share my particular experience of the “where you came from” being a Chilean living in New York.
    The question remains candid but usually reminds me of those days when living in Chile “that question” was intended more to know something about the persons background and family pedigree than a geographic one. I love your blog and the creative ways in which you organize ideas.

  • eko
    October 29, 2008 3:14pm

    I have never enjoyed a blog so much! Food, glorious – GOOD food, and delightful writiing. The comments are not too bad either!!

    I don’t think Canadians ever get asked where they’re from – because they always wear some sort of maple leaf thing on something ~ announcing it. Hey, I love Canada – lived there awhile myself. :D

    I have not been able to find bleach (and still no baking soda, and I have used every scientific name possible in all kinds of shops, hmm – except a bakery! – duh!) to save my life. I was told by someone that it isn’t used in Europe, as they care about the water more than Americans. Ah, the things I am hearing and learning, living Europe.

    OH – and my shower is a corner of a bigger room, with curtain (at least there is that!) and a flat hole/drain in the floor. One has to get the water flow just right, not too heavy or the drain can’t keep up – and immediately afterwards use the broom length squeegge (sp) to push all of what you just showered off quickly down the drain. It’s exhausting! :-D

    I had always thought American’s were always open/frank about sex talk – but it was a no no to talk money/earnings.

    Glad you are home and had a terrific visit to the states.

  • Kristin
    October 30, 2008 11:49am

    LOL…getting Europeans to say “Connecticut”! That is a good laugh…Co-nect-ti-cu? I lived in Rome for a bit, and that always made me giggle. I do miss the way the Europeans always want to know where you’re FROM. Not as in where you live, but more like, show me your family tree, please. And even better, when you realize that you could have a possible distant connection to each other…like finding a long lost brother or sister. Such a shame Americans feel the need to distance themselves from each other so much…

  • Phyllis
    November 1, 2008 2:07pm

    Welcome home, David! I know what you mean. I’m going back to Southern California in December to see my family. Can’t wait. And yes, Costco,Target, and Borders (no doubt, for your newest cookbook) here I come! Chile rellenos, smiling faces and sun. Leaving Paris for a few weeks will be a much welcome relief from the daily work/commuting grind. The French rat-race “est speciale”, n’est ce pas? Nevertheless, upon returning back to Paris I already know from past experiences how many wonderful things this city has to offer. Keep up your great writing. Sometimes when the Merlot and “stimulating” French television ( ha) fail to calm my frazzeled nerves after a 2 hour jaunt at the local Champion to purchase a “few” items, I simply read your blog and am instantly validated and humanized. Merci.

  • adrian
    November 3, 2008 4:25pm

    Forget the new iMac, get one of the new Mac Book Pros!

  • Brian
    November 4, 2008 10:42am

    Hi, David,

    That burger picture made my stomach rumble… in a good way. I just wanted to make a pitch to you: When in Austin, try to make it to a place called BurgerTex. They make a phenomenal burger, as well as a unique creation called the Bulgoki Burger. The Bulgoki Burger is essentially beef bulgogi on a homemade bun, a great thing. I hope you’re having an excellent election day.

    Best regards,

  • April 13, 2009 10:35pm

    Such a splendidly cute story. And seriously there is no butter better than butter from France and enjoyed in Paris. très très bon!