Sunday, June 27, 2010

What the French do well, and not so well

Jeremy and I made this list on the last day of our trip to France.

What the French do well, in no particular order:

1. Safe sex. In tourist shops, it is commonplace that condoms emblazoned with "I ♥ Paris" were for sale. Also, in the Metro stations, next to the automatic ticket dispensers, were condom machines. Not quite as large as candy vending machines, but right out there, conveniently located and priced.

2. Health care. Of the seven or so prescription medications I had to bring, I forgot one: progesterone. The dosage was such that, in the US, with my insurance, it cost $60 a month. In Paris, and the cities we visited in the south, there were pharmacies on almost every block. Panicked about not having the progesterone with me, I went into one. I ended up getting, without a prescription, the same dosage, with no insurance. Cost? 5.60 euro.

3. No chain stores. We were surprised by how pleasant that felt. No chain restaurants, no chain supermarkets. . . everything was unique. It was refreshing.

4. Body confidence. I'm talking about the beach. Topless is acceptable. I expected the 20 year old women to have body confidence. But was surprised, again, at the 80 year old, and 70 year old  women we saw, a few of whom changed from street clothes into bathing suits just two feet away from us. They didn't care that there bodies weren't perfect. Nor did the quite overweight 20 year old woman wearing a bikini with her hot, cute, fit boyfriend at the beach. No shame. When we say in the US someone has no shame, it's an insult. I mean this as a statement of fact, and a positive quality. You know what I loved best about the older women? That when they were sunbathing on their stomachs, they'd hike up their swimsuit bottoms to thong status. Tan lines are ugly, I guess, even at 80.

5. Cafe life. I now know what that means. It means no to-go cups of coffee. Can you imagine not seeing a Starbucks coffee cup for 2 weeks? If you wanted coffee, you sat down, and shared one with a friend. Not on your mobile, doing 10 other things, but sitting, sipping and contemplating. It was almost meditative.

6. Coffee. Oh my god.

7. Wine. Yes. I had a few glasses. And also, oh my god.

8. Public transportation. Paris Metro, the TGV train to the south, and the trains running along the French Riviera. All accessible to people with limited or no French skills, always on time, and cheap.

9. Outdoor living. Most apartments have balconies of some sort, and if they did not, the windows opened. And there were no screens. A little thing, but an uninterrupted by a screen flow of air is markedly more refreshing. And in the cafes, even in cold and rainy weather, people were outside.

10. Food. Obviously the food. Jeremy: They have perfected the art of the omelet. We were silent every time we ate for the first few bites, with our eyes closed, savoring. Our palettes were not used to the. . . . delight.

11. Food part II. Jeremy and I disagreed on this part. Jeremy likes a lot of stuff in his salads and sandwiches. "Stuff" is what Brody calls anything that is not the pure thing he wants to eat. For example, a pizza with everything has "stuff" on it. For me, I like "stuff" except for sandwiches and salads. In France, the sandwiches you buy don't typically have lettuce and tomato, let alone onions and artichokes etc. Just meat and cheese, and butter. Same with salads. Salade verte, green salad, is literally, just lettuce with exquisite dressing. My idea of heaven.

12. Food part III. When people buy those sandwiches, they are always on baguettes. And instead of wrapping them in paper, a la Quizno's or Subway, they put them in long brown paper bags, like homeless alcoholics drink their liquor in the US. It's delightful.

13. Carousels. I counted six, SIX, carousels inside Paris. And not ones we were looking for, just that we happened to come across. Right outside our metro station, a carousel. TWO-tiered, thankyouverymuch. Usually pretty full regardless of date and time. I wish you could just turn a corner in Denver and there was a carousel. Two blocks later, another one.

14. People. The French have a reputation for rudeness. We did not encounter this at all. AND we had a 3 year old with us.

Example (a): I was struggling to understand how to work the automatic metro ticket dispenser. A Frenchwoman came over, spoke English, and helped me purchase our tickets. And if that wasn't enough, she said, "Don't worry. It's hard even for French people to do with zese macheens."

Example (b): Outside the Louvre, we stopped at a touristy shop for souvenirs. I saw a Christmas ornament of Santa climbing the Eiffel tower. Showed it to Brody for approval; he loved it. I let him hold it. I know I know. Stupid. Well, to prove it, Brody swung it, lost his grip, and it broke after hitting the floor. I told the cashier, who spoke perfect English, "thank goodness for glue" so he wouldn't think we wouldn't pay for it. His co-worker handed me another one and said, "No, here is a new one. We tell za vendor zis one is defective."

Example (c): Went to an upscale restaurant in Villefranche-sur-mer. Like any parents of small children, we bring toys for Brody to occupy him while we wait. Of course, Brody drops things, including one of his "guys", on the floor. Our very handsome, and very French waiter retrieved it when he saw it and, handing it to Brody with a smile, said, "Is zis yours, monsieur?"

15. No tipping. Awe.some. We still did, if the service was good (or our waiter was cute).

What the French do not do well:

1. Clean up after their dogs. In our hood, if you don't pick up your dog's poop, it's akin to a crime against humanity. Having seen so many dogs in France, I'm sure some people are picking up. But a LOT of people aren't. It's just there, on the sidewalk, probably already stepped in a little bit. (gag).

2. Coke is more expensive than wine. We adapted.

3. No free refills. Ah, we are so entitled in America.

4. Skimpy on coffee condiments like sugar and cream. Jeremy and I will clear out a creamer thingie at IHOP on the weekends just  between the two of us.

5. Driving. I could say that the French actually drive well, because most French people have driven and have not died. However, I'm going to conclude otherwise. Jesus CHRIST. That's what we kept saying in the cab ride from the airport to our apartment. I think there are traffic laws, but I don't think they are followed by anyone, or enforced by anyone. It's a free-for-all: drive as fast as you can, do whatever you want, and hope for the best. I mean, cab rides in every city are harrowing. But our cab drivers were no less crazed than the rest of the drivers in France. Motorcycles, for example, regularly went between speeding cars and trucks, not in their own lane, but literally between them, at high rates of speed. The French made New York drivers look civilized. When I started to count how many near-crashes we had by the number of inches by which we missed the other cars, I began to hope that I never had to drive anywhere in France. (It's just as bad in the south of France as in Paris).

That's our take on France. One of these days, now that our monitor at home is working, I hope to get the pictures up.


feitpingvin said...

"No chain restaurants, no chain supermarkets. . ."

*cough* *cough* Carrefour *cough*

And not picking up after dogs and crap driving is a southern European problem in general, not just French...

pattinase (abbott) said...

We found much of the same. But I hated the amount of smoking. The restaurants are smoke-free but try walking past one outside. Ugh!
I went into a pharmacy with a burn and got more attention than my doctor gives me.
Great US movies on the big screen-we saw five great classics in two weeks.
Everyone was polite and helpful--unlike our last trip of 15 years ago. They also spoke English down to a man.
More ethnically diverse than that trip.
The English speaking bookstores had Megan's books. Yay!
A great trip and we stayed in a great apartment in THE MARAIS.