Got back late last night from Paris. Feeling rejuvenated and inspired, I could not have asked for a better holiday, it went completely without a hitch and was pretty much perfection.
A week in Paris and I learned much about myself, my host city and her people. As it is my nature to observe, here are ten things I came away with:
1) Parisians are incredibly kind. Somewhere along the line, Parisians got a bad rap as being rude and arrogant. Maybe it’s from a bunch of people traveling to France who become exasperated about not being able to communicate, and the French not making an effort to communicate back with them.
It couldn’t be further from the truth. Ever single place we went to, our hosts were welcoming, kind and showed us love and affection. Strangers smiled at us and helped us with directions. Shopkeepers gave us free stuff. Bistro owners gave us free desserts, wine and kisses. At one dinner the owner took 15% off the bill because he liked us.
But here’s the thing, which is that we always made an effort to be kind to our hosts. We always said ‘bonjour’ and ‘merci,’ and we apologized for our rusty language. They seemed to appreciate the effort, which was always heartfelt, and reciprocated tenfold. I’ve yet to have such a lovely experience abroad.
2) Parisians are exceptionally beautiful. It’s not that French women and men are any more attractive than anywhere else, but there’s definitely something in the air. In a reflection of the beaux-arts details of the city itself, the people of Paris make the extra effort and take care of the details. Women artfully wear makeup, just the bare amount to highlight their features. Men are groomed and put together. Style is about wearing basics, but brilliantly and thoughtfully assembled. When people look after the small details and carry themselves with the confidence of that assemblage, then it’s pretty damn near impossible to not be beautiful. The French have that, and then some. They embrace sexiness and charm.
There’s also the beauty of the country’s colonial past, and it’s seen in the faces of the people. Roots of Africa, the Middle East and Asia are found in the melting pot of Parisian faces and bodies. They are striking, and when combined with their style, presence and aforementioned kindness, they became stunning to me.
Photo by Jérémy Barniaud .
3) Parisians are both brutally efficient and selectively inefficient. The Paris Metro is a thing of beauty. We never had to wait more than one minute for a train, and we were able to get around town with supreme ease. Again, small details - thoughtful maps, clean access, rubber tires on the trains for a smooth and quiet ride, it all adds up. And the French pay handsomely for it in higher taxes, but it makes for a very high, if not oppressively expensive, quality of life.
But Parisians know how to slow it down, almost to a grinding halt. Even the simplest of dinners can go for as long as three hours, and shop owners don’t seem to care. Take your time, keep the wine and conversation flowing. The culture is rooted in discourse, and people talk to each other, a lot. They devote time to it, even if it means putting other things aside. Perhaps this is the key to their thoughtfulness, as they talk and listen to one another.
4) Paris has its problems. Of course on holiday it’s hard not to see a place through rose-tinted glasses, and like any other place on Earth, the Parisians are far from perfect. While the city is a gorgeous mix of diversity (see next), like New York City, London and Los Angeles, the real division is economic. The city is cripplingly unaffordable, and has led to massive emigration of the poor to the suburbs, many of which have become ghettos. As wealthy bohemians drive up rent and cost of living, the division of the haves and have-nots is incredibly apparent, and distrust is not a racial divide but rather an economic one. Lifestyle comes at a cost anywhere, but in Paris it is borderline ludicrous. The riots of the past indicate a populace that feels marginalized and forgotten, and despite the aforementioned love of conversation, this seems to be one conversation that the French keep sweeping under the rug.
5) Parisians are diverse. While the economic gap is widening, the racial divide in Paris is small. The city and culture, in contrast to the United States, is incredibly racially homogenous. Television shows feature all races equally (and not like the purely black and white networks in the US) and ad campaigns feature white, black and Asian models and families together. Gay couples walk and display affection without fear, interracial couples are part of the norm. It really highlighted the lack of true diversity in the United States, which may be comprised of many races and orientations, but has not fully coalesced into an accepting whole.
6) Parisians embrace art, and art inspires. Galleries are full of children, windows are always dressed, and people dress and present themselves with artistry. It all serves to inspire one another, and I couldn’t help but have my imagination sparked. As a work environment, Paris provides infinite inspiration, from modern and classic architecture, food, fashion, music, art and design. Art begets art, and creativity thrives in such an environment. Parisians read voraciously, exchange ideas and feed off the city. They ultimately put back in what they take, inspiring the next generation of forward thinking artists. Provocation is encouraged. Technique is admired and honed. Classics are respected and similarly defiled. An early morning trip to the Père-Lachaise cemetery, where the artistic and intellectual giants of Paris are laid to rest, showed me the boundless creativity and innovation that the city fostered. I paid visit to the graves of Marcel Proust, Max Ophuls and the godfather of cinema, Georges Méliès.
Hand on heart, I paid my respects. Without him, we cannot be filmmakers. Photo by my wife.
7) Parisians love. Love is everywhere. People holding hands, kissing, embracing one another. The human body is celebrated, playfully teased and adored. Parisians love to love and be loved, they are playful and kinky, they are sexy and charming. Everything in this town is sensual, a culmination of philosophy and aesthetic. It’s pretty intoxicating.
Photo by Alberto Reyes.
8) Parisians do all the wrong things, and yet they make it right. Chain smoking. Eating butter, bacon, beef, chocolate, bread, cheese and booze nonstop. Eating late, waking up late. And yet they remain thin, healthy and vibrant. Back home we’re obsessed with low-cholesterol, zero fat, PX90, militantly healthy lifestyles and yet we still struggle with obesity and stress. The French just seem to say fuck it, and enjoy what they want. All of those vices are expensive so the French are kind of forced to do it in moderation, which is a good thing. They also eat the very highest quality of food without compromise, GMOs, preservatives or additives. They’re doing something right, and we stand to learn from it.
9) The Parisians are clean, BUT THERE IS DOG SHIT EVERYWHERE. Seriously, it’s like a fucking minefield walking down the sidewalks. Nobody in France picks up after their dogs. I don’t know why. The city is otherwise clean and spotless, but my wife had to always tackle me from stepping in dog doo-doo. Come on, mes amis, do the right thing and pick that shit up.
10) It’s impossible to not fall in love in Paris. It’s because in every cell of their being, the French embrace joie de vivre, and because of that they lead long, reduced stress lives. They enjoy the moment, and keep record of the moments of the past. They make it work, and it’s something to really admire and emulate. Returning to America I have not lost any fondness for my home country, but we can stand to learn a few things from the French. Embrace details, wholesomeness, beauty, diversity and art. We are on this planet for a short time, and we must make it beautiful not only for ourselves but for the inheritors. The French understand this. They maintain their culture, their art, their philosophy and spirit despite the cost and effort required. It is worth it to them, and we are the benefactors of their effort. We could stand to do the same.
Paris je t’aime. Merci mon amour.