Mighty Life List
Aug 7 2013

Small Differences Between Paris and Home


• Each egg in a dozen is stamped with an individual expiration date.

• It makes waiters happy when you linger over food.

• Overall, the men here seem very confident, almost arrogant. There’s a lack of hesitance that I find startling. As a woman walking alone on the street, they look you up and down, ask you to go for coffee at the slightest provocation (like say, accidental eye contact), and all of them talk about romance. The cab driver, “Paris is for romance!” The shop owner, “Are you married? Paris is for romantic!” The waiter sets my paté down, and indicates that the chef has arranged two half-slices of baguette in the shape of a heart, “We are so romantic!” he jokes. Then he sets down an extra set of silverware, and says, “It might be too much food for one” and raises his eyebrows.

• The people on the crosswalk signs are slimmer.

• It’s been so long since I’ve seen colored toilet paper, I forgot it existed. The rolls in our first Paris apartment are pink.

• Parisians entertain at home. I return to the apartment Friday night to a fuzz of American pop songs. The complex windows are lit up, with Parisians perched on the sills of a dozen small parties, blowing cigarette smoke into the night air.

• In couple grocery stores I frequent, the items at the back of the store are dramatically cheaper (like three to four times less expensive) than identical items at the front. I suspect this is for tourists who just stop in to grab something for a picnic, versus natives who shop there for groceries.

• For the most part, men wear clothes that fit them. What’s more, men wear their clothing tight, and women wear their clothing loose. (Though, I’ve seen six or seven pregnant women, and all of them were wearing tight dresses. Also, all of them looked to be in their forties.) No one seems to know how to wear sneakers — all attempts I see are awkward and seem to be trying too hard. The shoes are too new, or have slim laces, but most often the problem is men wearing them with dress socks. No one carries messenger-style bags here.

• They take more time with flowers here, and they’re much more affordable. The bouquets in street stalls are gorgeous, and roses are less hybridized. They smell like roses, and each one looks different, like roses you’d find growing on a bush in your grandma’s backyard.

• The inexpensive cheese, chocolate, and wine in the local shops, are still pretty damn good.

• Regular Goldfish crackers have a weird flavored powder on them, like Doritos.

• Hot cocoa is chocolate melted in warm milk.

• There’s often no salt or pepper on the table.

• People don’t seem to keep much ice in their freezers, perhaps because of space? One tiny tray of cubes in both the apartments I rent.

• Pharmacists can make an initial diagnosis and give you medicine.

• People don’t really pull over for ambulances  (which have a different siren than in San Francisco). At most, they sort of stop where they are and let the ambulance go around. More than anything else, this mystifies me.

• There are many more women and children on motorcycles.

• The children’s books are gorgeous here. Many more pop-ups, better quality paper.

• People switch in and out of languages in casual conversation. Speaking French, then perhaps quoting a movie line or song lyric in flawless American-accented English.

• For the most part, they lack tattoos. In the fashion-forward parts of town, I can tell who the New Yorkers are because they have tattoos.

• People tend not to wear fabric with a pattern unless it’s on a scarf. Monotone clothes are much more the usual here.

• According to the bartender at the American bar across the street, it’s tough to get a good cocktail unless it’s rum based, and no one knows what Tiki is.

• People are so quiet; it’s a delight. They talk softly, and set things down softly. My waitress startles and apologizes profusely for accidentally setting a plate down too hard and making a noise slightly louder than the tone of  conversation in a cafe full of people.

• People watching is nearly a competitive sport. If the weather is passable, the tables inside restaurants are empty. Everyone sits at the sidewalk tables, openly gawking at passersby. There seems to be a tacit agreement that people at cafe tables can stare, while people walking by on the sidewalk should go about their business and only take casual note of the thirty or so people staring at them. Walkers take a cursory glance to see if there’s anyone they know, and in the happy circumstance that there is, walkers stop and join their friends for drinks. Conversations stops when a beautiful woman walks past. Both genders go quiet and stare.

If you liked this post, you might also like:
Small Differences between Barcelona and Home
American Theme Party in Paris
Interview with Pamela Druckerman, Author of Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting

11 Responses to “Small Differences Between Paris and Home”

  • maile Says:

    Loved this.

  • Roxanna Says:

    I loved this, Maggie. The quietness and the spontaneous drinks with friends…man, you’re making me want to move to Europe. If we ever move to Vienna, please come visit.

  • Nora Says:

    As an American, should I be keeping more than one tray of ice in my freezer? More importantly, should it be actual ice, and not minced, frozen strawberries?

  • Jackie Says:

    I lived in Paris for many years. The ambulance thing stems from the fact that they aren’ t rushing to the hospital American-style. They stabilize on the scene and then move. Thus when the delivery guy crashed his moped in front of my house and there were bones sticking out, massive blood loss, possibly fatal injuries, the ambulance showed up and docs worked on scene for 2 hrs before they moved him. There have bed studies about which system works better – bringing better care to patient or bringing patient to best care, but no conclusive result.

  • Twisted Susan Says:

    Neat.

  • Meg Says:

    Trader Joe’s also stamps the expiration date on each egg.

    The first night in another country, I never sleep. I stay up listening to the different sirens.

    People-watching is the best.

  • Minjarrah Says:

    “Overall, the men here seem very confident, almost arrogant.” – Imagine my experience in Paris, alone, with three beautiful teenage daughters! I was paralyzed with anxiety and hated every minute of our trip (men leering, hissing, propositioning, pissing in the street/park!) I’ve travelled widely, both alone and with my girls, and Paris currently tops the shit-for-women list.

  • Elise Says:

    Most of the eggs I buy have the expiration date stamped on each of them.

    Many of those pharmacists are likely doctors who own their own pharmacies. Very common in Europe to operate a private medical practice out of a pharmacy.

  • cj coppola Says:

    You must have quieted many a conversation as you passed by. Thank you for this lovely post.

  • Manisha Says:

    I was thinking the same thing as CJ. I’m sure you stopped conversation and perhaps some traffic, you gorgeous woman!

  • Diane Says:

    Lovely post!

    How did you go about searching for apartments to rent in Paris? Is this expensive? How long did you rent each apartment? I am very curious about this apartment thing!