Small Differences Between Paris and Home
• 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.
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