Dispatches from Paris

It’s been an eventful few weeks here in Paris, so I thought I’d indulge in a Parisian recap of sorts.

1. As many of you are aware, France won the World Cup. Soccer (football) fans around the city were glued to cafe televisions during the process, with crowds spilling onto sidewalks and streets when the often tiny establishments could hold no more fans.

Immediately after the victory, one million Parisians flooded the Champs Elysees, embracing each other, many with tears in their eyes. (Anyone who says the French aren’t emotional doesn’t know the French.) Outbreaks of violence resulted in 292 people being arrested…in the entire country.

Paris was overwhelmingly peaceful. What wasn’t peaceful were our futile attempts to get a decent night’s sleep for the next two days, as celebrations went on nonstop. Revelers sang and danced, car horns honked. I heard the French national anthem so many times I almost learned the words.

It was a unique experience to be in a country when it wins the World Cup. Childlike pride and joy reign supreme. Regional animosities (the most pronounced between the citizens of Paris and everyone else in the country) disappear.

My wife and I migrated to my local cafe to watch the final match. We were lucky enough to be given a couple of seats near the big screen TV that was brought in for the occasion. It was an intimate gathering of French friends and neighbors. As outsiders, it was an honor to have been included, so I’m going to hold off from publishing any photos. They would not do the afternoon justice, anyway.

2. As I speak with and get to know more Parisians, a very French thing becomes apparent: there is no great concern here about what other people think. Parisians especially are supremely oblivious to the opinions of others, and don’t hesitate to show it. They do their thing, wear what they like, regardless of prevailing trends.

Over coffee the other day, I mentioned the concept of ‘peer pressure’ to a Parisian. She speaks English fluently and understood exactly what I was saying. Still, she looked at me quizzically and then smiled, amused. ‘No, we do what we want.’

I love it.

3. The French (in conjunction with the EU) are serious about health, even as they smoke, drink, and eat rich food. While doing research for the next Old Money book, I learned that they’ve banned over 1100 toxic substances from being included in cosmetics sold in the country. Of course, these toxins are in cosmetics sold in the USA: the FDA has restricted only 8 of them and banned only 3.

Fresh food is the oder of the day, with farmers markets available all over the city several times a week. We shop for fruits, vegetables, and grains on Thursdays and Sundays, buying directly from the growers. Most of the produce is organic. All of it is delicious. Pasta and some miscellaneous items are found at the local grocery store. For two people to eat well, we’re spending about 30 euros each week.

Food advertising on television is highly regulated. Warnings appear at the bottom of the screen during commercials for snacks, sweets, or fast food, encouraging the French to moderate their junk food intake and eat fresh food, especially fruits and vegetables. These remind me of the warning labels on cigarette packs.

Obesity rates in France are increasing, but slowly. Government officials blame increased consumption of processed food.

Walking, bicycles, and public transportation are the prevailing modes of transport, and all three end up being exercise that keeps the Parisians healthy.

4. Conversation is a big deal here. The exchange of ideas is an important social interaction between work colleagues, casual acquaintances, and of course close friends. The French still have people whose job description is ‘philosopher’, although it’s debatable how much actual philosophy is really formulated, much less lived. But they do think, write, and talk about things much more often and much more deeply than Americans, in my opinion.

The rush-rush pace of the US is set aside here. I get calls or emails once or twice a week to have coffee, which is a euphemism for getting together and discussing whatever topics come up. Gossip, complaints, and small talk don’t qualify. Not that the French can’t complain, but conversation is supposed to be stimulating, not depressing. It requires attention, thought, and an open mind, because the one thing about a French: they do have an opinion on things, and many times it’s well thought out. (Even if it strikes me as crazy.)

A bientôt…

  • BGT

12 thoughts on “Dispatches from Paris

  1. I have a colleague coming your direction for two weeks from the US and they are plenty excited about what they will be exposed to. This very informative article has confirmed a lot of there ideas of what to expect. They fly Friday and are wonderful please.

    Thanks for the lay of the land.

  2. “The French still have people whose job description is ‘philosopher’, although it’s debatable how much actual philosophy is really formulated, much less lived. But they do think, write, and talk about things much more often and much more deeply than Americans. . .”

    I have begun to notice in recent years just how superficial so much talk, that we are forced to overhear in public spaces, is. So many, of all ages in the U.S. seem to talk “at” each other rather than with one another. The art of conversation is indeed dead. Most blurt out a near constant, totally irrelevant stream of consciousness bunch of nothing without listening to what is said to them. Mindless palaver. The type of exchange you describe sounds refreshing and delightful.

    Best Regards,

  3. As a Chicagoan and lifelong Cubs fan, I truly understand the feeling of being in an overwhelmed and joyous crowd. Even weeks after the World Series win, fellow fans beamed at each other in passing. I heard from people I hadn’t spoken to since we were children. Following a sports team is such a character-building lesson in loving something you cannot control.
    Regarding conversation topics, I have realized it is very often centered on talking (negatively) about other people, typically to make the speaker feel superior in some way. It’s really not productive, kind, or interesting, and stems from insecurity, I’m sure. This is something we can change, by not doing it ourselves. A family friend has a graceful way of steering the discussion toward something else when people are gossiping, and I am trying to do the same.

  4. Mr. Tully,
    We always enjoy reading your work. Thank you for taking the time to share with the public. Your post reminds me of my years in Paris as an exchange student in college. I found the most extraordinary education to be at the table, chez mes amis, through our conversation. We would actually read poetry to one another, listen to jazz music, talk about philosophy, politics, history, science, etc. The general understanding was that these things do matter in our lives and should be discussed. This type of intellectual vibrancy is one of the greatest experiences of my life. Also, i am delighted to say: once you make a French friend, they are a devoted and caring friend for life. Treasure this!

  5. My wife and I have been feeling peer pressure to take our young children to Disney world. The price tag is astounding and I say, “we can take our children to the Louvre when they are little bigger instead.” Your blog has inspired me to definitely follow up on that dream. No insult to the mouse, but Paris sounds pretty amazing. From the food to the conversation, I can get into French lifestyle.

    1. Excellent choice, Dario. The city has plenty of family-friendly cultural and recreational venues. I see numerous families with children aged 6 and above who are enjoying the experience and fully engaged. – BGT

  6. As you rightly mentioned, some of these French/Parisian traits — having an informed opinion, focus on health, coffee as a pretext for social interaction — are shared by many urbanites across Europe. Not that I am a Europhile (wink)…

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