That Most Precious Luxury

You’d think there would be much to complain about in Paris, but Parisians, well, I guess they’re entitled to a little discontent: they’ve been born in the most beautiful city on earth and it’s not perfect. When not participating in the same, they complain about the labor protests of the ‘gilets jeunes‘ that have been going on at least weekly for the past year, the strikes that have shut down the trains and slowed mail service, and even the often haphazard work ethic of the natives. And God help you if you’ve participated in something that is ‘mediocre’…i.e., not up to Parisian standards of quality and craftsmanship. Complaint will be accompanied by condemnation.

But for me to complain would be in poor form. Paris is lovely, welcoming, alluring, delightful, delicate, resilient, forgiving, and contradictory. It’s global mix of residents bring their own thing from far and wide, but absorb much more than they infuse. Here, you wade neck-deep in centuries of culture. The results are mathematical: Paris will change you far more than you will change it, if you change it at all. The most you can hope for is to be remembered as one of the creative transients who, for whatever period of time, called this place your home.

Aside from the art, literature, and history that alternately embrace your consciousness all the time at every turn, the most pronounced attribute of Paris may be it’s passion for luxury. I’ve written about it often enough, but I have certainly not articulated one of the more important but more intangible luxuries which the city offers in spades: privacy.

If you wish, you may come here for a two weeks or two years, rent an apartment, take daily, aimless walks, loiter in cafes, amble about museums, jostle through the metro, and take in all of life in all its forms without anyone invading your privacy. If you don’t tell people what you do for a living, most of the time they will never ask. They express little interest in your politics, net worth, or sexual preference. Waiters at restaurants don’t introduce themselves or ask where you’re from. They serve you with reserve and efficiency.

To be candid, the extreme disinterest Parisians exhibit about a litany of subjects (including you) can sometimes be maddening, especially when their disinterest impacts getting things done or simply being logical about the most obvious of things. But I digress.

Privacy is a great, sumptuous luxury here. This may be why so many of the world’s rich and famous find themselves here, for a week or a year or a lifetime, blissfully strolling the boulevards in baseball cap and shades, unbothered by the unimpressed, overlooked by the perpetually nonchalant, treated with cool but polite reserve by those who have seen it all, or at least perpetually act like they have.

But, I have to note, privacy is not simply a result of where we are geographically. It is also impacted by how we conduct ourselves digitally, online. I was recently in a conversation with a young man here who had some strong opinions and solid advice regarding online privacy. I found the information sobering, and immediately took steps to make my own profile and my own information online more private, and less easy to access.  (I also had a conversation with a retired ‘government contractor’ who, when asked about online security, said bluntly, ‘There isn’t any.’)

If you have an interest in doing the same, you might simply enter the search term ‘7 ways to be more private online’ or something to that effect. You’ll find recommendations on which internet browser, email service, and search engine to use for maximum privacy, as well as basic tips like clearing your cookies and caches after each online session. You can also consider subscribing to a VPN service in order to take advantage of even more privacy safeguards that are available by using their services. (European privacy laws a stricter than those in the US.)

I’m painting in broad strokes here intentionally: it’s a personal choice of what to do and how much to do in order to protect your personal business. The steps I’ve taken might seem unnecessary to some. Information, however, can never be made private again once it is public.  So it might be wise to consider simple, cost-efficient ways to pull back your privacy and personal information now, in small increments, while it’s still possible.

I’ll be writing more about privacy and the digital impact on our lives and democracy in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please feel free to offer your ideas, experiences, and opinions about being private online.


  • BGT




15 thoughts on “That Most Precious Luxury

  1. Privacy or the illusion thereof is important to my family. I have a social media account for ease of contact with one friend but do not often use it. We do not post anything about our children online. One of the greatest concerns my husband and I have is the future wrath of our children. We appreciate that our childhood embarassment and anecdotes are ours alone to tell (if we so choose) and believe in the same for our children.
    I think I would very much like to live in Paris, for the privacy alone.

  2. I much prefer the service in French restaurants. I don’t like the American style of overly friendly waiters who barge in and interrupt your conversation to ask “how is everything?” sometimes before you’ve even taken your first bite. Also, (grammar police, again) Parisians are uninterested, not disinterested, in a variety of subjects about which many Americans are frequently and inexplicably overly enthusiastic.

    1. Madam,

      As music is arguably one of the highest forms of communication, involving a form of grammatical construction,
      may one ask your expert thoughts on whether the transition at 03:32s, onwards, indeed after a brief intermezzo, in this piece entitled “Gymnopédies”, by the Parisian avant-gardist Eric Satie, is proper instrumental syntax?

  3. Bryon –

    How is the pandemic playing out in Paris?

    Overnight it seems day-to-day life in the USA has changed.

    Panic buying behavior at Costco.

    Large public events such as the symphony are half empty.

    Small gatherings of friends who have known each other for decades are being cancelled.

    Traffic is much lighter.

    Empty tables at popular restaurants.

    1. Hi Maurice. I debated about writing a post about this subject. Probably with the title, Parisians Don’t Panic. Watch for it in the coming days… For the US, I can only hope for the best, from the government response to the character of the people. – BGT

  4. In the Bottin Mondain, one finds the names, courtesy titles, addresses, alma mater, profession and name of spouse, of all members of French polite society. However, sharing an address doesn’t affect one’s privacy, if one resides in a gated community, e.g. Parisian villa Montmorency.

    Not entirely unrelated: according to a French sociologist who writes about the haute bourgeoisie, fair and proportional taxation of this circle, on a national level, would eliminate France’s debt and unemployment.

  5. I view my online presence solely on the basis of work. I never had Facebook, until somebody showed me that I could use it as a business card. That vision will make sure that you only use it for business and that the images/profile pic. Etcetera are all business appropriate.

    If you want to know how your friends and family are well. Just call them or sent a letter. That way you are actually engaging and you not only get the glitter and glamour everybody puts on there social media.
    For you Byron that’s a lot harder, so it would be nice to hear how you do this.

    Spoken by a millennial:)

    Ow BTW Byron I finally understand what you meant by saving. I have read your small book 2 years ago. But it didn’t really dawn on me. But after some falls I finally understand… What a man has to go through to really get the lesson boggles me… But better this way than 40 years later.

    1. Thanks, Lennart. I’m glad the book resonated with you. To stay connected here, I simply send a quick email, schedule a time to chat, and call friends and family in the states from Paris. Our phone plan is a common one, with free calls within the EU and to the US. The occasional postcard brightens things up, as does a Skype call. Pretty simple. FB and other social media consume so much time… – BGT

  6. Somewhere is a previous blog, or two, I mentioned the following and repeat it here:

    irrespective of nationality, language, culture or whatever else, respecting another’s privacy, showing respect to complete strangers and knowing where ‘the line is’ all comes from going to a proper school.

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