Fresh Set of Eyes on Paris…from Karl

Bonjour, everyone.

Karl was kind enough to post a very detailed comment about his recent trip to Paris. I wanted to make sure that everyone saw it, so I’ve done a cut and paste.

It appears below in italics. So enjoy.

My thoughts…I think Karl has a great approach to European vacations: pick one city and explore it for a week. It seems this allows enough time, but also forces the traveler to focus and get the most out of a destination.

It is great to read about someone else’s first impressions of Paris, and to learn that a good time was had by all…except when it came to the smoking in cafes and the prices at Charvet. These two things, I fear, will not change anytime soon.

I’m especially grateful to everyone here who contributed their two-cents worth prior to Karl and his wife making the trip.

Thanks for sharing, Karl…! Who’s traveling next?

  • BGT

Off topic, but I just returned from Paris and wanted to thank everyone for the travel advice I received a few weeks back. I thought I would provide an “after action” report for those of you who might be planning a first trip. Obviously our host has much greater insight, but a second set of eyes never hurts. We stayed at the Hotel Du Louvre, just North of the Louvre museum. I was pleased with the accommodations and service we received there.

This was my fourth trip to Europe. Each time we have visited one city for a week, usually with a day trip thrown in. I have been to Rome, Athens, London, and now Paris. Although my wife preferred Rome, I can say with certainty that Paris is my favorite. It really is a good representation of Europe, and you can feel the influences of both Northern and Southern European culture. Things that struck me:

1. Food – French food is, on the whole, of better quality than American food. This is definitely true of casual dining, which is everywhere a step up from our casual dining. I think American fine dining has largely closed the Gap with the French, and while the French dishes were delicious, I think you can probably find comparable food in America pretty easily now days, even if you live in a provincial area like I do (Cleveland, Ohio). I did have my first experience with escargot. (I found it earthy and very mild).

2. Fashion – The French dress better than we do. I ended up wearing mostly polo shirts, cotton pants/khakis, and comfortable white Nike tennis shoes. I did find my apprehension about tennis shoes unfounded. While the French undoubtedly prefer their tennis shoes to look less like “athleisure wear” and more like a traditional shoe, they were far from uncommon. Large numbers of men wear casual jackets / sports coats around town. And yes, the dark suits that Mr. Tully wisely recommends were common. I did see a few Parisians dressed in OMG style with Khakis, OCBD, and blue blazer. I wore the same myself for dinner a few times. Loafers on men were also much more common than usually seen in America. I didn’t see as many common themes in women’s fashion (and I am admittedly largely devoid of fashion sense, which is why finding Mr. Tully’s book and the OMG uniform such a God send for me). A lot of dresses. More modesty. Not as much skin tight clothing.

I will say I stopped at a few department stores, and briefly considered stopping into Mr. Tully’s favorite, Charvet. The sticker shock I suffered quickly reminded me that I am, in fact, not an OMG, but rather an aspirational working class upstart. Being generally of the “Millionaire next door” mindset and shopping for my wardrobe from the sale sections of retailers, it gave me a new appreciation for the reasonableness of Brooks Brothers full retail price!

3. Health – The Good: The first thing that stands out when you settle into a cafe seat and start people watching is how thin the French are compared to Americans. I would estimate 80% of them are thin. And not just “normal” sized, but model thin. It was striking. I’m 165lbs with a slight paunch, and I would be in the fatter half of Parisians. Even the 20% of French that are not thin are only over-weight. A beer belly. A woman that is pear shaped. They simply do not have the morbidly obese people that we do in America. Also notable was that I did not see one French man that appeared muscular. They were all very svelte, and with the exception of some members of the Gendarme, none had the “bodybuilder” physique you often see among the fit in America.

The Bad: The French smoke like chimneys. Large numbers, both men and women, smoke. My wife is particularly sensitive and frankly, it was a major disappointment. The cafe seating is elbow to elbow with the other patrons. On more than one occasion, we would sit down, order a meal, and upon receiving it, have someone sit down 2 feet away and light a cigarette. It really detracted from the cafe experience. About half way through the week we started sitting inside the cafes to avoid the smoke.

4. Over all impression – Walking the Champs Elysee or sitting fountain-side in the Jardin des Tuileries, one gets the feeling that Western Civilization has continued on uninterrupted in Paris in a way it has not in America. Every one is polite, well dressed, and behaving themselves. They seem to care more about the aesthetics of the built environment. No public drunkenness, no neck tattoos, no loutish behavior. And, despite the conventional wisdom of the French being “snooty” or feigning ignorance of the English language to avoid dealing with Americans, I found the French universally friendly and helpful. I twice stopped strangers for help, once on the street and once in the RER station, and both were generous with their help and time.

Finally, yes, the tourist attractions were beautiful. I was particularly fond of the gardens at Versailles. The Louvre was a close second, especially for its architecture. The Mona Lisa, like a previous day trip to Stonehenge in England, was underwhelming. The Musee de Armee an unexpected treat with a very impressive collection of armor, swords, etc. Although an agnostic, at the Sacre Coeur I continued my vacation tradition of praying to the God of whichever house of worship I am visiting for a safe return home to my children. As you can see by this post, my prayers were not in vain! I hope some of you may find this helpful. Au revoir!

7 thoughts on “Fresh Set of Eyes on Paris…from Karl

  1. This is consistent with my own observations. Thin, better dressed, better food. We could learn something from them. I sometimes think the French have a genetic proclivity for moderation, restraint, dignity and self-respect.

  2. Great post. Mrs Expat and I share Karl’s approach to travel – pick a place, and get to know it for a week or so. It is so much more fulfilling that way.

    Also, this part resonated with me, as it applies to my experience in my adopted country as well: “They [locals] seem to care more about the aesthetics of the built environment. No public drunkenness, no neck tattoos, no loutish behavior.”

    Though in honesty I winced a bit, as it is a painful reminder of the current reality in my beloved home (America).

    1. I’m glad some of you found the post helpful. I really appreciate this blog (along with Mr. Tully’s books) and all of your comments. As surprising as it may be to those who grew up in OMG families, the subject matter around here isn’t necessarily common knowledge, and it’s great to have a place where it can be openly discussed and learned. As I’m mostly a student and not a teacher on these principles, I’m glad to be able to contribute back in some small way.

      With respect to the increasingly poor behavior of the working and middle classes in America, I have unfortunately had a ringside seat. My wife and I graduated from a high school with a college matriculation rate in the teens. I think it is fair to call it working class or perhaps (generously) lower middle class. Although it had its problems, I remember it being an acceptable place to grow up. My paternal Grandfather, who grew up shoeless on a farm in West Virginia, and migrated North after the war for work, used to put on a suit for church every Sunday. And so did most of the other men. Returning now, the local Walmart resembles the bar scene from Star Wars, with patrons that resemble Halloween more than the besuited men of my Grandfather’s church. My elderly mother-in-law still lives in the neighborhood, and despite our protests, refuses to move or shop in the next town over. My work brings me in contact with a large number of folks in the lower socio-economic brackets, and they are almost all struggling, culturally and financially. It’s sad. I think traveling abroad, particularly to Western Europe, highlights not so much how high they have climbed, but how far we have fallen.

  3. Good morning, Karl! I’ve enjoyed this follow up post as well. Your writing is heartfelt and almost poetical. I look forward to more. Thank you. JanB

  4. I laughed out load at the Star Wars bar scene analogy! Thanks Karl. I enjoyed the state wise reflections as well as the Paris trip comments.
    A good friend of mine and former academia colleague has returned to her native US for a year and is living near her low income family in a large city. Her emails reflect a very different America from the one I came to know whilst living there in the late 80s. Things seem to have changed for the worse in so many ways.

  5. Thanks for writing this and having Byron pass it on to us. I adore your phrase about the aesthetic of the environment. I think about this a lot and somehow had not been able to put a description to the feeling. Personal travel experiences make for great reading!

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