Photo: My husband and children sailing a boat in the fountain at Luxembourg Gardens, Paris
I still owe all of you lovelies the rest of my daily travel logs from Paris. The trip kicked into high gear, and all I wanted to do was immerse in the experience with my family while drinking wine and eating fresh baguettes. The stories are safely stored in a fabulous notebook from Shakespeare and Company in my writer’s satchel. Over the next couple of weeks, they will unfold here. However, I decided that I would like to start with the end. We are home, and Paris changed us. It is in us like The Force now. This family will never be the same after returning, and here are the Top 5 reasons why starting from the bottom of course.
5. The Slow Food Culture:
This may not come as a big surprise, but the food, bread, and desserts are delicious in Paris. Ingredients are bought fresh in small volumes from specialists like butchers and bakers and cheese shops. The French cook slow, eat slow, and savor the mealtime moments as much as the food. I had hot chocolate that was thick with fresh cream, strawberries that were sweet without hormones, and a rotisserie chicken that I watched roast in the boucherie across the street from our apartment window. I was like a stranger in a strange land when I did venture into Monoprix, the French equivalent of a grocery store but tiny like everything else there including the people wrapped in their skinny pants, but I tried to keep it to staple items from there and focus my shopping efforts at the independent markets.
Don’t get me started about the boulangerie below us with its smell of fresh baked goods every morning. I want slow food forever as I now like to call it. I want to try and break out of the supermarket clusterfuge. We are working towards it since coming back and making progress. For example, the kids insist that I pack them fresh French style sandwiches every morning. It is time we spend together in the morning rush that makes it worthwhile beyond the freshness of the food.
4. The French Style:
I will point out that Converse sneakers of all forms and Burberry scarves are popular in Paris at the moment, but beyond trends, here is what I noticed. Everyone, including children, have a little style flair. The clothes do not look uncomfortable or unfit for daily life, which is often synonymous with fashion. Women wear kitten heels while riding bikes, which gave me pause, but they seemed just fine. The French explore color, intriguing accessories, unique cuts, and fabulous shoes while not trading off easy wear. Based on the size of their washer/dryer combos if they are lucky enough to have one in their home, my guess is that they have to get some mileage out of their wardrobes, or they are forever in damp clothes. It also looks like they invest in high value pieces for their wardrobe basics and keep them in good condition. Even my kids are paying more attention to how they are put together since coming back, and that is okay. It is okay to care how you look and have an individual style stamp. Nobody looked exactly the same. And on one last note, women had fresh, natural faces with maybe a pop of color, and they looked gorgeous, fine lines and all!
3. A Calm Politeness:
I would like to share that we did not experience a moment of rudeness in Paris. There were a few really direct people along the way, but considering the moments, it was okay. I used the language as much as possible, and I coached the kids to use French pleasantries. This was received well. But my favorite part in partaking of and witnessing verbal exchanges is that everyone said hello, thank you and goodbye when they were engaging others. It was not necessarily effervescent or accompanied with giant, toothy smiles, but it was consistent and calm. I felt welcome, and I felt safe. It is not that hard to deploy the hello-thank you-goodbye trilogy in our everyday lives. It seems to breed civility in an otherwise busy and direct city.
2. Rampant Support of Cultural Exploration:
France is full of history, jaw dropping architecture and art. Paris is the epicenter of this making it an important tourist destination. I decided that it was vital to go a little deeper into the culture and explore what it was like for a citizen. I purchased tickets to see an indie rock duo, Catfish, as well as set aside time to explore bookstores like Shakespeare and Company with the family. Shakespeare and Company caters to English speakers, but acts as a gateway to connect book lovers from across the world. I participated in a three hour podcast reading of King Lear there with people from all over the world that was a highlight of the trip. I also ventured into independent French bookstores and art galleries as much as possible along the way. There is a vibe of support and love for new developments in art, music and writing that is palpable as well as great space like cafes, studios, stores and parks to let the artist inside breathe and design. The writer in me has been recharged. Paris has retained and perhaps enhanced its culture through the years. This makes it a great city of the world and a lesson to other cities as they develop or revive.
On another random note, even the apartment buildings were mostly beautiful. They were often old with evidence of multiple renovations. Our apartment was no exception, but here is the interesting part. In more modern cities, sometimes we are too quick to dispense with the old and build the new. In Paris, they keep the old and upgrade it without losing the original charm. And they put extra touches in such as green plants and flowers and art on the tiny balconies. Just be careful that during the morning plant watering time that you are not on the inner edge of the sidewalk. You may experience unanticipated rain.
1. The Work Play Balance:
Set aside the beauty and historical culture of Paris for a moment. I’ll talk more about the monuments and the museums in my daily travel log posts. My family loved everything we saw, but what was more important to us was one aspect of the experience, the different life balance we witnessed and allowed ourselves to experience while there.
Let’s first talk about the elephant in the room. While we were there, talk of a law that prevented employers from sending e-mails to their French employees after 6pm was circulating. The Guardian wrote an article about it that the French took offence to according to their news media. There has always been an undercurrent that the French are lazy. We did not witness laziness. We saw balance. People were focused on each other versus constantly being attached to their devices and stressing over the next place that they needed to be. There was rampant verbal communication and plentiful laughter. There was affection in public. Even if you are not a fan of public display, the typical edge of a big city was lessened for me when I saw people stealing every moment that they could. And my family was no exception. For the first time in a long time, we were totally focused on each other. We slowed down and savored each other more than any prior vacation. We came home more connected and interested in engaging each other through opportunities that do not involve devices. This was the best part of Paris, and one that we for sure have carried home.
I know we will go back to France at some point, and I would love to do more writing in Paris as it was totally inspirational. For now, we brought back Paris with us in our hearts and minds. It has slowed us down, and we are eating better, fresher food at a table together more often than not. I’d like to say that I don’t need my devices, but I look at them less, and my family loves it. We all take more moments during the day to reflect and connect. We are more stylish, and we are creating and/or appreciating all forms of art and making everyday life a more creative and interesting experience. And guess what? Our productivity has not decreased. Our happiness has increased. Paris has its own “Force,” and it is strong within this geeky family that chose to have a full immersion adventure there this April. More to come!