As I write this, I have finished my first two days in Paris on my own. Paris is beautiful and enchanting. I encountered many interesting surprises around almost every corner. I had no idea it would take 45 minutes to get from Charles De Gaulle airport to my hotel. The traffic as you approach the city at 10 in the morning on a Thursday was just crazy. It felt like there was only one way into the city; kind of like everyone in New Jersey trying to get into Manhattan through the Holland tunnel. I was also taken aback by all the graffiti. I’ve thought that the French have it all figured out since Americans don’t seem to. But, alas, we all have our downfalls.
The best part of the trip in was my taxi driver. He kept calling me “My Lady”. We had a lovely conversation about his parents immigrating from Cambodia and how much he loves Paris. He explained the good neighborhoods from the bad and constantly complimented me on any French I attempted to speak. I was kind of hoping I could keep him for a few days as my guide. This young man was so polite and open, I had no idea what else was in store for me. Can’t I just keep him? Is he the friendliest person I will meet in Paris? Who else is going to call me “My Lady”…. like ever?
Turns out that Paris revealed these surprises to me:
- Parisians are gracious. I had a friend advise me before I came to make sure I said “Bon jour” and “Merci.” Parisians are not a fan of the abrupt American. When I arrived at my hotel, two gentlemen opened the door saying “Beinvenue Madame, bon jour!”, with smiling faces. I think every employee in that lobby said “Bon jour, Madame!” You might be thinking, “Well, Cathy, isn’t this a hotel, shouldn’t they be that gracious?” The thing is every brasserie, cafe, shop and museum was the same tune. The sweet lyrical “Bon jour, Madame.” The Parisians graciousness made me feel welcome and humbled me.
- Parisians have a slower pace. One of my guides for a walking tour of Montmartre explained that if you purchase an espresso at a cafe, you had the right to the table for the entire day. He wanted us to understand this in case some server tried to brush us off. This slower, you have all day, take a moment to be in the moment attitude was a big adjustment. I still ate my food too fast (especially when dining alone). I’m sure they thought I was an American Speedy Gonzales. This is in juxtaposition to say Manhattan or San Francisco when every minute counts in a race to get through the day. Savor the moment.
- Many Parisians are animated. On the drive in from the airport, there had been an accident and there in THE MIDDLE of the highway, the two men on opposites ends of the collision were boisterously yelling at each other waving their arms madly. Quite the theatrics. When the woman who was the concierge for the apartment we leased was showing us the place, she didn’t speak English. We didn’t speak French. The language barrier was crossed as she pantomimed how the locks worked, the door to the balcony, and all the various attributes of the apartment. It was hysterical. She bantered on in French stopping to ask “Oui?”…as we echoed back “Oui. Oui.” Enjoy the theatrics; they will often get you through what you need to know
- Parisians love their city. Parisian pride is even more fierce after the threat to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Recent terrorist attacks on their own and their neighbor’s soil have fueled that fire. This kind of pride, Parisian Pride, doesn’t develop overnight. Several guides and drivers I met were incredibly proud of their neighborhood whether it was Montmartre or Rive Gauche. I had the impression that every Parisian felt as if Paris was the center of the universe. It certainly is the center of theirs. The thing is, after 8 days in Paris, I was beginning to think the same thing. Where else can you experience world class food, wine, art, history and music? ? When I first arrived, I took pictures from every street corner because it was so beautiful and remarkable. Pretty soon I had WAY too many pictures of rambling cobblestone streets. Every corner, every niche of Paris has something unique to offer. It’s okay to capture the moment even if you have to edit it later.
- Parisians are passionate. I’m talking the essence of passion, the pureness of passion. I mean passionate about their interests and what there is to love about life I went on a walking tour of Montmartre and the guide was enlivened and passionate about Montmartre and the artists who lived there (i.e. Van Gough, Renoir, Monet, Picasso….). I went on a cheese tasting in a cheese cave from the 1600’s and our guide was passionate about French cheese. There are over 2,000 types of cheeses made in France, and this guy knew each one, the distinctions between them AND could combine a wine and cheese so that you thought you were eating cauliflower or grapefruit. My friends and I took a cooking class and our instructor was almost beyond passionate about the food of Paris. He knew the history of the dish, its origins, it’s modern adaptations and had sourced every product to identify organic and GMO free. He orchestrated 8 novice cooks to create an amazing three course lunch in a matter of 4 hours. The passion of all these Parisians was contagious.
Paris has been on my bucket list for over 30 years. Ever since my 7th grade French class. It was an amazing vacation and the thing I learned is that it’s the residents I will remember most. The Parisians themselves are the heart of the experience.