One Month in Paris: Slowing Down

Today marks one month since I arrived in Paris! In some ways I still can’t believe it, but I have also already settled comfortably into new routines.

After one month, I still haven’t gone up the Eiffel Tower, stepped into a clothing store, or eaten a whole baguette. I have, however, gone to several art museums, become super confident using the metro system, and eaten many pain au chocolates.

I have already learned so much since coming here. There are many cultural differences between America and France, and I still have much to figure out, but I think in the past month I have gained a pretty good sense of how things work here. Maybe one of the biggest differences is the pace of life. The French love to take their time. You hardly ever see people rushing, especially when it comes to food. The waiters don’t come around to refill your drink every minute and there’s no such thing as take-home boxes at restaurants. I also hardly ever see people eating and walking, except baguettes. Every type of person can be seen at any time of day walking down the street eating a baguette.

There is also definitely a greater emphasis on quality over quantity. I think this is partially why things are so expensive here, or at least compared to in America. The French generally have less, but what they do have is very good quality and they take pride in it. The things that people get every day are still inexpensive, like fresh baked goods in the morning and bottles wine at night. Everything is savored, enjoyed, and spent time on because it worth spending time on.

I still have yet to experience a stereotypically rude French person, but I think I understand where it originates from. The French have a different standard of manners from Americans, and if you come to the country completely ignorant to them, I can see how it would be really offensive (as would be true anywhere else). They are actually very polite in a lot of ways, but you have to know the proper context to use this politeness. In shops, or with people you encounter in more personal spaces (an apartment building, school, restaurant, etc.) everyone says “Bonjour/Bonsoir” to each other. If you are on the street but do something that leads to a direct interaction with someone (i.e., holding a door open) They will thank you and also greet you. However, when you are on the metro, the unspoken goal is to have a little interaction with others and attract as little attention to yourself as possible. The metro has its own set of etiquette entirely, but that’s a lot to get into!

Of course, there are a lot of things that are socially acceptable in France that would be looked down upon in America. There is more blatant nudity in advertisements and on magazine covers. There is also an abundance of PDA between couples of all ages, especially on the metro. I never even realized how relatively tame Americans are when it comes to PDA until I experienced the French version.

The French also are very laid-back when it comes to work (or at least from what I’ve experienced at PCA). They never seem to be in their offices when I want to find someone and they take incredibly long lunch breaks, so between 1-2PM I can never find a teacher or administrator. However, in contrast to that, if a teacher has to cancel class because they are sick or even for a national holiday, they reschedule the class to make it up, which usually happens on a Saturday. I find this bizarre, but I guess the French assume you’re always going to be flexible so you can just go to class on Saturday if you have to? I know this would never work in America because we kind of have the general assumption that people are busy and constantly have plans.

There is a very “French” way of dressing, which I don’t really fit into at all. For women, it involves flats, heels, booties, or boots. Usually black, or another darker color. They some how always are in very good condition despite all the walking they are put through. Then black pants, dark jeans, or a professional-looking skirt. A simple top with a blazer, or maybe a light sweater. A scarf, and probably a trench coat. Natural or no make up. Long hair, usually down. I’d say this is a typical uniform for a French woman. There are of course exceptions and the norm varies between age groups. Denim shirts and jackets are also really big here. All the women have huge, fashionable bags as well.

A weird phenomena here is chocolate cereal. I don’t think cereal is a popular breakfast option here (baguettes and croissants, always) but if you were to have cereal in France, it will be hard to find one without chocolate in it, This doesn’t mean sugary, unhealthy chocolate cereal like we have in America. It’s just the way cereal is here for some reason.

All the chocolate cereal...

All the chocolate cereal…

One of my favorite parts of using the metro are street musicians. Very often there will be a person playing the violin, accordion, or saxophone either in a metro stop or even on the train. My absolute favorite are the full bands that play in the bigger metro stops. There’s nothing like racing between stops to super-Parisian band music!

An interesting part of life here are the billboards. There are advertisements everywhere, and I find them fascinating. I especially like the gigantic ones in the metro stations. It’s also a fun way to practice my French while I’m waiting for a train.

Well this became a ramble of some more observations I’ve had regarding life in France, but a lot of people liked my first one so I hope you enjoyed it! This weekend will consist of lots of homework, and I hope to go into Notre Dame providing the weather is nice. I also am having brunch on Sunday with Francesca, Dov, and their kids. Ah, la vie Parisien c’est bon!

Week 1: Reflections & Observations

I can’t believe I’ve already been in France for a week! I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some random thoughts I’ve had that don’t really fit into any of my previous posts. I hope this gives more of an insight into what it’s like here!

-Anne is a very sweet old woman who reminds me of my great-grandmother, Nanny. Whenever she is explaining something to me, she says “Viola!” a lot. She also said it when I returned from Provence. She says “Bon Apetit!” whenever she catches me making food or eating.

-The microwaves here say “Bon Apetit!” when your food is done heating up.

-Anne’s grandson also lives with her. I’ve only talked to him once and seen him three times. He is either away at work or in his room. I think he must be shy, because the only reason I talked to him in the first place was that Anne cornered him after he got home from work and introduced us. I can’t imagine why someone spends all day in their room when they live in Paris! The only other things I know about him are that he is 23 and is going to a university in Paris called Sciences Po. I have no idea what this means, but sometimes I hear clinking glass noises from his room, so I imagine he has a chemistry set and is doing experiments. This is probably very inaccurate.

-The weather in Provence reminded me of the Western US. It was very dry and cloudless with lots of direct sunlight. The temperature was pretty consistently in the early-mid 80’s though, so it never got too hot. In Paris it is much cooler, with the temperature being mostly in the 60’s-70’s so far.

-Like in Germany, the light switches are large buttons rather than the little guys we have in the US. Also like in Germany, they have super metal blinds that go down over the outside of your window at night to block all the light from coming in. Why the US has not picked up on this yet amazes me. However, unlike in Germany where I just pressed a button, the blinds in my room have to be manually controlled with a metal rod that I turn. It is very squeaky and gets stuck a lot, so I usually just keep them down.

-When you order water while out to eat, they give you small glasses and a large glass bottle of cold water (a carafe). When you use up the water in that bottle, they give you a different glass bottle filled with cold water, and the cycle continues. I like this method because I usually drink a ton of water at restaurants and I don’t like all the ice they put in your glass in the US. Also, the napkins here are incredibly huge.

-The French love their coffee and tea. They always start out their day with some of either, or even both. One of the first things Anne asked me was if I drink coffee or tea in the morning. Honestly, I don’t regularly drink either, but if I had to pick one it would be tea. I like coffee, but it stains my teeth, and I try to avoid caffeine in general unless I really need it.

-Grocery shopping is quite difficult for me, though I’ve only tried it once and it was at a small city store. I don’t eat like a French person, let alone like most Americans. Being a vegetarian, I am very conscious of my protein intake, and I mostly try to only eat things high in protein along with fruits and vegetables. This includes Greek yogurt, peanut butter, nuts, veggie burgers, and 10-20g protein bars. I found none of these things, except for nuts, but they were in really small packages and not worth the price.

My first grocery store swag: nectarines, fruit yogurt, granola cereal, bananas, and a box of Mondrian tissues.

My first grocery store swag: nectarines, fruit yogurt, granola cereal, bananas, and a box of Mondrian tissues.

Is it taboo to say that peanut butter is better than Nutella? Because it really is. Europeans need to get on that.

Is it taboo to say that peanut butter is better than Nutella? Because it really is. Europeans need to get on that.

-French people can generally be described as being really tan and really skinny. The tan I can understand after being in Provence for several days (as Anne said when I returned, “You bring the sun with you.”) However, their skinniness is amazing to me considering how much bread they eat. Like, their breakfast consists of bread and croissants, and then they have bread with every meal. However, they do walk everywhere and their food comes from much more natural sources than ours in the US, so maybe it evens out?

-The metro system in Paris is awesome! Since transportation is always a huge issue for me in the US, I think I will use the metro as much as possible here and I will really miss it when I leave. The trains are nice, too. I’ve always loved trains and the ease of just hopping on one and taking it into Philly or Doylestown, and the ability to go to New York City/anywhere else on the East coast.  It’s something I’ve really missed going to school in the Midwest.

-There seems to be no point getting to a train station (or the Oslo airport) early, because they don’t post your track/gate until it is time to board (15-20 minutes before departure). This caught me really off-guard, as I am used to thinking in terms of the Philadelphia airport.

-At the touristy sights, most of the tourists are French-speaking. I don’t know why this surprised me. I mean, Americans visit the Grand Canyon, right? Other than that, the languages I have heard the most are German, Italian, British English, and Spanish. I have only heard a few Americans so far.

-Whenever I approach someone, they assume I’m French. I suppose this is a good thing, but it sometimes confuses me because they speak very quickly.

-I have tried to speak as much French as possible while I am here. Mostly I have only had to say “Bonjour” and “Merci beaucoup” but on the occasions I have had to speak more, usually whoever I am talking to will reply to me in English. I have been persistent though, and in some cases the person will start speaking to me again in French.

-I have not yet encountered the “rude” French stereotype. Everyone has been very kind and helpful. As you walk down the street or use the metro, you will often hear people saying “Pardon” if they accidentally bump into each other or need to get by. So they’re actually more polite than most Americans.

-I have seen some very stereotypically dressed Frenchmen. As in, young men with large noses wearing horizontally striped shirts. Also, I have noticed that French men seem to have no shame in picking their noses in public. Otherwise, they are also a hygienic people, ruling out that stereotype as well.

-I did have one strange encounter with a French person so far. As I was approaching the Pont Alexandre III, I noticed a woman standing still and looking very confused at a man. I kept walking forward, wondering if they were having a fight. As I got closer, I noticed the man walking towards me. Suddenly, he started walk full-speed directly at me. I freaked out and tried to move to the side, but at the last second he swerved around me. I kept walking forward trying to hold it together, past the woman who was still standing in confusion. She said something to me in French and I shrugged. By the time I got to the other end of the bridge, I saw the same man crossing from the other side. This time he started doing the same thing to others on the bridge. This made me feel better that he didn’t single me out. I suppose he was either crazy, or had something against tourists. Or maybe he was doing a social experiment. In any case, if you’re ever on the Pont Alexadre III, watch out!

-I went to see Elysium because I was curious how French movie theaters were. They have a lot of ice cream commercials before the trailers, and then just as many trailers as we have in the US.

-The first night I was here, I found out that Netflix does not work outside of the 50 United States. This has since lead me to consider getting a US IP address while I’m here in Paris. I mean, I haven’t even watched the most recent season of Mad Men. But, there are advertisements all over the city for House of Cards, and on the plane over here the person next to me was reading a Norwegian newspaper with a big spread about Orange is the New Black. So, they get Netflix shows over here somehow. Still, it’s really annoying having every website I go to automatically redirect to the “.fr” version of that site. This may be a worthy investment.

Well, I know this was a long, wordy post, but I hope you found it interesting! I may do more of these in the future to help me document my experience.