Ever go to a restaurant and receive a dish that has a smear of some flavorful sauce as a part of it to your plates? You get a good hint of the taste, but damn if it does not have you wanting to try some more of it. Spending a week in Paris is akin to that. I’ve had hint of that wonderful taste, but there is so much more to it.
The People Culture –
For the record French women do not all sound like breathless sex kittens. And no, all the men do not sound like a mix of Maurice Chevalier and Pepe LePew (oh just Google it if you’re too young to know the former). Speaking of LePew – there was no more body odor in Paris than one would find on the NYC subway in the summer in rush hour. Yes, there were definitely some people who, without any secret, needed to be banned, armed and hammered to the nth degree (see what I did there?), but I did not find this overwhelming cloud of BO funk permeating the air within any closed quarters.
Speaking of clouds, after years of having smoking banned at nearly all public places in NYC, it took a moment to adjust to the constant state of nicotine that went hand-in-hand with eating at any outdoor café or restaurant. This seemed almost mandatory the closer you sat to the street: a glass of wine, some form of bread food and a ciggy. For me it was a flashback to the 70s- 80s, when it was still prevalent here. For some of the younger ones traveling with us it was a culture shock to see our waiter (clearly on a smoke break), smoking a cigarette as he sat on his haunches at a nearby table conversing with fellow diners.
Parisians do have a certain joie de vivre mixed in with a healthy dose of but of course! about them. Obviously, I can’t speak for all of France, however, trust me, after a couple of days it becomes pretty easy to spot even the most bohemian Parisian native from a Portlandia tourist. Even when Parisians do grunge, there’s a certain finesse about it. You can’t put your finger on it, but you just know.
What I do want to know is – where are the fat Parisians? The only clearly fat people I saw were without a question fellow tourists. As I said, after a couple of days, it becomes easier to spot who’s who. Only at the Bear Den (a gay bar we discovered not far from our hotel), had any men of girth. Even so our bears from the US would dwarf most of them. And corpulent native women? They simply did not exist within the city. Some very curvy girls – yes, but even Botero would be hard pressed to find models for inspiration here. So seriously – where are they?
They definitely were not at the club four of us ladies went to Friday night. On the advice of our concierge we went to a place in the Latin Quarter, arriving a little after midnight. When we got downstairs past the bar into what looked like a small place, to say we were unimpressed was putting it mildly. If there were six people on the dance floor it was a lot. We were sure our guy misunderstood us, but decided to hang in there for a bit. Good thing we did, because an hour later the place was a mass of hot, sweating, gyrating bodies coming out of the woodwork. There was a couple that was owning the dance floor, if it got any hotter between them they would need to get a room. Looks were deceiving as we later noted a separate indoor lounging area and an outdoor smoking area. It was not quite the tiny place we thought it to be. Some hip-hop, some reggae, some Soca, some meringue as well as French tunes throbbed the air. Rihanna was truly the DJ’s favorite as at least six of her songs played. Other than the French songs we could have been in any underground in the City. Viva Parisian Nightlife!
The only downside of the night happened as the four of us walked back to our hotel. L & M walked a few feet ahead of J & I in our separate conversations. A group of about six young men (young in my eyes as the oldest person among us), being half-drunk young men on what’s now early Saturday morning were walking in the opposite direction when a couple of them spotted L & M. I don’t know if it was because L & M are two young, beautiful and very petite women, that they Black, that they clearly were not French or all of they above, but the next they J & I knew three of the males had changed course and were rapidly coming up behind L & M. One of the females in our group was not-so-casually felt up by a male when we rode the bus late the night before, after the trains stopped running. Also, I had heard some young French males target young American females in such a manner. So, call it instinct or just being on guard, but I got ethnic in a heartbeat when it looked like one was about to reach out and touch… “Do it and I’ll fuck you up!” Came out of my mouth so fast and with such vehemence it wasn’t funny. I was reaching for my keys to use as a weapon if needed when I remembered I didn’t have them on me. Luckily L & M sensing the guys approach had turned around to reclaim their personal space just as I called out. Between L & M’s quick turning and my threat the idiots backed off. At least one clearly understood what I said and how I meant it, repeating the words to their friends as they quickly backed-off. Sexual predators exist in any language and apparently so does a properly nasty “I’ll fuck you up!”
And speaking of nasty, I’ll confess here that I arrived in Paris fully prepared for the infamous French attitude for those like me who couldn’t be so bothered to learn even a smattering a phrases. I only encountered one person who blatantly chose to ignore me. The woman looked in my face with clear contempt, then continued speaking to her friend as though I didn’t exist and I had yet to speak. In all honestly, having been the recipient of such here in the states, I could not discern if the rudeness was a Parisian thing or if she was simply a bitch. My vote is for the latter. Every else where I went someone either spoke broken to perfectly accented English (ah, Jordan you loquacious charmer!), or we pantomimed until we figured things out. Perfect example – I caught a cold and wanted to go to a Pharmacy to purchase cold medicine. Pantomiming a sneeze got me a pack of tissues. Seeing the word médicamentnear the counter easy enough to say. However, they thought I had allergies, an easy enough presumption given the season, but not quite what I wanted. Let me take a moment now to honor my high school English teacher for instilling in me the penchant for looking at the etymology of words. As I explained to a friend, it came in handy as by some miracle I remembered the word rheum (as in runny eyes or nose) is old French and Greek in its base. It turns out it is also the modern French word for guess what? – the common cold. Less than ten minutes after I walked in, I walked out with two packs of tissues and Actifed (and the old Actifed that worked better before the US changed the formula a few years ago to boot). Thank you Ms. Warren!
All in all, for someone who’s majority of french speaking skills can be summed up in Fère Jaques and a certain phrase via Patti Labelle, I think I did well in Paris. Granted, if I want to travel the rest of France I’m thinking it would behoove me to pick up a Rosetta Stone first.
Next up – the food!