Saturday, October 22, 2011

Parisian Observations

I know it has nothing to do with design or creativity or anything of the sorts, but how could I resist creating a post about visiting Paris??  It is, after all, my namesake and longest desired destination.  And after 25 looong years of waiting, I finally made it to the City of Lights!

So it is only fitting for me to post a brief segment on my/our adventures in Par-ee, as we like to refer to it....

Let us start with a few observations we made while visiting this beautiful city (I must note that these are in no way judgemental of the French people outside of Paris and are a general collection of thoughts my husband and I both shared whilst sipping cappuccino and munching on delicious cheese and bread at the many cafes we stopped at).

1.  Everyone speaks English….everyone

From the subway attendant to the waiter at the restaurant to the concierge at the hotel to the taxi driver from the airport. And its actually really good English. Not just get-you-by English. There were a few people that I had trouble with, but for the most part, we conversed very well.  My main concern when making this journey was that I knew nothing beyond Merci and Bonjour.  That would make me a very polite American, but still an ignorant one.

2.  The traffic in Paris is insane!

So insane, that I can’t imagine actually driving in it. I was even scared just to cross the street some times. They go a million miles (kilometers) per hour with no turn signals and very close lanes. There is honking and screeching and no one moves over for police or ambulances.  Motorcycles and Vespas rule the roads, driving between two lanes of traffic, on the median, parking on the curb, and just doing whatever the hell they please.  And everyone drives cars that make my Bug look midsized.  Ain't no pickup trucks or soccer mom minivans in Paris, no siree.

3.  Public restrooms in Paris are small.

The kind of small that requires you to straddle the toilet just to get the door open to get back out of the bathroom. They are all in the basement and most of the ceilings are slanted and require you to tilt your head while washing your hands. None of the sinks have hot water either. We went through a lot of hand sanitizer that week.

4.  Everything in Paris is small.

Not just the restrooms, but the tables, the chairs, the food portions, the cars, the people, the hotel rooms, the elevators, the cups of coffee (see number 7 for further information on coffee).  Everything except the prices.

5.  Don't expect much of the wait staff at restaurants.

In fact, if it weren’t for a tip from a friend ahead of time, I would have thought our first waiter was just really crappy at his job. But I was told not to expect much from waiters and waitresses. And that was some sound advice. They don’t come to the table right away, and once you get your food, they don’t come back at all unless you flag them down to get the check. Also learned, after several Euros were handed out, that you aren’t expected to tip them. The check already includes a small tip and anything extra that you leave on the table is just, well, extra.

6.  Everyone wears fancy shoes.

Dan actually made this observation. He said that you could tell we were foreigners by looking at our sneakers. Everyone around us, after I started paying attention, was wearing fancy loafers, or high heels, or leather boots. We were such tourists. Dan also observed that he was one of the few men who didn’t “cross his legs” when he sat down.  He's so American!

7.  You just can't get a good cup o' joe in Paris.

Oh, I had cappuccino coming out of my ears by week's end, but a good ol' cup of coffee to feed my caffeine addiction and to curb my caffeine headaches was basically unheard of.  Ordering a "Cafe Americano" off the menu was a major disappointment.  Expecting a cup of a Foldgers alternative, it reminded me more of a cup of sludge that no amount of milk or sugar could fix.  I found a Starbucks once that offered something somewhat familiar to me, but still required obscene amounts of cream.

8.  Everyone smokes.

Apparently the French Surgeon General has yet to put out a warning that smoking causes cancer.  Or maybe they just don't care.  Young, old, it didn't matter....they were smoking up a storm.  There wasn't any allowed inside the restaurants, but since we ate at the outdoor seating (where that rule didn't apply) we still were usually surrounded by a smoker or two.

9.  The Parisians idea of a king size bed is laughable.

It's actually two twin mattresses pushed together.  They had their own individual fitted sheets and a shared comforter.  Our only explanation for this is that the buildings are so tall and the doors are so small that a king size mattress would have never made it to the 6th floor.

10.  They serve French Fries with everything.
My breakfast crepes...french fries.  Dan's butcher's choice steak...french fries.  My potato, ham, and cheese omelette...french fries.  I couldn't tell if they were serving them to appeal to the American tourists or if the French just really love their fries - which they called frites.
11.  There are bicycle ports everywhere throughout the city.
You swipe your credit card, take a bike from its stand, and ride off into the sunset, then return it to the same or another port when you're done.  Weird, but we really wanted to try it if it weren't for the fact that there were no helmets and we weren't about to ride on those crazy streets without one!
Now, I'm sure I could list more and more and more if given enough time and enough French wine - which I consumed my fair share of as well as fromage (cheese) and pain (bread).  But these are enough to give you an idea of what to expect should you ever find yourself in the romantic and beautiful city I spent my whole life waiting to see.  We would recommend the trip to anyone who can bring their patience and sense of humor!