Jun 5, 2012

Five Lessons I Learned From The French Lifestyle

The Parisian Cafe Society across from Les Halles
Here is my article as published in Shore Magazine's July 2012 edition.

There is some truth to the saying that we Americans “Live to Work” and Europeans “Work to Live.” This became very evident during my family ‘s Spring break trip to Paris this year when we all noticed significant differences between how we live in the America and how the Parisians approach the joys of everyday living.

My family was fortunate enough to have my mother’s home in central Paris as a base during our nine-day visit. This granted us a local perspective as we went about our days in the City of Light.

The French are by no means perfect. However, their approach to life seems more focused, or shall I say, less cluttered, than the lives we live in the states. It became my mission during this trip to identify some of the variances in our lifestyle;
 from the way the Parisians dress to the manner they enjoy meals.

Joie de Vivre – The French strive to live a very passionate life. They have a keen focus on what’s important to them and they manage to turn even the smallest things – such as where to get the best cup of espresso – into an event. In conversation, they are more interested in your personal interests, such as the books you’re reading or your lifelong passions, rather than what you do and where you live. They find great gratification in the art of discovery in a big city.

Honor Thy Baguette and Cheese –Each morning, my wife and I walked to the end of the street where my mother’s street intersects with rue Montrogueil, the culinary heart of the 2nd arrondissment. Our first ritual is to grab our cups of café crème at one of the several cafes we love on the street. We would join the line at Boulangerie Les Petits Carreaux for two crispy baguettes and several pain au chocolat for the kids; then walk down the street to Le Fermette for our cheese and meat selections of the day. There were a couple of mornings when we ventured off to Bastille and Bellville markets for some fresh fruit to compliment our breakfast.

We’d set the table as soon as we get home and allow the aromas of the breads and cheeses to wake the kids up. Waking up to a warm baguette and an array of French cheeses is the one ritual my family value the most. It signified that we have arrived in Paris and that every morning will be celebrated at the dining table (and not in a car or on the go).

It’s Better To Look Your Best Daily – In America, we save our best attires for the most special of occasions. The French, on the other hand, savor on wearing their best for the “ordinary” days – whether it is to stroll along the banks of the Seine or take in the warmth of the sun on a bench in Place des Vosges in the Marais. It is all about quality over quantity.

I was having breakfast at Café du Centre with my hairdresser friend, Sin, when he pointed out that Parisian women “were packaged perfectly.” Sin added, “Their hairstyles (women) were done naturally without spending so much time on primping and styling. “ The Parisians were not as consumed about spending so much time “on getting ready” as Americans. 

Converse During Meals – Meals are considered sacred in France; whether it’s in a Michelin star restaurant or dinner at home. It’s an event where each bite is to be relished, and more importantly, one’s time is to be focused on each other. Texting or talking on the phone during meals is considered rude and it was noticeably observed. 

My wife and I made it a ritual to enjoy “happy hour” at one of the bars on rue Montorgueil before taking the family out to dinner. We observed that the younger workers, even during this post workday practice, did not divulge in technology distractions, and mainly focused on the conversation at hand.

Enjoying the Simple Pleasures – I couldn’t wait to spread creamy, salted French country butter on a baguette on my first morning in Paris. I can say that the French find true pleasure in simple things most of us take for granted. In Jardin du Luxembourg, Parisians took advantage of the spring weather to bathe in the warm sunshine during their lunch break. Elderly Parisians gathered on one end of the park for a game of boules. Lovers sneak a kiss beyond the shadows of the Medici Fountain. Parisians walk a lot, both out of necessity and the sheer enjoyment of discovering the best of everything – from macaroons at Luduree to the hot chocolate at Fauchon. 


Jen @ BigBinder said...

One of my best friends just moved to Strassbourg; she grew up spending the summer in Alsace and is fluent in French so the transition for her is not difficult; but the lifestyle as an adult and with children has been a really wonderful experience and she has noticed some of the same things you did during your visit :)

grandrapidsstoryteller said...

I noticed this lifestyle while in Munich, too. Meals are an event. Diners took time to enjoy every bite, rather than scarfing down their meal to get on to the next pressing occasion. Cafes were filled at all hours of the day with friends and relatives enjoying one another's company for hours over a latte. Nothing proved this theory more than the service. At every meal the bill was never placed on our table, even if we were done eating; whereas in the US, it's a quiet prompt to move on so another table can move in (more tips!). One Bavarian server looked at us in surprise when we asked for the bill after only 30 minutes. Sometimes our meals were stretched to three hours - and we noticed a lot of the same people still surrounding us. A slower pace is a perfect vacation. Thanks for the reminder!

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