France observations

As you may know, I recently got back from 15 days in France, mostly in Paris with my friend who's living there while she works on her master's.  I'm giving a slide show to my parents, fiance, and future inlaws today (after a light, French-inspired dinner with baguette and wine!), so I'm going through all my pictures and reflecting on the trip.
Thank you all so much for your help and support when I was packing!  One of you is even going to France soon herself, so maybe I can share the love and give some tips, too!  It is so crazy being in such a different place, honestly, I got homesick halfway through.  I missed my house and car and fiance, and the wealth of shopping options available for USD.  Everything is so expensive there, particularly in Paris, that I was very thrifty with my Euros (the value went from $1.32 to 1€ to $1.27 to 1€ while I was there, so that was nice, but I was still losing money).  I shopped at Franprix (cheaper than Monoprix or Carrefour, and than most of the markets for produce) and made a lot of my meals at home, although still felt the French influence on diet.  I noticed a lot of meat in things at restaurants, and white flour everywhere, although the older generation still seems to have a healthier attitude about food.  From what I've heard (Rick Steve's podcast interviews are fun!), they eat a small breakfast, a large lunch that takes about two hours (traditionally, I think most people today only take an hour), and if they eat dinner at all it's soup or something light at home.  They also have pride in French products, and a lot of the random grocery items in packages are made in France--local food!  Unfortunately these values are not shared by teens and younger people, who think American food is the coolest!  It's quite sad how the American influence has spread.  McDonald's is trendy, and is not as cheap as it is here.  The McD restaurants are fancy, high-tech, slate tile floored cafes that look like a modern version of an American Starbucks.
I have to say, although I packed well, unfortunately the weather was awful the two weeks I was there (except when I was in Nice) and I wore about 1/4 of what I packed.  Literally.  I lived in my skinny jeans, riding boots, boyfriend cardigan, scarves, and the one long-sleeved tee I brought.  I brought a cute springy trench which was just barely warm enough, so I borrowed a wool one from my friend a couple times!  My timing was quite unfortunate since this week it's warm and sunny there!  I felt like an idiot bringing home my huge suitcase of unworn items, particularly since I wish-wish-wished I'd brought a couple of the warmer sweaters I got out but put back.  I was literally cold almost the entire time I was there, also since my friend's apartment is in an old building, of course, and had a cold tile floor!  I drank a lot of tea.
Here are some more random thoughts and observations from my trip, and then enough talking, how about some pictures?
  • The cashiers frown at you when you forget your reusable bag and have to pay for a plastic one, but people drink out of bottled water all the time and throw their magazines in the trash bags.
  • Knobs, switches, levers, and handles are different there!
  • There are a lot of super small cafes and restaurants, and tiny touristy shops.  Where I come from, it takes a dedicated family or partnership to run a restaurant, and they have to deal with staff.  Where are all the staff coming from for these places?  I think cafes are subsidized by the French government (along with baguette and patisseries).
  • The street performers and beggars on the Metro are dressed better than some of their generous audience members.  They must do well playing sax and holding out their little paper cups.
  • I don't understand how people can travel internationally without speaking the language.  I speak enough French to communicate and understand signs and staff people, and it made me so much more comfortable, I would have freaked out if it were all gibberish!  I don't know how Rick Steves does it.
Here's a small selection of the 1,500 pictures I took...
View from the front of the Pantheon, onto a nice Paris street in the 5th:
 Line in front of the Musee D'Orsay, which I got to skip since I had my Paris Museum Pass:
Between the Eiffel Tower and Trocadero, where there are lots of Middle Eastern-looking dudes hassling tourists with their cheap souvenirs:
Lots of tourists.
Here, too: the busiest room in the Louvre, or probably any museum anywhere...
Musee des Arts Decoratifs, one of the coolest museums I went to, part of the U-shape of buildings in front of the Louvre,
A Velib station, where you can rent bikes, ride around, and park back at another station (the first 30 minutes are free!):
An ancient Roman amphitheater that is used as a park:
A McDonald's typical of the trendy, Starbucks-esque restaurants I used many a bathroom in:
Hall of Mirrors in Versailles:
The Queen's Hamlet at Versailles:
Museum of the Bayeux Tapestry:
11th century castle remains in Caen in Normandy:
Where Joan of Arc died:
Monet's house at Giverny:
Oscar Wilde's grave at Pere Lachaise:
Best-preserved Roman amphitheater (crooked since Le Mistral was blowing me over at 30-60 mph!  Happens 100 days out of the year in Provence):
Le Pont d'Avignon:
Nice:
A famous French macaron:
And the little apartment where I lived for two weeks!
What a trip!

    17 comments

    1. Looks fabulous. I spent three months in Paris back in 2005. It was wonderful.

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    2. Your trip looks and sounds awesome! I am heading to Rome, Greece and Turkey in 18 days and I cannot wait!

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    3. Looks like a great trip! I love France, but haven't been in years. I need to make it back!

      Also, I think the clerks' bag annoyance isn't about not being green, but about the inconvenience of needing to reach down and grab a bag, haha.

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    4. It looks like you had so much fun!! I love France - Versailles is beautiful. I hope you have a hundred fantastic memories from your trip!

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    5. Anonymous5/24/2010

      Wow, what wonderful pictures! Thank you for being my personal ambassador. Pamela Miller

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    6. looks like it was a lovely time, despite the weather. thanks for sharing!

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    7. i have horrible posture ahhh

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    8. I've gotta say... your observations on American influences on French culture seem really off to me.... (I'm sitting here with furrowed brows and a scrunched up face...)

      I would not, in any way, describe the presence of McDonald's in France to be perceived as "cool" or "hip" or even remotely popular amongst the general French public. For the most part, McDonald's in France are positioned in highly trafficked tourist areas- like the Champs Elysee... this is true of other European countries as well. Travel outside the cities and you don't find American influences at all- particularly McDonald's. McDonald's overseas look pretty much like McDonald's here, - there isn't anything sophisticated or modern about it- and the menus are identical, right down to "reigional dishes" like the Croque Monsieur in France or the McGreek in Greece or the Procuttio Burger in Italy (Or the Texas french toast breakfast sandwich)...

      McDonald's was a great place for me to hear a bit of spoken English.... I've backpacked through Europe several times, for months at a time- each trip I traveled alone. Going that long without hearing your own language and being able to pop your head into a fast food establishment and hear a southern twang coming out of the corner of the room was incredibly soothing in times of a little homesickness.

      I also don't see how you can blame Americans for French twenty-somethings carrying a few extra pounds around... you can find underweight and overweight people anywhere in the world if you're looking for them. The US has a notoriously higher percentage of obese and overweight individuals, but the presence of individuals with a high BMI isn't necessarily (or remotely likely) to have anything to do with American influences... And the overweight Francophone are few and far between.

      The French notoriously snub and frown upon fast food establishments- food is an art, an experience, an activity to be lingered over, rather than rushed through- not a means to an end like the North American perspective, N. Americans whom work twice as much, twice as long and with half as much vacation as any other developed nation (who knows why, I'd love to work less and vacation more!).

      Hence... I got so stuck on your first paragraph I couldn't read the rest of what you wrote with any sort of absorption without commenting first. I'm puzzled by your assessments.

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    9. Oh, and nothing about the typical French diet is very healthy... they tend to have very high fat diets in proportion to the amount of food they are in taking, but because everything is so portion controlled and people in the urban areas walk everywhere, the French tend to be on the smaller side.

      Of course, head out to the countryside and all of the people out there are quite a bit more plumpy. :) lol

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    10. Hi Emily--
      Thanks for commenting. I actually just added a couple pictures of the McDonald's look I was mentioning. I went into several, in Paris and other places, to use the bathrooms--hee hee--and was shocked by how fancy they are. Some had computer screens for ordering! You put your order in on the touch screen, then pick it up at the counter! The food counter, that is--they also had espresso/patisserie counters complete with beautiful French desserts and macarons! I saw plenty of items I didn't recognize on the food menu, too... fried apples for dessert, I think? but didn't pay too much attention. I did notice it was more expensive than in the US and there was no equivalent to the $1 menu, although McDonald's new slogan is "One world, one taste" or something frightening.
      I absolutely agree that McDos is by nature the opposite of French. I think that's why they think it's cool. I saw an entire soccer team from Marseilles hop on the 1st class train in their track suits, carrying McDos bags and huge soda cups. I also don't begrudge French young people for being overweight! They as a country are healthier on paper than we Americans are, but it's not in their culture to worry about the evils of saturated fat and the need to work out 3-5 times a week. So of course, when they're presented with cool "American" food, they don't realize all the problems that we as a culture fell prey to 20-30 years ago.
      I think older French people look down on McDonald's and think of it as sort of trashy and gross, but the kids love it. It is very sad that the French ways of lingering over food and enjoying the meal are taken for granted by the next generation of French people!

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    11. Anonymous6/07/2010

      I have to agree with Emily. I am French and we do not eat meat at every meal and lunch doesn't take 2 hours!!
      In regards to fast food, French people consider it as something occasional. I remember getting fast food with my boyfriend maybe twice a year and we would enjoy it thoroughly, while watching a movie (and knowing it is very bad for you :-)). It's the same with all the pastries. We don't eat them every day... I now live in Australia, and people here eat fast-food so often, it's disgusting.

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    12. Thanks for that last comment (Anonymous). I'm so glad to hear from a French person who isn't like the impression I got from walking around! I'm glad they don't eat MacDos more often than Americans ;).
      I think lunch taking an hour (like on a lunch break given by employers) is still longer than most Americans take. When I worked at an office I used to just eat at my desk through the lunch hour to save time and get more hours! How American!

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    13. I was also taken aback with how you commented on the french young crowd being overweight. So much so that I am having trouble reading your blog at all anymore. Why you would go to such a beautiful country and even bring that observation back with you is beyond me. I myself have struggled with weight my whole life, and your post your reaffirms that thin people are always going to be judgmental of overweight people no matter where in the world you are.

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    14. I am so sorry to have offended, 4 crazy polkadots. I have battled my weight constantly since I was about 8, and am very attuned to/naturally observant of weight and cultures and groups of people--and I read In Defense of Food (Michael Pollan) on the plane and had had a very different experience than what he describes of French food culture. I am sad for the next generation of French people, that are surrounded by convenience food and processed, packaged imitation food products rather than the great cuisine of their country that has earned it the reputation of being one of the healthiest in the world. We Americans certainly don't have a better attitude about food, which is why it's sad that "American" things are spreading. Again I'm so sorry to have bothered you and I hope that my unique attitude about food doesn't negatively influence your involvement with my sewing projects. Thanks for commenting and reading.

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    15. After I thought about it, I realized that I was reading into your observations a little too much, I love your blog and I will continue being a loyal follower. Thank you for this!

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    16. Anonymous8/28/2011

      Hi there,

      I am a French girl, I spent 6 months in Boston for an internship and I discovered crafting blogs there. Now that I am back to France, I do lots of DIY projects for me and my relatives, and I still practice my English when I read blogs! :) I was happy to see in your blog pictures from France! It seemed you had great time there, and you visited other cities than Paris, which is a good thing to discover France, and not only Paris, which is so specific. I hope you ejoyed my beautiful country, and sorry for the weather, sometines it is firckle! :)

      Cheers,

      Pauline

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