Bonjour mes ami,
This is always a difficult post, and I work on it for days to find the right words graced with tenderness.
It’s time to say good-bye to Paris, to you who have faithfully read the blog, to you who kindly made supportive comments (some almost every day), to our cherished local friends here, to all of our company this year, to all the memories.
Our two-month stay kicked off with a bad omen…a broken foot! We survived. Then there was the vertigo which meant no ear plugs for me to thwart the snoring and ensure good sleep. But we survived. And of course, the hilarious comedy of errors on our Normandy trip. Then there have been stomach issues for me to address when we return to the USA. Bernie’s wrists and my feet are consumed with arthritis and daily pain which we have simply chosen to ignore. We survived it all but not without some kicking and screaming and the damnable acknowledgment of our aging bodies. BUT we’d rather age here than at home, mais oui? We’ve had a 20-year run in Paris. Imagine that! Perhaps it’s time to turn out the lights, so to speak, or as Kenny Rogers sings, “You gotta know when to fold ‘em.” Bernie insists that he will return one more time at the end of 2024 to see Notre Dame renovated and beautiful again. We shall see.
With travel on the upswing around the globe, many people are planning trips to Europe including Paris. I thought it might be helpful to address expectations you should have before coming which hopefully will make your visit more enjoyable. If you’re planning to see Paris this year or for the Olympics, put these tips and observations under your pillow.
—Rule number one is to remember that Paris is not America. That sounds so simple that it’s almost ridiculous. I’m amazed at how shocked Americans are, for example, when they find that all the books in bookstores are in French! Or that you have to ask for ice, or that you don’t move café chairs and tables yourself. Or sometimes, you have to pay a euro for a clean restroom. You have to tilt your sails, my friends, to catch the wind that blows here, not at home. The subtleties of life are different, a bit harder, a major cultural upending, and a whole new definition of time. People don’t care what you wear (and they wear less and less!), don’t care who you love, what color your hair is, what color your skin is, how many tattoos you have, whether you believe in abortion, God, or climate change. They are accepting and tolerant of most of the issues that put Americans so at odds with each other. They DO care immensely about politeness, holding open doors, excusing one’s self for everything, offering up a Metro seat to an older person (ugh!) and opening every conversation with a friendly “Bonjour.” To enter a shop without saying “Bonjour” is an insult just like leaving without saying, “Merci, au revoir or bonne journée.”
—The French are miles ahead of us on protecting the environment having done away with plastic bags and plastic straws years ago. The recycling process here is amazing. They conserve water and energy very diligently and yes, much of that is enforced by the government. If you get an apartment here, participate, conserve and recycle.
—The city is jammed, especially Le Marais, with very crowded Metros. Expect brief delays and leave a little early for appointments. There are traffic jams or bouchons just when you’re in a hurry. Download an app that will keep you updated on Metro issues. I use one called Citymapper.
—The really great news about Paris is that almost everyone speaks English to some degree. That is mostly wonderful but beware of listening ears if your comments are not meant to be overheard.
—Beware of bicycles and scooters coming at you from all sides. You must look in both directions always which goes against our natural orientation to look to the right! The bicyclists don’t abide by traffic rules, red lights, etc. and they go as fast as the cars. This is a huge change for us and one we very much dislike. We understand the reasoning behind decreasing carbon emissions but at present, the execution is dangerous. Only 2 or 3 people out of 10 have on a helmet!
—Even such things as eating schedules are different. Breakfast for locals is a leisurely café au lait and croissant about 10am, lunch anywhere from 1-4pm and dinner from 8-11pm. I don’t know about you, but that’s not my usual routine in Huntsville, Alabama. Shops might open at 10, might open at 11am, might close for an hour or two at lunch with a little note on the door to let you know when they will return. Many are closed on Mondays.
—School children start school at 8:30, take a 2-hour lunch break at 11:30, (some go home, some grab a sandwich from a patisserie, etc.) and then dismiss at 4:30. They also go until the end of June and have 2 months for vacation. Adults take their vacation in August and life slows a bit, though not as much as in former days.
—Parisians get 5 stars for how they treat the homeless. They offer a baguette, a carry-out meal, a pizza, they sit down on the ground for a conversation with them. It’s really quite touching.
—There’s nothing like the French café but understand that seating is never roomy. The tables are extremely close together, and the French think nothing of it. This is quite off-putting to Americans because we are used to so much space. Accept and adapt!
—You are expected to eat everything you are served, and you may find that your waiter will quiz you about why you didn’t…in a nice way.
—By all means, ride the Metro. It’s the quickest and least expensive mode of transportation. There are lots of apps which tell you exactly what to do. Learn how to look for the numbered exits which get you close to your destination. Uber or taxis expose you to traffic delays. The Metro generally runs every 2-3 minutes.
—The toilette is rarely on the main floor of a restaurant or cafe. “En haut”means upstairs and “en bas” means below. “Ou sont les toilettes?” “Where’s the bathroom?” is a phrase to learn. And “pee-pee” is a perfectly acceptable phrase in France.
—French desserts are scrumptious but have less sugar, a lesson for Americans.
—Women openly breastfeed their babies and no one stares. So don’t be shocked, just go with the flow.
—French hotels almost never have two beds in one room. You have to hunt for these and pay dearly for that convenience.
—Drains are often very slow especially in apartment showers or tubs because the plumbing is very old. Go to the Monoprix and purchase some drain declogger for a couple of euros.
—Oh, the dogs and the dog poop. It’s prevalent in certain arrondissements so learn to sidestep it because it’s not going to change. Yes, people are supposed to pick up after their pets, but mostly they don’t.
—Bring your own wash clothes because generally there are none. Unless you’re staying at a 5-star hotel, your towels will be thin and a bit scrawny. You’ll adjust.
—The streets of Paris are beginning to look just like America which is so terribly sad to me. Expanding waistlines are prevalent due to portion sizes that are double and triple what they used to be, fast food (burgers and fries) and more and more places to eat. For example, on rue St. Paul, where the precious local shops used to be (like the Thanksgiving store) are now mostly dessert shops or pizza places. Food, it seems, rules the world, and we are certainly reaping the negative health effects.
—Sadly, Paris has its share of litter and fewer workers since the pandemic to clean the streets. It is hard to see this; just don’t contribute to the problem.
—In this bustling city, people walk very fast on the sidewalks and in the Metro. Never stand on the left as you’re going up an escalator because younger people climb the stairs instead of enjoying the ride.
—Since the pandemic, almost everything in Paris requires a reservation, whether it’s an entry ticket to Le Louvre, a dinner reservation, a river cruise, or a trip up the Arc de Triomphe or La Tour Eiffel. It is aggravating and time consuming, but it is what it is and likely will not change. Do your research and know which museums are closed on which days. For example, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays which is a great day to go to Montmartre when the crowds are smaller.
—Lastly, give yourself a break especially if traveling with spouses or family. When things don’t go well, tempers flare, anxiety increases, and suddenly you might wish you hadn’t come. Lay that aside instead for a walk along the river or a cool glass of wine at a café. “Just relax a bit” as Bernie would say and suddenly the magic of Paris will smooth the rough edges.
Maybe that in a phrase is what Paris does for the soul!
Hope these tips are helpful and interesting. Perhaps you have others to share. Moving and grooving with the French culture instead of fighting or complaining about it will ensure a much better visit.
Our goodbye place has always been Pont Marie. Our tradition has been to linger in the middle of that ancient bridge to soak in a setting sun amid teary good-byes on our final night. I can’t even begin to imagine what it will feel like to consider that I may not be back to this place I’ve grown to love. There is potent grief. Thank you Paris, for giving me so many stories to share, so much love to enfold into my blog, so much joy and laughter shared with so many. The echoes of Paris will always remain a lyric in my soul song. I will always have our photos and the memories with this man I have been blessed to share my life with here in the city where his began. It has been a love for the ages!
Au revoir to all!