1. Paris is expensive. I knew that would be the case, but it’s still knocking me out. That simple crepe lunch for us five, in an ordinary cafe, in a not-so-special part of the city? It cost about $75. We are about to go on bread and cold cuts rations, on principle.
Monoprix, the French version of Safeway, is really good, but its prices are comparable to Whole Foods in the US. On the other hand, you can get the best bread in the world for little or nothing, and great cheese isn’t that expensive either. But it’s become very, very clear after only two days here that restaurants are going to be for special occasions.
Still … it’s Paris! And life is short.
2. The French smoke a lot. I’ve been here more than a few times, but it’s shocking to see how many people smoke. I think the difference is that this time, I’m staying not far from the Sorbonne, and near some high schools, so there are an unusual number of young adults on the sidewalks. It’s genuinely shocking to American eyes to see how many of them smoke, and how young they start. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no stigma against it here, even though it’s now against the law to smoke in cafes. I think this would be one of the first things Americans here would notice; the cultural shift against smoking has been that profound in the US over the past 20 years.
I was walking out this evening to pick up dessert for dinner, and passed several beautiful girls, probably 13 or 14, walking down the street laughing and smoking. They looked so healthy and full of life, but it made me think about my sister, who died of lung cancer, and how terribly she suffered. I don’t think that’s a matter of being a Puritan.
And here is a cliche that’s not true: The French hate McDonald’s. There’s a McDo (as they call it) down the street from our place. Every time I pass it, it’s jammed, and inasmuch as we are off the tourist trail, these probably aren’t Americans.
Another cliche that’s untrue: The French are rude. Everyone I’ve dealt with here in stores and so forth has been polite — not gushing, in that American way, but polite and generous, and forgiving of my poor
English French. I find, and always have found, that if you are polite and try to speak French, however badly, you will almost always be pleased with the result you get.
Oh, one more thing: the Apple store geniuses here differ from ours chiefly in that they look incredibly well put together. Cool, and completely unslobby. I don’t know whether it’s something about French culture, or the culture of Apple in France. But it works.