We’ve been to Paris a number of times—both together and Joyce was there multiple times while in school (both high school and in college). It continues to be one of our favorite cities. And why not? It is one of those magical cities—along with New York, San Francisco, Kyoto and a few others. The food, the wine, the cheese, the history. We still remember one of our French friends telling us that his house was older than our country. And that was when we lived in Boston in a place built in 1890. It kind of puts things into perspective.
On this trip to Paris, we rented an apartment for almost a month in the 3rd arrondisement (the Marais district). Rather than stay at a hotel, we wanted to live Paris. And as you will see from the upcoming blogs, we lived Paris.
This blog provides our general perceptions of Paris and how it has changed. Future blogs detail museums, neighborhoods, food, day trips and more.
Yes, Paris still has the magic, the history, the beautiful old buildings, the culture, the food, the wine, the little winding streets and so much more. But like most places, it has changed—at least in our eyes–in some big ways. Among the biggest are:
- The attitude of the Parisians. It used to be that if you didn’t at least try to speak French, the Parisians were…well, let’s just say that they were a lot like New Yorkers before 911. Somewhat rude. But who could really blame them for this? Think of people coming to America and don’t speak English. Should we learn Japanese for visitors (well, they do in some hotels, but throughout the country?). OK, so Spanish seems to have become our second language—at least in California or the southwest where you almost need to speak Spanish. But let’s go back to Paris.
While we never personally really experienced the rudeness that others claim to have experience in Paris or France (probably because Joyce can kind-of speak French and Tom always tried), on this trip, we found a different Paris. Very friendly, and English everywhere. In fact, we heard English almost as much as we heard French. Many restaurants now offer menus in English, along with many people in stores speaking English.
We think that some of this is because English has become the standard language of travellers. No matter what is your native language, if you travel, you need to know English. Second is probably the Internet, which encourages and helps people to learn English. One of our guides offered up another reason: people feel the grass is greener (and jobs more plentiful) in other countries and English is a key to leaving France. And a last reason is the need to “follow the money” in France. If you want people to come to your restaurant, shop, hotel etc. the workers needed to communicate with the people with the money. But it is not just to follow the money. When we listened to the radio, many songs either where in English or included some English lyrics. We used to ask if someone spoke English before asking a question in English when we were in France. On this trip, we almost began speaking in English for granted. Of course, Joyce continues to speak French to people whenever she can, getting into some interesting conversations with people who could speak English but preferred to speak to her in French (often commenting how how well she spoke). But when things went beyond her capabilities, or when Tom was also trying to understand, English came into play. But this time, without rudeness.
- Smoking. OK, so maybe Paris hasn’t changed its addiction to, or at least its prediction towards cigarettes, but the U.S. has and we have become accustomed to not breathing in second hand smoke. Not so from what we could see in Paris. While smoking is banned in buildings, it is still allowed in outside places. If you want to sit outside at a bistro—or even just walking down a street–you will be surrounded by second hand smoke. It made us almost glad to see people using electronic cigarettes as then we didn’t have to smell them or try to breathe. But we still wondered why so many Parisians still smoked. OK, so maybe it helps them stay thin (as most Parisians are). But at what price? And at what price to those around them. As one Parisian told us, if the government wanted to get people to stop smoking, they could. But obviously they don’t. Our apartment was above a small square with restaurants and we ended up shutting our windows most nights to stop the smoke coming into our unit. Ugh.
- Dog Poop. Yes, this sounds disgusting, but we remember seeing a lot more dog poop on the sidewalks in Paris. While you still see some, you don’t see much now. And while you still see people with dogs, we didn’t see as many sitting at tables inside of restaurants.
- Renovation of historic sites. It looks like a lot of money has been put into restoring historic buildings. We have been told that some of this is only superficial. The exterior of the buildings are renovated, but the interiors are still not renovated. Heck, the building are 400 years old! It take a lot of money to bring them up to code. And remember, France is still barely out of the recession.
- Food. We still see some of what we think of as traditional French food such as snails on menus. But the food has become much healthier (as it has in other countries). Sauces have been pared down, although butter is still part of most cooking. While you still find escargot on many menus (swimming in butter of course) it is more difficult to find French Onion Soup or other traditionally standard dishes. Instead, the food du jour seems to be hamburgers—which we were told is a current food fad. But as we didn’t come to Paris to eat $20 hamburgers, we can’t attest to how they compare to their American counter parts.
Although some things are changing in Paris, others seem to remain the same. One such area of consistency is the French proclivity for protest. Two days after we arrived, cars were being warned to stay off the streets in two days since farmers from around the country were driving tractors into Paris with the intention of blocking many intersections. Although we did not see evidence of his demonstration, we did see two other demonstrations—both apparently revolving around the immigration of political refugees.
According to one of our guides, this was just the beginning. He explained that September is one of the country’s traditional strike months. The country’s pitifully slow growth rates makes it tough for any organization to grant significant raises. And this results in a number of critical services, including subway workers, teachers and even hospital workers to have already scheduled their protests. Not that such protests usually amount to much. Nor are they likely to result in much dramatic political, much less violent action. According to the guide, people love to demonstrate, but they much prefer sitting down to argue about issues over a glass of wine than they do act on their convictions.
Ah Paris. Come join our exploration of this wonderful city in our upcoming blogs.