J’adore France. With all of it’s charms, interesting history and rich culture it’s easy to fall in love with it. From Paris to the Mediterranean Sea, the country is beautiful and the people are lovely.
Having said that, there were more than a few things about France’s culture that tried this American girl’s patience. I think the French know that there are nuances about their culture that require patience. Even the French credit card machines asked for my patience while ever so slowly processing my payments. “Patience, s’il vous plait,” the screen read. Here are a few other French things that required my patience.
You Can’t Get Addicted From Second Hand Smoke Can You?
Everyone smokes. And I mean everyone. Most places prohibit smoking inside so the smokers huddle in the doorways and blow their smoke on the people walking by outside. This is why after one day of walking the streets of Paris, my hair smelled like I had partied in a bar until 4 a.m. And, don’t be surprised if you have to wait an extra few minutes for your glass of wine while your server goes out for a cigarette break. Their nicotine addiction trumps your glass of Bordeaux any day.
Tipping ~ The Socialist Way.
When eating out, tips are included in the bill (symbolic of a socialistic society I guess – everyone gets tipped 15% regardless of how they do). You are not required to leave extra gratuity, unless of course your server did not take a cigarette break while serving you and you want to give him a little something extra for his sacrifice. In that case, an extra euro or two can be left on the table.
Do You Speak iPhone?
A majority of the taxis are Mercedes or BMWs and most of the taxi drivers wear suits. Regardless of how chic this sounds, 98% of taxi drivers do not speak English, or at least they say they don’t, so you need to know some French to get around. Either that, or use your iPhone to show them where you want to go. The taxi drivers may not speak English, but they all speak iPhone.
Paris Has Gone Casual! Quel Horror!
Paris is supposedly the fashion capital of the world. But I am here to tell you that Paris has gone casual. Yes, casual. Everyone was schlepping around the city in their monotone garb, flat boots, and nondescript coats. The exceptions were the men, who were overall the best dressed. I thought maybe it was just my assessment until I had a conversation with a concierege at the Fairmont Hotel in Monte Carlo, who assured me that I could dress up for dinner in Monte Carlo. “Really?” I asked. “Paris, of all places, was so casual.” She agreed that Paris had indeed gone casual, much to her dismay, but Monte Carlo was alive with style. She was right.
Graffiti – an Encouraged Art Form
There is graffiti everywhere in France – from Paris to Avignon to Cannes. It is illegal to graffiti, yet it is tolerated in most places. In the Paris neighborhood of Belleville, graffiti is not only tolerated but encouraged as a modern day art form. All over France, beautiful old architecture is desecrated by spray painters. Maybe the French should find those “painters” another outlet for their artistic talent.
Ou Est La Toilette? Anywhere, Mon Amies.
The toilet situation in France has much to be desired. In many public places, including the train stations, you must pay to use the bathroom. I don’t understand this considering the places that charge money typically have the dirtiest bathrooms. I suppose being required to pay for dirty bathrooms is part of the reason why public urination is accepted in France, especially in Paris. Twice while walking to dinner, I saw men in suits urinating on the sidewalk. And on a day trip to Normandy, my husband and I saw a man squatting just off the side of the road. In France, when it comes to relieving yourself, there’s just something uncivilized about it. On a brighter note, they do use pink toilet paper.
The French Don’t Make Garbage.
Walking around and need to throw something away? You’ll be hard pressed to find a trash can. Even at the train stations, where you’d think there would be an abundance of them, there are only a few dotting the terminal. And because they consist of a clear plastic bag wrapped around a round plastic rim, they are difficult to spot. Strangely enough, even with a lack of trash cans, France as a country is seemingly litter free. In my estimation, this adds up to only one conclusion – the French don’t make garbage.
I guess my complaints can be summed up like this: the taxi drivers couldn’t understand me, so I had to walk the smoke filled streets, looking for a non-existent trash can. And on my way to a dirty toilet, I was subjected to unstylish people urinating on graffitied walls. Sounds awful, right? Actually, it was quite the opposite. Because for every irritating French nuance that tried my patience, I discovered something wonderful that made me adore France even more.
France is For Lovers.
Maybe the most wonderful of all is that France is full of lovers. All over the country people are locked in embraces, kissing in the streets and cuddling on laps. Young and old, lovers are packing on the PDAs for everyone to see. Even if your affection is, shall we say, more on the racy side, France is the place acknowledge your inner Christian Grey.
This is the Pont des Arts Bridge where people profess their undying love by attaching locks to the bridge. David Lebovitz, an American chef who lives in Paris, wrote an interesting article about the locks of love. If you haven’t read his book, The Sweet Life in Paris, you should.
It Smells Heavenly.
Another thing that I adore about France is that it smells divine. From the bread to the chocolate to the perfume, my nose danced with delight. I wish I could capture the scents of France in my iPhone. Is there an app for that?
Tres Rude to Use Your Phone at Dinner.
Speaking of iPhones, another thing that I love about the French is that they don’t use their cell phones while eating. A cultural shift in manners that has the French in the lead – by far. Mealtime is meant to be enjoyed, savored even, and a time to connect with loved ones.
In the end, I’ll take the graffiti, lack of trash cans and cigarette smoke in exchange for PDAs, the smell of perfume and no iPhones at the dinner table. But can someone do something about the bathroom situation? S’il vous plait? This American girl has run out of patience on that one.