Sunday, August 30, 2009

Snapshots of Paris

◆The small Russian band playing in the Champs-Elysée metro, a fabulous group of musicians reduced to passing a hat. We were furious with two Germans who muttered "Russian swine" as they walked by

◆The rage for chewing gum among adolescents and young adults, a trend I found startling given the social pressure against the same in "polite" American society. I never see middle-class American students chew gum--it just isn't done

◆The smokers huddled miserably outside cafes and shops, victims of the fairly recent ban against smoking. I had read of initial resistance, but everyone in Paris now appears to comply

◆The sales everywhere, evidence of "le crise," as the French call it

◆The wild enthusiasm of French audiences, who gave the Comedie Française a standing ovation and demanded successive encores from Tia Maria, the Brazilian jazz singer

◆The happiness of Parisian pooches on their daily walks, even in the stifling heat

◆The lovely presentation of food

◆The exquisite manners of French children, arguably the best-behaved youngsters in existence

◆The stylishness of older Parisian women, the inverse of what one normally sees in the U.S. Young women are largely unkempt and unfashionable, slopping around in flip-flops and shapeless dresses; women over 40, however, look terrific

◆The daily sanitation service and street cleaning

◆The herd-like mentality of tourists who dutifully visit the Louvre but ignore the many fine collections dotting Paris. Their loss was our gain: we had the smaller musées to ourselves

◆The casual nightlife everywhere in Paris. People poured into cafes to escape the heat of their apartments, but one never saw the kind of loutish drunkenness all too common now in the U.K.

◆The extraordinary efficiency of the metro

◆The politeness of the French. We have never understood the Parisian reputation for rudeness; to the contrary, we find people to be unfailingly helpful and courteous. What gives?

◆The easy (or easing) racial relations among young French people. This is very much a generational phenomenon: one rarely sees middle-aged people dating or visiting across racial lines; teenagers and twenty-somethings, though, are very relaxed, a welcome change

◆The paucity of pregnant women and/or young mothers, which explains why the French government offers so many incentives to reverse the plummeting birth rate

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