Our time in Paris
France is the land of gratuitous culture. And opinions.
Our taxi driver hit the gas and let go of the wheel for just a moment, long enough to make an “x" with his forearms and proclaim “NO UBER!” This man, Joseph, spoke workable English and was very animated in asking where we were from. He whipped out his wallet and declared "I am police, and taxi driver! You are very safe.” Eve and I were so puzzled and taken aback that we didn't inquire any further as we lurched through the streets.
Joseph pointed out that Uber cars are naturally unlicensed and thus, we were told, they’re operated strictly by “Africans and the mafia.” A dangerous combination, I presume. As we arrived at our place I snapped a photo of a sign on his glovebox reading “our way of life is in peril, take to the streets!" Joseph implored us to call him anytime as he peeled away.
Joseph was not an anomaly. Whereas the Dutch went to great lengths to avoid contaminating our thoughts with their input, the French were very forthcoming with their feelings. The first time we selected a wine at a meal the waiter replied “any one but that one.” We asked for a recommendation and he simply left and returned with a glass of his choosing. We were delighted with the choice and told him so and he replied simply, “I know.” This happened on several occasions. Similarly, people were very vocal about our not visiting certain landmarks like the Louvre, as we only had two full days in Paris and should spend our time loving and relaxing as the Parisians do. We really took this advice to heart.
How did I feel about Paris? I fell in love with it immediately. The buildings are all uniformly old, majestic, and grand. The Seine and the Louvre and even the eiffel tower from below are impressively large, in a way that forces you to marvel at the conviction that drove men to erect them. The only downside was the weather. It rained for our entire stay, and as beautiful as the cobblestones are, you never really consider how much water they hold until you walk through them with leather driving shoes.
I absolutely loved the street side cafe culture where every restaurant offered outdoor seating (at our time of year, under awnings and with heater lamps) that's all facing the street so you can watch people as they pass by. It’s understood that you will want to watch others. Everyone is drinking wine, smoking cigarettes, and laughing.
Not exactly the Paris we had expected to see
First impressions are important when meeting people, but they’re doubly as important when meeting new cities. A few strangers, an amazing restaurant, or a chance encounter with other like-minded travelers can completely color all of your experiences that follow. If they’re good, they can blind you to the iniquities of a location. If they’re bad, they highlight the profanity and unpleasantness.
It is in this light that we didn’t allow one of our first experiences in France to derail our impression of the city. After our first dinner we found another restaurant to sit at and have wine and dessert, and were greeted by a distracted waiter who spoke no English. Upon realizing that we did not want full dinner, he abruptly left mid-sentence and was replaced by his manager who simply, matter-of-factly, pointed at the door and asked us to leave. I’m not embarrassed to say that it was a little humiliating. Anything but a warm welcome. Everyone just sort of gawked as we pushed back through to the entrance and out.
Isn’t this the Paris that people from the States generally condition you to expect? “I love France but hate Parisians” is an oft quoted refrain. However, we found this to be an entirely isolated incident, for everyone else that followed was brilliant and bubbly and lively. From retail associates to a train operators, all Parisians were inconsolably enthusiastic about us having come from California and in hearing about our trip. We almost missed a train because someone couldn’t stop telling us how much they love the Golden State Warriors. People were warm, welcoming, and nothing at all like we were prepared for.
Could this be a shift caused by the youth? Our experiences in London lead me to believe so, as there we learned firsthand from French people our age that their generation is disillusioned and seeking opportunities everywhere but at home. It only makes sense, as each generation looks to break with the one before it, and in France the baby boomers are the ones still legislating what’s accepted into the French language, rioting over increasing the retirement age to (a still rather conservative) 62, burning taxis to protest Uber (I have no doubt that our buddy Joseph the taxi driver was involved), or banning burkhas in public. The isolationist, nationalist, socialist zeal is waning in light of what today feels like a more staid and aging experiment that had its day.
Just trying to relax and stay Seine
Here in Paris, we were completely museum-ed out. We’d seen over fifteen the past three weeks and we decided to go cold-turkey. With only two full days here to see it all and on the understanding that we would be back again in the future, we focused on immersing ourselves in the French lifestyle. We dodged the rain and stopped at just about every single cafe to sample coffee, tea, pastries, and wine. I don’t think there was a single croissant that escaped my review as we sat below hundreds of different heater lamps along each street in Paris and watched the people moving about lazily in the downpour.
Paris was beautiful and worthy of a return trip. On to Montpellier!