We just spent three glorious weeks in France. We had a wonderful time, but what’s not to like about France? It may simply represent the best of everything: food, wine, architecture, style, grace and culture. A tiny downside: the exchange rate takes a whopping bite out of the dollar, and that’s probably not going to change anytime soon.
My years in marketing have left me fascinated by the way things are packaged and merchandised in other countries, and nowhere do they do this better than in France. My morning baguette was accompanied by adorable little individual jars of jam. The windows of pastry and confectionary shops are works of art, and those insidious boulangeries leave their doors wide open, torturing you with the smell of freshly baked croissants. I read somewhere that the French do not eat croissants every day, and my response is, “why not?”
In France, food is more than a passion, it’s a birthright, and people simply expect even modest cafes to serve fresh, seasonal and altogether delicious food. In France, it seems that a fresh baguette tucked under an arm is required by law, and wine is meant to be drunk, not sniffed or swirled.
The French don’t seem to be concerned about the deleterious effects of smoking, which is a little shocking since it has been a lifetime since we closet smokers were able to sneak an occasional cigarette without being banished to Siberia.
We Americans think we know everything about all things technical, modern and edgy, but we are only part of an international marketplace. There was a Guerlain store by our hotel on the Champs with a chic, sexy pop-up store next door. When Steve Jobs died, he was the centerfold in the morning’s LeMonde.
Starbucks has made its way to France, but happily, it hasn’t replaced the passion for hours spent nursing a tiny cup of espresso in sidewalk cafes. Europeans have always had narrow streets and high gas prices, so the roadways feel like bumper car races. There are breeds of tiny cars that don’t even exist in the US–does anyone remember when they stopped selling Renaults here?
Paris is all about je ne sais quoi, which translates to no slopping around in baggy jeans and sloppy tennis shoes. The uniform du jour is skintight jeans tucked into boots, interesting jewelry, lots of scarves, and leave your favorite baseball cap at home. You can’t help but notice that there are no fat people in Paris. It may have something to do with the fact that you’d have to be stark-raving mad to drive in in this gorgeous city, so people walk and take the Metro.
The French don’t seem to be enamored with escalators–when you do find one, it’s generally out of service, so you suck it up and take the stairs; the tradeoff is that the Metro is fast, convenient and easy to use. Transit advertising is very big in Paris–when you think about the fact that the Metro transports a stunning 4.5 million people/day, you are dealing with a significant captive audience.
Whenever I return from a trip abroad, I ask myself whether or not I could live there. Could I live in France? Yes, I believe I could. The French make time for friends and family without laborious negotiations to identify a date. They are not embarrassed by affection; friends hold hands and unabashedly exchange kisses.
While we rush from meeting to meeting, the French link arms and stroll. We’re a nation of workaholics that judges a person’s worth by the amount of money he/she makes; the French enjoy a month of vacation and a 35-hour work week as quality of life imperatives.
In the Bay Area, we talk about our high quality of life, but the reality is that we work so hard to pay for it that we don’t have time to enjoy it. C’est la vie.