There are some things that the French just get right (and the Parisians in particular!).
We think we are so smart to have the "local" food movement...The Parisian way of shopping is awesome (and the original "local" way of doing things)...I love the whole concept that each little neighborhood has it's own cheese shop, it's own fruit market, it's own charcuterie, it's own pharmacy (more on that later!), and most of all it's own boulangerie and patisserie! Any by "neighborhood" ... it is really like a 3 block area! I love seeing the locals (mostly women) shopping daily for the freshest and the best, and supporting their local family owned businesses. When we were in our closest fruit market (which was not much bigger than most Amreican's walk in closets!) the venders knew the families shopping, chatted daily with the women and their children - both sides valued the relationships. I love the way these little markets work ...the fruits and veggies are arranged like artwork, but you don't just grab a basket of strawberries or a bunch of bananas yourself...you first say "bounjour madame" (or "monsieur") when you enter, then you ask for your items one by one and they select the basket of strawberries and ask if you want the slightly green banana or the one with freckles! If you ask for 5 small potatoes, they will pick on up at a time and turn it over and check that it is perfect before puting it in the bag, then they will select the next. It is so clear that they value their product and they value the customer and take great pride in providing the best! (After all, you could just walk 2 or 3 more blocks and find another produce market that might have better potatos!)
Another thing the French do well is Pharmacies! Their pharmacies (always marked with a big green cross out front) are amazing! They bear no resemblence to what we think of as a pharmacy (Longs, CVS, Rite-Aid?!). We went into a pharmacy a few days ago to get some Advil, deodorant, toothpaste and eyedrops (Visine or something for Gary's dry itchy eyes). The problem with flying with only carry-on baggage is that you are so limited by the TSA regulations regarding liquids...so we needed
to replenish our supplies! We found the deodorant (Bioderm brand?!). It is roll-on...the wettest deodorant you ever saw! You may not perspire when you use it, but your armpits will be wet all day none the less! Plus the stuff cost 19.5€ (that is $25.76!!!!) My son Matthew loves to tease me about
the smelly French...perhaps it is the cost of lousy wet deodorant that is at the root of the problem! Ok...so the deodorant is no good, but the pharmacies are fantastic! Ask for eyedrops, and they ask if you have red eyes, itchy eyes, allergies...what exactly are you trying to fix?! Then they disappear into the back room and bring out just the right kind. Ask for Advil and they have a few questions for you! They will ask who they are for, and then tell you just how many to take and how often. It is all so personal and seems so caring...unlike the teenagers working at Longs! (sorry Bryan and Jayson...I know you took your jobs at Longs VERY seriously when you were in high school!). I have heard it said that if a French person has an ailment they go first to see their pharmacist. If the pharmacist can't cure them, they will refer them to a doctor!! The French pharmacist is the first line of defense...doctors come second! So one side of the pharmacy has the health aids and the other side is more "beauty" oriented. In fact I have a list of beauty items that "all" French women use that are available at the pharmacie...hope I have room in my suitcase for some of the French beauty secrets! (no deodorant though.)
I also love the way the French love their dogs! Big or small, they are sitting patiently with their masters at cafes, riding the Metro, at the produce market, sitting in the sun in the park...or just out for a walk. Each one made me miss my girls...although the French dogs are much more polite than my wild girls!
And the children...oh la la! The cutest in the world! (at least the best dressed!). Really, when I saw a little girl about 5 years old wearing a perfectly tied scarf and little hat I about died! So many customers at Eileen Fisher are worried about wearing a scarf correctly...and here was a 5 year old French child wearing her scarf with panache! Seriously, everyone was wearing a scarf...male, female, child!
The Metro is another of my favorite thing about Paris! I love the sensibility of it...one ticket get you ANYWHERE...no matter how many transfers! It is laid out so well, that you can get anywhere, and most addresses (of restaurant or stores) indicate what is the nearest Metro stop. I really think this is the ultimate public transportation! There is frequently someone playing the accordion or saxophone in the tunnels of the Metro so there is live music wafting through the subterranean tunnels of the Metro...kind of romantic in a weird way!
Gary loves the way the French voices are so melodic...he doesn't understand the language, but he says he could listen to French conversations all day! He loves the sing-song nature of the language, and the expressive faces that go along along with the "melody". Their interactions are passionate and full of life.
So although we did a lot of "touristy"" things in Paris, like visiting the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, St. Chapelle and the Arc de Triomphe along with the Louvre and Musee D'Orsay...the things I have enjoyed the most are just "being" in Paris with the locals. Nothing makes me happier than sitting in a cafe watching the locals interact (and trying to interact with them myself), shopping at the local shops...just pretending that I am Parisian too!!