Nous sommes à Paris!
(We are in Paris!)
It is a gorgeous afternoon in Paris and, after a busy first several days, we are having a lazy few hours at the temporary headquarters of The Working Stiff. The Mrs. is relaxing inside while I am sitting out on our little terrace above the busy Boulevard St. Germain. It is a narrow terrace but has enough room for a little bistro table and two chairs.
Like London, Paris is a city that is divided by a major river running through it with an east-west orientation. The river in London is The Thames (pronounced “tems” – don’t try to complicate it by saying the “H”, or people might think you’re from Rhode Island. Just say “tems”), which flows from west to east. In Paris, The Seine flows in the opposite direction – east to west. That is the reason that the part of the city (imagine you are in a boat going downstream), to the south of the river is called “The Left Bank”. The Right Bank is to the north of The Seine.
Famous sites along the left bank include the Eiffel Tower and the temporary home of The Working Stiff. Famous sites on the right bank include The Louvre museum, The Arc de Triomph, the Champs-Elysees, and the Place de la Concorde (where they set up the guillotine and cut off the head of Marie Antoinette and 2000+ others during the French Revolution).
Our apartment is in a part of the left bank called the Latin quarter. There are at least 2 sidewalk cafes on every block and endless narrow winding streets selling every kind of food and touristy stuff as well. Apparently, everyone in Paris spends lots of time sitting around at a tiny table in a café drinking either coffee or their favorite alcoholic libation. You may have thought it would be all about wine, and there is a lot of that everywhere, but beer is also very big. Oh – and that cliché about people carrying the loaf of bread all the time? Well, like many clichés, it exists because it is a real thing. The French in general, do not dig day-old bread. They go to the bakery (the boulangerie) every day and buy their baguette or whatever other type of bread they want – and carry it home. So yes, there are people walking down the street all over the place with that long thin loaf of bread!
We have located a small corner grocery store that we like, called “Franprix”, and a larger chain a few more blocks away called “Monoprix”. Both of them have been pretty easy to figure out. You go in, pick out your stuff, and then hand money to the person at the checkout. We have gone to great effort to speak French as well as possible, even if we have to ask “parlez-vous Anglais?” (do you speak English?). Everyone has been great and we have not had any problems. We have encountered NONE of the famous French rudeness. We firmly believe that is because we have not been rude to start off!
Think about it. If we Americans were on the street in Philadelphia and an obviously foreign person came up to us and said, in broken English, “please can you help me”, we would probably appreciate that they were trying and we would in turn try to help them. Whereas if they came up to us and spouted something in a language we didn’t understand, we might react differently. Go to the effort. Most French people in Paris, particularly the younger people, speak some English. Many of them speak it fluently and excellently. It’s OK to ask if they speak English. Just at least do that in your best French. They’ll most likely respect the effort and try to help.
Few notes: I have been writing this off and on and it is now early evening. The neighborhood is busy with people walking around with loaves of bread and starting their evening plans. I am looking across at the square where this is a group of three police officers patrolling. The female officer is carrying a very serious assault rifle at the ready. We have seen this all over town. Groups of two or three, with one of them armed with the assault rifle. Yesterday we walked down a section of a busy, famous, landmark boulevard, and we had to pass a basic security check by heavily armed officers – just in order to stroll down the Champs-Elysees! It’s good. We like seeing them on the job.
Please forgive the rambling and the absence of my usual incredible literary quality.
The Working Stiff