But then, neither is New York, except in terms of sophistication.
I just returned from a month in Paris, visiting my husband's family. Paris remains, for me, the most beautiful, civilized and livable city on the planet. I speak French the way George Bush speaks Spanish (or English, for that matter) but Parisians are almost always very kind and polite.
Some Americans cherish a real hatred for France. Chirac is, by most definitions and according to most French people I know, a corrupt, lying embarrassment. When he told us the Iraq war was a lousy idea, however, he was as trustworthy as the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Still, bashing France serves a most useful purpose. The second an American begins to wheeze about lack of gratitude and saving France's collective backside in World War II, you know precisely what you are dealing with: a bore. It is as good as a secret handshake.
I do enjoy comparing some aspects of the U.S. with France, just not the old "what do we owe them for Yorktown, what do they owe us for Omaha Beach" rigamarole. Here are some little things that you might notice on a month-long visit to the in-laws.
Things That Are Better in France
- The food (exceptions noted below).
- People's figures.
- The architecture.
- The health-care system (much better than Canada's, too).
- You don't have to wake up and grab a paper to check and see whether someone is down at the local school board trying to ban Darwin or "The Wizard of Oz."
Things That Are Better in the U.S.
- Coffee. A good cup of American coffee is the best. No, I don't want any espresso, and get that Nescafe away from me, now.
- Pommes frites need ketchup. One day the French will wake up to this. In the meantime, they have a very bad attitude about ketchup. They shouldn't. Mustard is the French ketchup.
- We have better store hours. Parisians are always closing things, often for reasons unfathomable to an American. (Ascension? are you kidding me?)
- We have air conditioning and we use it.
- We seem to appreciate French perfume more than the French do these days. Practically all I smelled in Paris was Angel, which is the fragrance equivalent of ultra low-rise pants: It is unaccountably but hugely popular, it flatters no one and wore out its welcome almost on arrival. There is much more scent-wearing variety in New York, oddly enough. (Then again, in New York I do hang out with some flagrantly perfume-mad women.)
I also discovered an unexpected British flair for an eye-catching in-store display at W.H. Smith in Paris, as you can see below.