Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Toronto Is Nothing Like Paris

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.


Anonymous said...

Now, this is a great comparison (although I would probably not agree about coffee--but then again most of my coffee exposure was when I lived in Italy, therefore it is just a conditioning effect).
Here are my own comparisons.
Things that are better in France:
Metro--everything is so clearly laid out and explained! I detest American subway system, especially NYC, because I never know where it is going and whether it is going to be going on the route it is supposed to.
Taking scenic walks.
More gardens.
Absolutely agree on food, altough pastries and cheese are the top of my list.

Things that are better in US:
I do not feel like a foreigner here.
Predictable hours of operation of most establishments--yes, you mentioned it, but I cannot help but bring it up again.
Street fashion is much more interesting in big American cities (especially NYC) than it is in Paris. Parisian women tend to be very predictables in terms of their outfits--blacks, beiges, taupes.
Ice tea, but only south of Mason-Dixon line.
Staring is considered rude (this applies mostly to men).

Diane said...

I thought the coffee was about the same, but perhaps I was too enthralled by their pastries to care. The simplest butter croissant tasted so much finer there. Now that you mention it, there was a Nescafe-esque element to the cafe.

On the column of better in France, I am going to elaborate on victoria's note of scenic walks and gardens by saying that the city of Paris clearly takes maintenance of its historic landmarks seriously. One would hope that the US would do the same (allusion to condo-mania).

Related to better figures, people just look all-around more elegant and put-together over there. It is a rather staid outfit that they don, so not a place for interesting fashion ideas, but still, I noticed it right away - from the young to the more mature. They carry themselves with this effortless chic. What can you do, it's cliche, but true.

On the score for the US front, I think it's wonderful that so-called foreigners can come here and just feel super fine, not the least bit weirded out, albeit it doesn't guarantee that they will like it here. Still, American culture is not exclusivist, which makes me so pleased.

Lastly, don't get me started on staring. The French need to get with the program on that one!

Annieytown said...

I have been stalking this blog waiting for a recap of your trip. I wish I could add to this post but I have never been to Paris. I will have to remember to bring coffee(and vanilla nut creamer) when I finally visit. I am afraid that I have grown quite addicted to coffee.
Glad to see you blogging again F!
Have a great night!

Diane said...

Completely OT, but A, I love your blog. All those clothes, coats, bags, accessories - you do such a finer job than Lucky, Vogue, et al in tempting me. You have wonderful taste. I think you'd make an amazing buyer!

baconwrappedfriedchicken said...

I've never been to France (nor Europe for that matter) so I cannot compare, but I will say one thing that I noticed about Toronto (and eastern Canada)- there are a lot more women smokers than there are in America. That was perhaps the one thing I remember most about my first trip to Canada. hmmph.