First off, I do not mean for this post to be political in nature. I am not trying to prove that one country is better than the other, but to only state the differences that we have noted in the 10 days we have been in Paris. When visiting a place for the first time you can’t help but to compare it to your home country and note the differences.
The City of Paris is a giant labyrinth of tiny cobblestone streets that curve this way and that and vast boulevards that run off in various directions, but parallel to nothing. It is very easy to get lost, especially when street names can change mid-block. We started carrying a compass with us along with three different maps, as when you do get lost at the bottom of the urban canyon of Paris and can’t see landmarks, you don’t know which way to turn the map. And many maps do not show the smaller streets, which can make things really confusing when looking for a “shortcut.” Even though Paris has over 2.2 million people living here, it does not seem overly crowded. Our apartment is located in Central Paris and is quieter than I expected it. In fact, most streets seem pretty quiet around Central Paris with the exception of the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe, where 12 busy streets come together. Perhaps it is the time of year that we are visiting here, but Paris overall seems pretty quiet for a city of this size.
Ever since I was a kid I have heard it said that the French are snobs and incredibly rude to Americans. I have also heard that if you do not speak French to perfection they will ignore you or give you bad service. Maybe this was true at one time, or perhaps it is true if you are rude to them first, but we have seen none of this. The people have been nothing but polite and very patient with our attempts at speaking their language. When we pull out a map on the street we will have several French people offer directions, often in French, but they do try to help us find our way. I think every culture has its rude people. I know I have met my share in the US. But to stereotype an entire population based on a rude person, or hearing tales about a rude person, goes against the very nature of travel and exploration. Instead of making an assumption of what a place or the people will be like without having actually been there is ludicrous. I think Mark Twain summed it up nicely when he said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
France is world renown for having amazing food and wine. Well, having now sampled the food and wine firsthand we now see why. Being on a tight budget we got an apartment with a kitchen so we could make our own meals and save money. There are a ton of great restaurants around Paris, but they will need to wait for another time, as a single meal there will blow our budget. Going to the grocery store is a fun experience and we are always amazed at the quality. The French really seem to take pride in their food and the selection is superb.
Before leaving the states our daughter wanted to learn about farming. For a school project we took her to the Farmers’ Market and also to the grocery store to see where the food comes from. The grocery store had produce from everywhere, but the United States. The tomatoes came from Canada. Seriously??? The Farmers’ Market had produce that was “local” but had high prices and really wasn’t much better than the produce found at the grocery store. Even when we were living in Oregon, the Farmers’ Markets were always disappointing. Oregon grows some of the world’s tastiest strawberries; berries that need no sugar and explode with flavor when you bite into them. But at the grocery store, all you find is the bitter California Strawberries that American’s have become accustomed to as the new normal. They grow large and ship really well, which is prefect for the corporations that decide what we are to eat and how everything should taste based on maximizing profit. But when you go to a Farmers’ Market in Oregon we assumed we would find the good Oregon strawberries that taste like a strawberry should. Unfortunately, most of the time we found the large tasteless California variety, even though it was grown locally. And don’t even get me started on the tomatoes and carrots!
But since coming to France we have noticed something amazing. The prepared food is manufactured in France and the produce is mostly grown in France, excluding citrus and tropical fruits. Being almost winter there are some items that are grown in Kenya, but they actually taste better than anything that we found in the US grocery stores or Farmers’ Markets. The food here tastes like food should and the prices really aren’t that much higher than they are in the US, and sometimes even cheaper. It’s a shame that most Americans are more concerned with the price of their food rather than the taste and quality.
The other great thing about Paris is that there are specialty shops for food. If you want cheese, you go to the fromagerie. You want a baguette or dessert; go to the patisserie. You want meat; you go to the butcher. And at each shop the food is fresh and far superior to the stuff you can find at the French grocery stores. But, even the food in the French grocery stores is better than most everything at the American grocery stores. Yes, the French really are superior when it comes to food.
And of course we cannot forget the French wines. I heard years ago that in France, there is no bad bottle of wine. I was skeptical, but wanting to test this theory I grabbed a bottle of red table wine that was 2€, even cheaper than the crappy 3-buck Chuck at Trader Joes. I was actually really impressed with it. It was far from the best wine I have ever tried, but it was very palatable and is definitely better than a lot of “fine” red wines produced in California or South America.
So, there you have it. After 10 days in France we have already decided that American food sucks and French food is superior. We have also realized that National Lampoon’s European Vacation is not a documentary, and should not be used to learn about the French people and their behavior. Hopefully the same holds true for our next stop in Southern France.