1) Open-air markets. Everyday sprawling open air markets streak across Paris where locals and tourists alike gather to try out culinary curiosities or simply to do their weekly shopping. And it’s not just one fruit stand, one cheese stand, one fish stand, one olive stand, one butcher. There are a handful of stands for each food group, creating a perfect opportunity for price vs. quality comparisons. What’s more, most of the products are marked with their “origin” or place of production, and if it’s not marked on the price sign, you’re welcome to ask. So if, say, you were just mugged in Barcelona, and you don’t feel inclined to support Spanish anything at the moment, you can just as easily pick out the French products, though sometimes at a slightly steeper price, depending on the season.
2) Buying pain tradition at the boulangerie everyday. A tradition (or tradi as the cool kids call it) is slightly shorter and denser than a baguette, and in my opinion better. Whatever your preference, the simple act of buying fresh bread everyday is as much a spiritual act of nourishment as it is literal: “give us this day our daily bread”…you catch my drift.
3) Relaxed table manners. In the States, table manners are still rather puritanically stiff. Just cutting a bite-size piece of meat is an ordeal, with the eternal fork and knife switcheroo. In France however, “civilized” dining has had a good long while to evolve, or regress depending on where you stand on the etiquette issue. The act of dining has been streamlined to facilitate eating, that means the fork stays in the left hand for most of the meal, eliminating the time-costly switching. Postures slouch, elbows prop up on tables, bread sits directly on the table, plates are wiped clean of every drop of sauce. It’s so visceral. The French view eating as one of life’s great pleasures, and as such, one should be comfortable doing it! Now if only we could bring back the Roman dining couch…
4) Cafés with terraces where all the chairs face out towards the sidewalk to maximize people watching. It’s such gratuitous gawking and judging.
5)How everyone is put together. If you know that you’re going to get judged by a dozen pairs of eyes everytime you walk past a café, you’re bound to dress nicely. And that is just what Parisians do. They dress smartly and respectably, minimizing the potential for eyesores. It may not be adventurous, but at least it doesn’t burn your eyes to look at.
6) Foie gras. In 2012, California will outlaw the production and sale of foie gras. Surely this will reignite the foie gras controversy in the U.S., possibly leading to a spread of all-out bans across the States. To be fair, I don’t crave foie gras when I’m in the land of cornfed beef and other delicious “enhanced” animal products, but while I’m in France, damned if I’m not going to funnel down as much foie gras as I can. I even ordered foie gras sushi the other day (the French have a special talent for bastardizing non-French cuisine). It wasn’t terrible! So long as I peeled off the rice and seaweed and then spread the foie gras on some pain tradition…
7) Steak tartare. Another dish that’s hard to come by in the States. Americans are reluctant consumers of steak tartare, because, well it’s raw. And you can get sick from raw food. To be fair, the Swede and his father recently dined at the popular brasserie Bofinger and got violently ill from food poisoning after digging in to two heaping plates of steak tartare. So the risks are there. But it’s those very risks that make eating such an adventure! A bite of soft, pink beef made creamy with egg yolk and flavorful with worcestershire sauce and dijon mustard, balanced on salted crispy frite is something that every meat eater should indulge in at least once. If you’re nervous about the quality of the meat, then seek out an establishment that specializes in beef, like the restaurant l’Aubrac, off the Champs Elysées.
8) Good, cheap wine. Now I don’t know jack about wine. But when you can buy a bottle (and I mean a bottle not a bag or a box) for 3€, and you don’t gag when you drink it à la Franzia, that is really something special.
9) Cheap medications. Birth control is practically free here. In the States it can cost anywhere from $20 to $75 a month (depending on your copay and choice of brand) whereas here it’s about 2€ (roughly $2.85) even without any insurance. That’s an annual savings of somewhere $205.80 between $865.80. Maybe these socialists really are onto something.
10) How culturally relevant Paris is. Every time you read the travel or culture section of the newspaper, Paris is bound to be mentioned. And every time I see that, I smile and I think Paris really is the place to be and I’m so lucky to live here. So now it’s time to cueillir ma jeunesse and profiter du moment présent because I only have a few weeks left in this cultural and gastronomic hotspot.
Stay tuned for my Paris Bucket list, coming soon!