Oh, Paris, what an inviting and delightful city. You value people and love and community and enjoyment of all things good. Here are a few things I learned from your streets, cafes, parks and people during my 8-day stay.
1. No one is in a hurry - except to get on the next metro…but not to worry there’s another one right around the corner, usually 3 minutes right down the tracks. I, like many in our American culture, have long lived with a scarcity mindset. We live like there’s never enough time, or money, or food, or whatever. But the simple adage, “There’s more where that came from” comes to mind as the Metro’s doors close. And along those same lines…
2. There’s Enough For Everyone. Baguettes are the national food and by law can only have 4 ingredients: flour, water, yeast, salt. Also by law, baguettes can cost no more than 1 Euro 20. All of France’s citizens have access to bread. (Marie Antoinette may have kept her head had this been the policy of her day.)
3. No one eats in Paris - they only dine. Lunches, for instance, are 3 course meals, enjoyed over a 90 minute ‘dejeuner’ break. Sip a carafe of wine along with your three-course lunch…that’s part of the typical workday. Slurping yogurt over the kitchen sink or shoving down a hard-boiled egg while driving does not a French meal make.
4. Opt Outside –“The mountains are calling and I must go.” So says John Muir. In Paris, the gardens and parks are calling and everyone must go. Ah, but be careful to not sit on the beautifully tended lawns unless it’s officially allowed. There are Lawn Police in Paris parks, who take their job oh so seriously. They are polite, multilingual, and not to be trifled with.
5. Beauty abounds. Make the simple effort to beautify your surroundings, whatever the circumstance - your bedroom, your table, your garden, yourself.
6. Pique-nique. As soon as the air offers even a hint of warmth, picnics become a regular part of life. Whether you’re with a group of 20-something friends and a few baguettes, some fromage and a bottle of vin, spending the evening on the banks of the Seine or you’re relaxing with a book on a bench in a garden courtyard the size of a postage stamp on your lunch break, Paris is a city poised for picnics.
7. Read here, there and everywhere. There are libraries (bibliothèques) and bookstores (libraires) in every neighborhood. The Parisians always seem to have a book on hand and can be seen reading on the Metro and in the parks and at cafes. I’ve been keeping a book in my bag ever since.
8. Create. However, you may - Create. Cook, draw, sculpt, design, build.
"If God is creator, and we are made in God’s image or Imago Dei, then we are, in our essence, creators. We are, in our essence, artists. Therefore, when we open ourselves to the expression of creativity, we also open to the movement of the Divine within us.” Christine Valters Paintner and Betsey Beckman.
And be confident about your creativity. Chefs are confident in the food they’ve created and put before you on a plate. They assume you will like it. Trust your creations the same way.
9. Home is where the heart is. Parisians, including children, know their history and culture. Children visit every museum, monument, historical site, in and around their city with their schools and with their families. They know where they came from and what their city has to offer them. I know a few things about my native habitat - my Mother didn’t drag me to all the California missions as a child for nothing. But I think it’s time to visit the small, local, one-room museum in my little town. (Who was Dan anyway, and why did they name this ‘ville’ after him?)
10. “Teach your Children Well.” as Crosby, Still, Nash & Young instruct us. The French seem to make this a priority. It was quickly apparent to me that children are valued but are also not the center of the universe. Never did I see a parent scold a child in public nor a child grossly misbehave. And there are a lot of children in Paris. It’s a young city with no shortage of children’s clothing and toy stores. I saw children dining at cafes with their parents, interacting politely with wait staff and one another. I did a bit of reading and learned there is a French parenting philosophy. It’s not without controversy but there are a few things to learn.
French parents see parenting as raising up adults in training. They teach their children to greet and engage with others from the moment they can talk. Sleep and healthy eating habits are integral to their well-being and teaching children to do tasks on their own at early age is important. A parent’s No means No and they don’t offer undue praise. There isn’t an underlying sense of fear that the world is a dangerous and scary place that permeates much of my culture. The world is to be embraced, and you take whatever comes your way in stride.
11. Love Everyone. Everywhere. There are many ethnicities in Paris, and I’ve since learned there have never been any segregation laws established within their constitution. Interestingly, there are no ethnic statistics allowed in France, and according to the NY Times article, Quantifying Social Division in France,
"The taboo against collecting data on race, ethnicity and religion stems from a Constitution that refuses to make distinctions among citizens presumed to be equal, and equally French.”
As I have taken time in recent years to examine my own ethnicity and my own racial bias in American history and culture, I’m inspired by a country that intentionally works to avoid sorting and categorizing people.
12. Sacred Space. Churches offer sanctuary in any city and Paris is no exception. They’re always free of charge, cool in temperature, stunning in architecture and usually have a good spot to sit to collect thoughts, energy for what's ahead. Most importantly, they're a physical reminder to offer a prayer of gratitude for the day and life at hand.
More than anything, I hope is to bring a little bit of Paris to my days...First step - always keep a bottle of champagne chilling! The door is always open so come on by!