Changing skewed perception of city of love

Dear Americans,

I have never been a boy scout or a boy for that matter, but I am always prepared. In this case, I am prepared for a Bachmann presidency in 2012. If that happens, I am ready to leave America.

I would go to France, not only because I have future plans there with my Parisian boyfriend, but also because I love the petite differences in systematic design that seem to permit a healthier and happier lifestyle. Unless you’re like me and you discover the magic of real French pain au chocolat, it’s just happier.

An obvious characteristic of the French can be seen upon first meeting one. You might stiffen, feel slightly embarrassed or violated while a French person kisses you on each cheek. Salutations that involve face to face contact were a big deal for me because sometimes I introduce myself in the U.S. without even exchanging a handshake. But as I had to incorporate the habit, I became appreciative because it forces you to really acknowledge people, introduce yourself and make new friends. If you’re at a small enough party, pop a breath mint and touch cheeks with everyone in the room, or else you’re rude.

I am an ecological person, so something that made an impression on me were the ‘flourie’ signs, which rate the amount of flowers and greenery present in each section of Paris. It’s not an elaborate scale; it just goes from one flower, the lowest amount, to four flowers. But I think it’s nice that a city even acknowledges its plants. I’ve never seen such appreciation for plants in the U.S.

If you’re walking outside around midnight and you have the munchies, unfortunately you’re SOL. The labor laws in France are truly impressive – it’s iffy as to whether businesses are open on Sundays and Mondays and on Tuesdays through Saturdays most stores close around 8 p.m. with two-hour breaks in the middle of the day. In fact, the French working class gets five weeks of vacation every year. So ultimately, France is good for workers, but bad for unprepared stoners.

And there’s no doubt that America is having trouble with its weight (perhaps perpetuated by such treats as fried butter on a stick featured at the Iowa Straw Poll). Much of our environment is not conducive to good health. However, I theorize that the reason I saw  few cases of obesity in Paris was because of several reasons.

One was the lack of urban sprawl; driving a car in Paris is somewhat wasteful because of the accessibility of places in the city either by foot or by metro. And if you do take the metro, it’s still a workout because there are comparatively few escalators to stairs. Also, French has a few lingual differences with English that may inspire more self-control when it comes to caloric intake. Breakfast is an urgent word; it implies that we starve ourselves while we sleep. We put a lot of emphasis in America about the importance of a hearty breakfast. Actually, I think there’s an emphasis on every meal in the day. But the word in French for lunch is dejeuner, and the word for breakfast is petit dejeuner (the “little” lunch). In the U.S., after a meal we say that we’re “full” or “stuffed,” implying that we’ve eaten as much as we can. In French, the answer is, “Je n’ai pas faim,” that is to say, “I have no more hunger.” Very subtle, I believe, yet very effective.

And, as I was once told by a French friend with whom I was conversing: “People eating on the subway is the end of civilization.”

While on average a quarter of Americans’ meals are eaten in the car, very few people eat on the subway and many families still gather around the table for most meals in Paris. There’s more time for socializing, preparing the food and less eating alone in front of the television.

So, just letting you know, Paris is a wonderful place. Don’t let silly propaganda skew your perceptions of the French. There wasn’t a wild abundance of cigarette smokers nor were there people wearing striped shirts and berets. Also, a majority of the women had beautiful armpits. I shall be among them soon.

Ariel Graham is majoring in film and psychology.

September 18, 2011


AJ Graham

Contributing EDGE Writer

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