G and I just got back from a week in the cité, during which approximately 12 pounds of croissants and pain au chocolat were consumed by each one of us. Some observations:
- The French women definitely look good, in part because they’re almost all punching above their spot on the 10-point scale by dressing smartly. Looking well-put-together really does make you more attractive — who knew? Certainly not my T-shirt-wearin’ ass.
- Wine and pop cost the same in Paris. This isn’t so much because wine is cheap — it’s only a little cheaper than in a U.S. restaurant — but because everything else is fantastically expensive. Maybe it was just the euro exchange rate, but Paris prices stung even worse than the famously expensive ones in London. Getting a sit-down lunch for less than $50 is a heinous challenge.
- France gets a lot of crap from Americans about being a nation of military losers, but the martial spirit is pretty alive and well over there. I think the surrender-monkeys characterization is a little unfair — 1870 and 1940 were historic disasters, but the French won in 1918 after a long, awful slog on their own turf, and you can’t simultaneously say the Germans were a war machine but Napoleon was somehow a loser. No matter what Americans think, French military fandom is notably present in Paris — tons of flags fly everywhere, military and history magazines dot the newsstands, every other thing is named after Charles de Gaulle and Maréchal Foch, and the French public is right behind the Libya and Ivory Coast actions. The medal-bedecked vets at the Arc de Triomphe ceremony had a bunch of little kids shouting the Marseillaise at the top of their lungs — these dudes love their military.
That said, the Musée de l’Armée is a pretty out-there perspective on France in World War II — the Resistance was only 5% of the population, and the Vichy government actively fought against the Allies, but you’d be hard-pressed to discover either of those things in their WWII exhibit. I get the need for national psychological redemption, but wow.
- History continues to be the coolest thing ever. At almost every historical site in Paris were groups of schoolkids on field trips. I could only imagine how awesome it would be to take field trips to the Bourbon palace of Louis XIV or a world-famous cathedral built 900 years ago — a good field trip back in the day in Pittsburgh was collecting amoebas from the local pond water.
- There’s a nation out there that’s just as crazy about pets as the United States. French people do love their chiens and chats — there are tons of dog owners walking their pets on the street, and tons of pet stores selling the same ridiculous doggie sweaters that you can buy in Lincoln Park — if a bit more fashion-forward. I was tempted to pick up a bouledogue at the pet store on Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, but held off for now. (For now.)
Honorable mentions: Modern art at the Pompidou is still more interesting than the popular older stuff; Emmental cheese on a croque monsieur is delicious enough to blow up the Death Star; remembering French from high school was a huge benefit; French-style mussels marinière are better in America than in France; Kronenbourg 1664 (the macrobrew of France) is pretty solid; we met a few rude waiters but they’re in the minority; the Catacombes are one of the ghoulishly best things to see; I could drown in onion soup and die a pleasantly savory death; and the Hôtel Caron de Beaumarchais is a phat place to stay if you’re in Paris.