Café Culture

"...in Paris, life's a café."
("Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light" by David Downie)

In the two and a half months that I have been here, I have come to discover that all of Paris is set up as one big stage, where all the inhabitants (and tourists) are both the actors and the audience. Bars, restaurants, and cafes are all set up with chairs facing the large windows leading onto the street. When you walk down the street, you can feel the stares--people looking at your outfit, what you're doing, how you're doing it, etc.

Oftentimes, people silently stare and will not bother you or even show the least bit of personal recognition; however, in regards to certain things, people have absolutely no boundaries when it comes to giving advice/sharing their opinion with you. This creates an interesting cultural misunderstanding between Americans and the French because of a completely different idea of what is considered public and private life. Whereas sharing one's name with a stranger is considered private life to a Frenchman, having someone share their strong opinion about what you are doing and how you are doing it is completely normal and not seen as interfering.

In Paris, there is a "cafe culture." You enter, say bonjour (a necessary action never to be skipped), and seat yourself....preferably right in front of the large windows with a perfect view of the street traffic. Once you order a drink, you are free to sit there for as long as you desire...all day if you like! There's something about sitting and people-watching that gets ideas flowing. For this reason, I always keep a small notebook and pen in my purse to jot down random thoughts. It's no wonder why so many great thinkers/philosophers/writers came to Paris to write.

That's why lately I have been so bad at writing regularly on this blog....I'm never at home in front of my computer!



"Lost Without Translation"

That was the title of a really interesting commentary piece that I read in last Wednesday's International Herald Tribune. Here are the main points:

"Judging by bestseller lists, Americans like to read mysteries, books recommended by Oprah Winfrey and books about success and weight loss. Unfortunately, this leaves out a whole world of books: those published in other languages in other countries....Another challenge is getting foreign books noticed in a world of IM-ing, Web-surfing, television-watching Americans....All the world is a book group--or it could be if more Americans knew what people across the oceans are reading."

This really struck a cord with me because, lately, I have been spending an incredibly amount of my precious euros on exactly that: BOOKS! Bookstores, called "Libraries" here (don't be fooled by the name.....an actual library is called a "Biblioteque"), are one of my favorite places to kill time. I love perusing the titles, as each one is designed to jump out at you with their worldly, philosophical titles.

Whereas books in the U.S. are slowly being replaced with TV, television, and magazines, small "mom and pop" bookstores here are thriving! Each one has its own personality and sometimes, they specialize in a certain genre of books....some bookstores are only literature books, or only philosophy books, or only comic books!

So, before I know it, my hands are filled with books about immigration in France, the latest comic novel, and a history book (on France in the early 20th century...for my history class) and I am forced to make serious decisions. Books here are EXPENSIVE. They range usually from 10-20 euros (roughly 12-25 dollars!) And I'm a student....I'm on a budget.....

I go to the cash register and buy my history book (it's for class, afterall!) and slowly make my way out....glancing at every book before I leave. I wish I had the time to read them all! And I wish that more of these books made it to the U.S. for there certainly is an abundance of American books translated into English....




....it takes a foreigner's eyes (and view through a camera lens) to get you (re)-excited about where you're living....

I had two friends from Scotland visit me last weekend and I had such a good time. As soon as they arrived, they were making lists of all the touristy spots they wanted to go and taking pictures of everything french! At first, it threw me off guard because I was not used to being a tourist...I had finally settled into my routine and enjoyed being an inconspicuous parisienne....but then the feelings that I first had when I arrived here came back and it really made me appreciate living here in a new way.

Many, many, MANY photographs, trips to monuments, and memorable moments later, they left and I was once again alone in my apartment thinking about which cafe to go to get some work done.

Once again, it was me and this big city....and I felt a new sense of familiarity and appreciation.