- Number One, above all, the French SMOKE way too much. All ages. Everywhere. Whole family groups: kids, parents, grandparents, great grandparents. In ALL outdoor cafes and plazas. On sidewalks, doorways, under windows. In restaurants they leave the table multiple times to go smoke outside the front door. This was our #1 issue in France. And, oh, cigarette butts everywhere.
- In addition, all waiters, bar tenders, and store clerks have to rush outside from time to time (often in mid-service) to smoke; and no one seems to question the practice or the timing.
- Many toilets, even in the nicest settings, have no seats -- including in unisex toilets. Don't expect to find soap, paper towels or hand driers either.
- Entres are starters or appetizers, not the main dish. (Evidently, we are the only country in the world where an entree is often called the main dish. I guess Americans did not translate correctly the original French word.)
- French, like many Europeans, like their beer mixed with other things, usually something very sweet. In Paris, the happy-hour drink of choice was called a Monaco: half beer + lemonade (which is really a lemon-lime soda) + Grenadine.
- Cafes only serve drinks, no food. Brasseries serve food.
- Motorcycles rule the day in Paris. They are everywhere, parked by the scores on every street.
- Good luck figuring out what street you are on. Street signs at intersections and corners are random and optional. When they are posted, they are on the sides of buildings above the ground floor.
- Parisians love Nutella. It is everywhere and on every thing. Of course, they in general just love anything chocolate. In the grocery store, the breakfast cereal shelves are full of brands of cereal that include bits of chocolate in them. Even the “healthy” and “nutritious” choices. It is difficult to find cereal without chocolate. Interestingly, they don't like peanut butter.
And three American stereotypes that were totally destroyed for us:
- It is much easier to find healthier eating choices in Paris and in France than we expected. In fact, rarely did we get a dish than seemed to be dripping or overly laden in butter or full-fat cream. This was a big concern for us since we don't like dishes heavily drenched in butter, cheeses, creams and sauces. We also don’t eat beef or pork. What we found (with a little looking) were many wonderful fish, seafood, chicken and vegetarian dishes.
- The French are VERY friendly, in the cities and in the towns and countryside. We loved every one we met. People even stopped on the sidewalks to help us find our way.
- Speaking only English is not a crime in France, and people will easily and readily accommodate. (They do appreciate a 'bonjour' and respond cheerfully after such, in whatever language one uses with them.)
On our trip we took three popular histories of Paris. All three were excellent and made our experience in France richer and more appreciative. We highly recommend them.
Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne. “This highly readable uses an admittedly idiosyncratic organizational scheme to trace the history of Paris through seven periods, beginning in the 12th century and ending with the death of Charles de Gaulle in 1969. His "ages" focus on medieval and Renaissance Paris; the era of King Henry IV; the 18th century and Louis XIV; revolutionary and Napoleonic Paris; the 19th century, culminating in the Bloody Week of the Commune; the Belle poque; and the age of war and occupation. Each section includes fascinating insights into the social and cultural life of the age, fashions in clothing, architectural developments, leading personalities, and lifestyles of rich and poor alike.”
Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb. “This is the Paris you never knew. From the Revolution to the present, Graham Robb has distilled a series of astonishing true narratives, all stranger than fiction, of the lives of the great, the near-great, and the forgotten.”
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. “Between 1830 and 1900, hundreds of Americans--many of them future household names like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Samuel Morse, and Harriet Beecher Stowe--migrated to Paris. McCullough shows first how the City of Light affected each of them in turn, and how they helped shape American art, medicine, writing, science, and politics in profound ways when they came back to the United States.”