Out of all of the places I have been over the years, I find that Americans in general have a fairly strong reaction one way or another to France and its culture. They either love it or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between. I think these feelings stem from a number of places; some are misconceptions strung together from other people’s stories, some are exaggerations, and some are based in truth (i.e. read he book Talk to the Snail by Stephen Clarke). Unfortunately it is the usually embellished negative experiences or simple misunderstandings of friends and friends of friends that keep some people from experiencing what I believe is one of the most beautiful countries in all of Europe. There is a feeling of national pride running deep within the veins of the French that has resulted in one of the most varied and intricate cultural experiences you can have on the continent, not to mention the food. Seriously, the cheese alone is reason enough to get there immediately. Don’t even get me started on the crepe stands. Or the open air markets. Bread!!!
In my experience, the French people in general are misunderstood. I have found them to be mostly helpful and willing to share their culture as long as you are willing to take a risk. Of course you’re going to run into some crabby characters, but that happens to me on a regular basis here in Upstate New York. It’s certainly not unique to France. Meanwhile, my French is terrible. I’m pretty sure I do that thing where I think I am pronouncing words with the proper accent but end up sounding akin to a German man with bronchitis. Either way, it is so true that making an attempt to communicate in the language of the country you are visiting, no matter how much you massacre subject-verb agreement, breaks down walls. There is only one time that I had a Parisian laugh at me as I made an attempt to ask for three peaches at a market, and in hindsight it was probably warranted and mostly good natured. In the end I got my peaches, he got his money, and I learned that I can take a little constructive criticism when it comes to asking for produce.
For me, traveling is about taking a risk. Sometimes that risk involves stepping out of your comfort zone and “bonjour-ing” instead of “hello-ing”. Give it a try. It’s not really as scary as you think. Ask me, and I might even go with you!
Note: The pictures below are from in and around Paris. Check out my entire France collection on Flickr, and stay tuned for a post about southern France and the Cote d’Azur.
Not sure you believe that there is actually such a thing as a Napolean Complex? Check out these pictures I took of his tomb inside Les Invalides. Even in death he wanted to be larger than everyone else around him. In fact, the tomb is designed so that you first have to look down on it from above, which, in Napoleon’s mind meant that everyone would have to bow to observe his final resting place. Awesome.
The French know how to do a lot of things with style, but if I someone told me that I could only do one thing in France it would surely be to eat everything in site. I don’t even like pickles and olives, and looking at this picture still makes me want to dive into these. There are outdoor markets that pop up all over Paris, and this one appeared right outside of our hotel on the first day we were there.
True, there are a lot of bizarre things going on in this picture taken in the town of Giverny near Monet’s home. Another reason I love France – even the livestock eat baguettes!! Also, inter-species lovin’! This is totally the French pig-ostrich version of the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp.
Speaking of the Eiffel Tower, sometimes getting the shot means laying on the ground underneath an iconic structure while groups of tourists stare at you. But it usually ends up being totally totally worth it.
One of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris is Montmartre. Home to the Sacre Couer (seen lit up in the background) and the nearby infamous Moulin Rouge, this area of the city is defined by a more bohemian element.
Le Chat Noir, staring at you, thoughtfully, wondering when you’ll be back.