I asked Jean to be a guest blogger on my blog and she said yes! Enjoy!
*Recap of French Cultural Nuances observed by guest blogger, Jean Clough*
When I was asked what I would miss about Chicago during this sabbatical
year, I said family and friends. What I hadn’t expected to miss was
cooking. But I do. So it was with great anticipation and a big grin that
I prepared for our first dinner party in Paris last week. As we pass our
second month here, I found the preparation and the dinner conversation
provided a recap of cultural nuances I’ve observed.
Our dear friends Eileen and Hugh and their son (my Godson) Dylan were here.
Our fabulous, French tutor, Agneska, now a student at Northwestern in
Evanston, was here visiting her Dad, Ricardo. Our table of eight was
completed by Maya, a grad student in Paris, who is the daughter of a friend
*Wandering is good.* Sacre Coeur, the mammoth pure white basilica that
looms over Paris, is also home to many “magasins de tissus”—fabric stores.
This was my day to browse and pick up some remnants for a table covering.
While lost, I found the charming, less frequented area behind the basilica.
A tiny “pop-up” shop had lovely crafts. Even when you’re lost, you find.
*This is not a game, Madame! * Later, off to market with Hugh offering to
assist. I was the proud new owner of a “granny cart” which all ages use
here to lug groceries. Got the soup pot, whisk and lovely produce for our
ratatouille. On our way out of the Metro, we were greeted by four French
officers who demanded to see everyone’s used metro ticket. Hugh had his.
I’d thrown mine away. “50 Euro fine, madame.” When I attempted to retrace
my steps down to the train to ride to a different station, I was pursued.
“This is not a game, Madame.” Did they really think I’d hopped the
turnstile with my granny cart and backpack? But, in France, rules RULE. Au
revoir, 50 E. I was furious until I began chopping vegetables. They were
*One chef at a time. * Our galley kitchen allows for only one person. I
made the main, Eileen the goat cheese polenta, Hugh the salad. No big
bowls? We’ll have a salad tray. Nice presentation.
Table set with cloth bits and paper napkins from last night’s ice cream
stop. The sun was setting over the park outside our balcony. I’d draped a
remnant over the paint-splattered chair Hugh and I had spotted and salvaged
on our way home from market. We were set for eight.
When the buzzer rang, it was Agneska and her father, Ricardo, a
photographer, born in Mexico but living in Paris for over 20 years. They
brought Prosecco. Our other guest was a tad late, as she had pedaled her
Velib bike to Blvd Vaugirard, rather than Rue Vaugirard and was madly
biking back to us. She arrived glowing and grinning. As a grad student
here, Maya, whose Mom is French but grew up in the US, is living in a
10’x10’ room with a shared bath and is also adjusting to Paris life.
*Both the wine and the conversation sparkled *as the group connected over
good food and story-telling. It had been very hot in Paris that week: four
days of 95-99 degrees. Still, we saw few French folks in shorts. “I wear
them,” said Maya, “but I must say, I get the looks if I stop by the market
on my way home from a run.” “I think French men have never seen the
advantage of fresh air on the lower leg,” said Ricardo. “Sandals? oui.
Short pants? non.”
Agneska reported she’d gotten a response to her inquiry about an internship
with “The Wrongful Conviction Project” at NU law school. Dylan, a rising
HS junior, agreed NU was one local university he’d consider. Agneska
offered a tour. Maya was second-guessing her application to be a nanny in
Paris, to earn extra cash. “And these Velib bikes are great. $36 for the
year but what a panic when it’s five minutes to class time and there are no
open slots to park it!”
We talked about the ease of getting around Paris, walking and with
Metro/buses/bikes. Ricardo pointed out the Parisian, perhaps European,
notion that the journey was an enjoyable part of visiting a friend. “If I
can walk or ride the bus and read and watch people and it takes 40 minutes,
I don’t think twice about it. If I had to get into a car and drive 40
minutes, I just wouldn’t go. It would be awful.” The Paris apartments are
small but the meeting and entertaining goes on in the cafes, in the parks.
Luxembourg Garden is called, “Paris’s living room.”
The young women agreed that being oogled by men was more common and
acceptable here than in the US. They didn’t like that. Others observed that
chivalry lives on here. Hugh was offered a seat on a packed bus.
Accepted! Several young men have offered to carry bags up Metro stairs for
me. Accepted! When I stumbled and fell one day, three Frenchmen surrounded
me, concerned and bringing a chair, then water, then an offer to accompany
me and carry my parcels to my door. We hoped that the oogling and the
chivalry were not inextricably linked.
Some liked, and some didn’t, the unwritten but firm rule of greeting a
person in a shop or restaurant upon entering and leaving as an expected
courtesy. I have grown to enjoy this custom, this sign of respect. When a
German tourist came up to me on the street yesterday, saying only: “Notre
Dame! Notre Dame?” it seemed an affront. Happily, I was able to direct her.
I enjoy seeing folks coming onto a work shift and greet each other with
handshakes or “Une Bise”. That’s the kiss on each cheek greeting, used
After Prosecco with our Campari/orange ice dessert, there was a flurry of
“bises” and promises of a reunion dinner over the Christmas holidays.
We’ve learned a lot from our French friends and those we watch with
interest on the streets and in the parks and shops. There is a great
reverence for beauty here. There is an elegant way to do things. There are
many rules that must be observed. It can be frustrating at times. I like
to think it is keeping my mind supple. I thought working with recovering
physical therapy patients taught me patience. No, the French are teaching
When our next guests, two twenty-somethings, arrived for a three-day visit
last weekend, they moaned about the weight of the Euro coins, as well as
“How do you get these stamps to stick?” (lick them), and complained about
the areas of Luxembourg Gardens’ grass that were off limits to sunbathers.
“Grass you can’t sit on? That’s just crazy!” *“Not crazy,” I said, “just
On sabbatical in Paris!