What happens when French expats return to Paris on vacation? First, they spend quality time with their relatives, if they are around. Then, they play a game.
The name? “Let’s delve into French rituals with unbridled abandon.”
The players? This French girl, and, I suspect, many other French expats.
The rules? Easy to follow. Read on.
1. French expats in Paris: Food, glorious food.
Walk to the boulangerie. Ask for a baguette tradition. Nibble le quignon (tip,) and carry it all the way home, trying not to eat the whole thing. Congratulate yourself for resisting the urge to buy a pâtisserie. We, Frenchies, are all about moderation. Stop at la fromagerie. Choose at least three different types of cheese. Make that five. Cheese keeps well anyway. Pray Madame la fromagère feels sorry for you when she finds out you live abroad; and offers cheese samples to remind you – proudly – of what you have been missing. Tell her you really like the paper she wrapped around the cheese. Ignore her puzzled look. Try not to pass out when reading the receipt (fromage is still cheaper here than [American] college tuition.) Hand out cash. She’ll smile if you give her the exact change. Imagine that: You still have enough to pick up an éclair au café or a Millefeuille after all! Forget moderation. Vive les vacances! Return to la pâtisserie. Good thing it is just around the corner. You’re on a roll. Make a stop at the local supermarket and walk up and down the yogurt aisle at least twice. Slowly. Smile at Mamie Nova, and la Laitière. Your bag is not quite full yet. Hit the neighborhood outdoor market on the way home, and purchase fresh produce. If there is no outdoor market today, just wait a day.
2. French expats in Paris: Visit your favorite café
The terrace will be heated, and if it’s not, bundle up. Ignore the smoker sitting next door. Smile when you realize the smoke still drifts in your direction, after all these years. Say “Bonjour” to the waiter and wait to see if he cracks a smile. If he does not, take a deep breath and rejoice: You are back in Paris! Watch people go by. Watch some more. Marvel at the sidewalks, the beautiful building across the street, the window displays, the familiar look and comfort of the colorful Gatti rattan chair your handbag is resting on. Order “un express” or “un noisette.” Try not to beam at the pretty, white china cup when the waiter returns. If it is lunch time, order un jambon-beurre, or if you’re hungry, une entrecôte-frites (pray it comes with sauce béarnaise.) Hand out a couple of Euro bills. Watch the waiter as he looks for small change in his vest pocket while expertly balancing the heavy tray in his left hand, without spilling anything. Take another deep breath. You are in Paris.
3. French expats in Paris: Catch up with Parisian cultural life
Visit the local newsstand. Smile at Charlie Hebdo. Wink at Elle magazine. Purchase the latest copy of l’Officiel des Spectacles your Parisian Bible. 1 Euro. Have the exact change ready. Amazing: The magazine still fits inside your purse after all these years! Check out new movies, new plays, new exhibits. Start counting them. Give up. Feel excitement when remembering that in many Parisian theaters, the show is as much in the room, as it is on stage. Théâtre Edouard VII, anyone? Circle favorites. The list will come in handy later. If you forget, the colorful posters featured on Colonnes Morris all over the city will remind you of popular choices.
4. French expats in Paris: Shop at the pharmacy and at Monoprix
Look for the big, green cross. Walk to the local pharmacy and check out new lines in the Para-Pharmacie section (quality skin care products.) Vichy, Biotherme, Nuxe, Avène, la Roche-Posay, revered by French women, offer attractive products in beautiful packaging. Listen to conversations. Smile at the fact that some French people still talk to their pharmacist as if he were a friend. “Au revoir, Monsieur Jean-Louis.” “Au revoir, Madame Dupuis. A bientôt.” Move on to the Monoprix. Always a fun store. From cosmetics, to clothing, from fine wines to fine foods, from books to stationery, Monoprix has it all! This ain’t Fred Meyer, folks. Fred Meyer may go on sale more often than Monoprix, but no one ever refers to Fred Meyer as “fun.”
5. French expats in Paris: Explore the city
Rive Droite, Rive Gauche. It does not matter. Start somewhere; start walking; and get lost. You are safe: Your cheat sheet (le Plan de Paris par arrondissement,) is safely tucked inside your handbag. Watch Parisians as you pass them on busy sidewalks. Swerve left, swerve right. Try to stay out of the way. They are working. You’re not. You used to be one of them, always rushing somewhere. After all these years, they still look familiar. The funny part is: They come in many shapes, colors, and sizes. Listen to the laughter of children zooming down the sidewalk on their scooter. Notice how… French they look. Is it their clothes? The unmistakable lilt in the young voices as they ask a question? Recall the days when you had fun shopping for Junior’s colorful outfits chez Du Pareil au Même. Make a point to ride le Métro at least once a day (just stay away from Châtelet and Etoile.) Your old Carte Orange pass is long gone. They call it Navigo now. Feel free to stick to le carnet. These 10 (discounted) tickets are the gateway to the best spots in Paris. Immerse yourself in the sounds (and smells) of le Métro. Some things never change, in Paris…