Ten Things I am Stealing from France

No, I didn’t actually stuff the Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture in the overhead compartment. (But I wanted to.)

If the Instagram feed wasn’t still there, I would think that I had dreamed my trip to France. But no, I can see that I really was in Paris, living in the Marais. I doubt that I’m alone in feeling a little bit bereft after coming home from a trip. A bit dazed, as reality shifts and forms back around you.

But this homecoming is different. This time I am holding on to some of the things I learned and experienced while living for almost two months in France.

1. A glass of rosé wine makes everything better.

Every sidewalk cafe had at least a few patrons sitting and sipping rosé. It’s more similar to a beverage than fine wine, almost like drinking water: something sustaining and nourishing for the soul. Maybe it’s the hue, seeing the world through that rosé-colored tint…

2. No Television.

Ok, there’s definitely TV in France. But my French wasn’t good enough to follow along with all-French programming. So we didn’t even turn it on. We did spend 15 minutes trying to get the World Cup, but couldn’t find the match we wanted, so we gave up. While I don’t watch television myself even at home in the US, I found that not having any TV on at all in our apartment quite refreshing. I don’t think you realize how distracting the white noise can be, how much psychic churn there is, until you TURN IT OFF. Or maybe throw it away…

3. Hang out in parks.

The weather wasn’t always perfect in Paris this summer. But if there was a nice moment, it seemed that all of Paris headed to their neighborhood park with their baguettes and a plastic bag. They would sit on the bag, strip away any clothes that might interfere with their tan, and eat their lunch while enjoying the sun and their surroundings. We learned to do the same. Now that I’m home, I’m making it a point to enjoy the lovely moments outside, even if it’s just twenty minutes. I may not have a 16th century fountain to gaze at, but there is beauty everywhere if you choose to see it.

4. Spend time exploring.

Every day in Paris, and then in Provence, we had at least one adventure a day. Sometimes it was the Louvre, sometimes it was finding La Poste to mail our postcards. In a city like Paris, everything is an adventure, as I’m navigating a language and culture I did not grow up with. But I can apply the same sense of adventure, of discovery, to the city where I live. There are great museums here, gallery exhibits, parks and attractions right here that I’ve never been to. I’m challenging myself to do something new…

5. French labor practices.

I admit it: I used to scoff and maybe ROLL MY EYES at the French approach to labor. 35 hour work weeks! 5 weeks vacation–minimum! I’m proud of my American–and particularly my Midwestern–work ethic! Always connected, always accessible, routinely working until midnight or later, my laptop ever-present….hey, wait a minute. The French have time for socializing, eating, drinking, hanging out in parks. I will always work more than 35 hours a week, but maybe I can manage it better…

6. Fewer appointments and commitments.

While it’s inherently hard for me, I’m trying to not be completely over-scheduled. It’s about seizing spontaneous moments and not turning down an opportunity to spend time with my kids, or be social with friends. Does it add to my or my family’s well being? Our experience in the world? Then I’m sorry, I send my regrets.

7. At least once every week or so, have a nice, leisurely lunch

If I can go with someone, great. But if not, I’m going to try and take myself to lunch more often. Preferably with a glass of wine (see #1 above). And I’m going to do it the French way: no laptop or other large device. I might be able to work up to leaving my phone, but it’s going to take some practice and effort. It’s ok to just focus on the person you are with. Even–or especially–if it’s yourself.

8. Mind my manners.

The French get a bad rap from some Americans. I just don’t understand this. The people in France are the MOST polite and courteous that I have met in my life and travels. They are just not overly casual with new acquaintances, or go around grinning like idiots at people they don’t know. They smile if they feel like they have a damn good reason. They start every conversation with mutual respect: “Bonjour madame or monsieur.” They almost always end with “Merci, au revoir.” There is an inherent acknowledgement there: “I see you.” I now make sure that I’m not on my phone or otherwise occupied when I enter a store or need to address someone, and try to give my full attention to the person I’m speaking to.

9. Public Displays of Affection

I’m going to canoodle more. And in public.

10. The cult of beauty

Paris can be a bit of a visual overload: the architecture, the parks, the monuments, the people, the art. But here’s the thing: it’s not that hard to make something beautiful. The difference between just getting something done and doing something quite extraordinary is just a matter of degrees. You can slap cheese on a plate, or you can place it artfully. I see this with writing, and with jewelry design. The difference between just simply executing an idea, or crafting carefully and making it shine costs something. But in the end, it’s worth it.

So how about you? What are YOU stealing from another culture?

Share Your Thoughts!