How Lean and Mean French Ladies Stay That Way

That French women are stylish, slim and simply beautiful is painfully obvious when you walk around the streets of Paris. They make looking good look easy but, believe me, it’s not. In the 25 years I’ve lived in Paris I have met many French women and indulged myself in countless conversations with them about how they stay so thin.

Just saying no - a simple and efficient gesture.
Just saying no – a simple and efficient gesture.

The overwhelming response is that they “Just say No” over and over again. And they actually mean it.

Let me give you an example. One of my work colleagues, Catherine, was complaining about the three kilos she had recently put on. (Of course, I couldn’t see those kilos; she was as svelte as ever. But, she knew they were there and she was not happy.) Catherine went to the doctor’s for a series of tests and, when she was convinced there was no medical reason for those extra kilos, she went to work on getting rid of them. Lunch was a daily litany of vegetables only–no cheese, no bread (!), no soda, no dessert. Snack at break time might be hot water for a change but no chocolate, no nuts, no nothing. It worked–the pounds quickly melted off her; her self-denial got her where she wanted to go.

I know some people think that French women eat balanced meals and that’s how they stay so fit.  They probably do – about two-thirds of the time.  However, during holiday season and vacations, they eat just like the rest of us – too much.  But then they use negativity to handle the situation.  They have a strong self-denial mindset.  We Americans, however, are trained to be positive.  We don’t go on diets; we don’t deny ourselves.  We don’t say no to second helpings.  We try to eat balanced meals for a while and then slip back into old, fatty habits.  We also encourage each other; we publicly acknowledge that it’s OK to be a “little” overweight – let’s say 5 to 10 kilos over our ideal weight.  For a French woman’s standards, one kilo over the line is akin to going out in public with a cold sore – totally unacceptable!

These lean ladies are also mean ladies.  They will make remarks when you’re getting fat (or fatter).  They will tell you that you “should do something” about it.  They will giggle sarcastically when you drink a Coke since you are enforcing the stereotype of the fat American.  They will make comments about your fat kids too and go into warning mode about it’s your responsibility to make sure they don’t turn out like you.  They are ruthless in their fight for skinniness.

French Health Minister
The ever-so-skinny French Health Minister, Marisol Touraine

French women also get weight-watching help from the government, even without asking.  A law was passed last week which bans free unlimited soda refills in public restaurants.  The fast food chain “Quick”, the first hamburger restaurant brand of European origin had installed a soda fountain in their establishments and will now have to dismantle them.  Marisol Touraine, the French Health Minister (herself a very skinny lady), said the law was created to fight against commercial measures which “entice customers and encourage them to consume unhealthy products excessively”.  In France, water is the only essential drink and the only one allowed in school cafeterias (soda vending machines were banned in French schools way back in 2004).
You might remember when, in 2012, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban soda servings larger than half a liter.  It was ruled unconstitutional; a hindrance to our freedom to choose.  France is taking away that choice altogether in their country and no skinny French citizen is even blinking an eye. That’s because it actually helps mothers keep their children away from sugar, sugar and more sugar.  Just one more statistic – the average Frenchman drinks 45 liters (quarts) of soda a year; whereas the average American gulps down 170 quarts per year.  Given the new law in France, that statistic will most certainly decrease – but the American one will most certainly keep rising.  We just can’t say no.

And that's all there is to it.
And that’s all there is to it.

So, if you’re looking for a French lesson in losing weight, look no further.  Just do as the French ladies do – start saying no and keep repeating it until you’re at your ideal weight.  Take a lesson from Coco Chanel who coined the phrase, “Elegance is refusal.”

How, Where and When to Kiss Hello in France

A simple thing like saying hello and goodbye can be a daunting experience when you are a stranger in a strange land. In France, greeting rituals are complicated since they are both verbal and non-verbal and might include kissing (if you’re lucky). It’s interesting that the French have an expression “simple comme bonjour”, meaning that something is easy, obvious, clear. But when it comes to kissing hello, nothing is clear or obvious. Let’s look at some kissing guidelines so you know what you have to do the next time you come to France.

First of all, spoken greetings are important in France. You will notice that when you walk into a bakery or a café or any kind of store. Everyone says the proverbial “bonjour” before anything else happens. Even bus drivers say hello and goodbye to their passengers. They don’t kiss them, though. That’s reserved for family and friends.

"Simple comme Bonjour" may not always be that simple in France.
“Simple comme Bonjour” may not always be that simple.

The family part is easy to figure out. I have a French family and when I met them all more than twenty years ago, I just followed their lead. Their kissing system is cheek-to-cheek; right side first and stop at two. You kiss when you say hello and you kiss when you say goodbye and you should be very careful not to forget anyone since that can be seen as a real “faux pas”. Sometimes, at a big family dinner, saying goodbye to all the guests can take a while, so give yourself some extra kissing time if you have a train to catch.

Now, in the workplace, things are clear in the beginning, but they start to get a bit more complicated when your co-worker becomes your friend. First off, it’s a handshake and then a verbal “bonjour” and “au revoir” every working day. Some colleagues “make the rounds” greeting everyone on their floor before they settle down to work. There is something very endearing about the way the French see greetings as a duty, a sign of respect. They need to acknowledge your presence in a polite way.   That part is very clear.

The gray area is the passage from handshake to kiss, and how many kisses to give when you get to that stage. Tradition varies, depending on where you come from in France. The people I have met from the Normandy area and northern France tend to plant four kisses on the cheek.   The ones I have met from Brittany stop at three. That’s fine if you know it ahead of time. But it can be pretty awkward if you are going for two kisses and move your head away while the kisser keeps going.   It is also awkward if you start on the left and they start on the right. To avoid head-bumping and lip brushing, I suggest starting on the right. It’s easy to remember since it’s the same side you would use for a handshake and it works, nine times out of ten.

But when, exactly when, do you kiss? That’s a hard one to answer. The younger generation tends to kiss a new acquaintance right off the bat. That is not true for everyone. You might be invited to someone’s house and shake hands when you say hello but kiss when you say goodbye since you have gotten to know the person over the course of a meal and a couple of bottles of wine. Your best bet would be to do what they do.

To kiss or not to kiss -- now that's a good question.
To kiss or not to kiss — now that’s a good question.

The only excuse for not kissing hello to a friend is related to health. You can excuse yourself from that social gesture if you have a cold or feel one coming on. A few years ago, when the swine flu broke out, I did notice some air kissing in France – where people would pretend to kiss by smacking their lips but there is no bodily contact that could spread germs. That did not last too long (thank goodness).

In France, men kiss men, women kiss women, men kiss women, the young kiss the old and vice versa but everyone who uses kissing in their greeting does so on the cheek. A kiss on the lips, even a brief one, is a sign of romantic love, intimacy.

People who witness a kissing greeting on the lips of a couple can immediately see that they are a couple. Greeting hugs are rare in France – I have actually only seen them at funerals and weddings. The traditional social gesture is a kissing, with facial contact only.

France was one of the first countries to allow public displays of affection. That is a surprise to no one. Paris, the capital city of romance, is full of park benches with people showing off their French kissing skills. No one yells at them to “Get a room!” – lovers are just part of the scenery here along with the Arc of Triumph and the Eiffel Tower.

Eh voila! There you have the basic guidelines for meeting and greeting the French. So, what’s the next step? Come on over and enjoy the wonderful social ritual of kissing hello and goodbye. We all know the French love to demonstrate.

The French Animalistic Side to International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day today, March 8th, and Paris is hosting many activities ranging from races to exhibits; films to flash mobs. The theme this year is “Make it Happen” and the Parisians seem to be doing just that. At least, that’s what I thought when I looked up the ambitious program on paris.fr. But soon after, I also picked up a copy of the women’s magazine “Marie Claire” and was a bit surprised to see an article about International Women’s Day with the photo of a prominent young French politician holding a hen (that’s right, a live hen, the rooster’s female counterpart) and posing very seriously for the camera. Huh, what’s that all about?

I knew the French had a difficult time understanding Obama’s Presidential pardon of a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. I remember trying to explain that tradition to my colleagues, only to have the discussion finish with yet another, “You Americans are crazy” comment. So, what was this? Some kind of statement connected to the cock being the symbol of France? Was the politician rooting for replacing the rooster, a male symbol, with the hen, a female symbol? Was it time to make this happen? Were the French the crazy ones now?

The man in the photo is Jean-Vincent Placé, a the president of the Ecologist Party in the Senate. It seems this photo was staged as his personal statement against sexism and, specifically, against sexism in politics.

The Ecologist protecting his hen.
The Ecologist protecting his hen.

It directly relates to a recent incident where an extremely impolite UMP (French center-right political party) politician “clucked” at a woman speaker, a colleague of Mr. Placé.  She was insulted and retorted with, “I am not a hen!” And that’s how this French version of Animal Farm started.

Mr. Placé also states in the article that the French political world is primarily old and macho – a bunch of unenlightened sexagenarians (think Dominique Strauss-Kahn). Is he right about that? Oh definitely. Will holding a hen change any of the old geezers’ way of treating women? I doubt it.  Even though there are quite a few women in the French government, they are not respected by their peers. A few months ago, a female minister was actually whistled at when she addressed the Senate because she was wearing a dress – that’s right – an unprovocative flowery dress. Mr. Placé does have some work to do.

However, getting dressed up in a nice suit and holding up a hen in a protective gesture is just as ridiculous as clucking in the French Senate. This Senator is actually part of the legislative system. He can propose laws; lobby laws; change laws. He can introduce sanctions for politicians who disrupt their colleagues and the business-at-hand. (There is nothing like a hefty fine or a suspension to make anyone think twice before he opens his beak.) Mr. Placé can find a legislative solution and, in doing so, demand respect for everyone – men and women alike. He can leave the hen in the farmyard and show us a law that deals with this problem. That’s part of the job.

Let’s hope that this hen party is the last one for the French government. Let’s hope that in 2016, on International Women’s Day, we can see a photo of Mr. Placé holding up legislation that sanctions disrespectful and unproductive public behavior on the part of  politicians. We can all cluck to that.

French Catholics Launch an Unholy War on Internet Infidelity

Angry French Catholics in the chic upmarket city of Versailles have launched a crusade against a dating website that specializes in promoting marital infidelity. The Association of Catholic Families (AFC) is suing Black Divine, the publisher of Gleeden, an online platform that puts an extramarital spin on its matchmaking. Gleeden was supposedly designed by women for women, but it is run by two French brothers, who, for whatever reason, have incorporated their business in the USA, where both of them reside. Gleeden (a tongue in cheek reference to temptation in the Garden of Eden symbolized by a half-bitten apple), began in 2009 and is thriving. There are 2.3 million members in Europe – about half of them in France.

gleeden3
“Being faithful to two men is being twice as faithful.”

The AFC has obtained over 20,000 signatures demanding that Gleeden’s posters be removed from public buses and metro stations. So far, they have succeeded in a few towns west of Paris such as Versailles, Poissy and Rambouillet. The Parisian metro, however, will not take down the Gleeden ads. The official charge that the Catholics are using against Black Divine is that promoting marital affairs violates Article 212 of the Napoleonic civil code which states that “married couples owe each other respect, fidelity, help and assistance.” Mentioning Napoleon and fidelity in the same sentence is a bit of an oxymoron. He and Josephine were openly cheating on each other long before the internet was even thought of – they didn’t need any “platform”. Adultery was business as usual in their empiric circle. And, since 1804 when the civil code was passed, French presidents have also done their devilish part in practicing infidelity in their marriages – I could name names but it’s all proud public knowledge. Let’s talk about what Gleeden does specifically.

First of all, Gleeden’s slogans are cute and sassy. Here are just a few examples: “As a matter of principle, we do not offer a loyalty card.” “Being faithful to two lovers is being twice as faithful.” “Having a lover costs less than anti-depressants.”        Gleeden claims to be an adultery specialist; it sells itself, not as a matrimonial agency, but as a “high-end social platform where married and engaged adults may interact.”

"How about this year you cheat on your lover with your husband?"
“How about this year you cheat on your lover with your husband?”

The opening pages on the website encourage the user to take reasonable precaution when communicating with other members, reminding them they are using Gleeden “at their own risk.” This site, this world community, can help one arrange for a fun evening, a flirtation, a soul-mate, or a true friendship anywhere in the world. It was created to give a sense of belonging to the married community; to help people who need to evolve in a discreet environment. The site even includes a panic button which you can use if you are interrupted by your boss, wife or husband – the button will not leave any trace of your misbehaving. Gleeden thought of everything.

Gleeden can be satirical too. An example of this can be found on the registration page where it says , “You must be honest in your marital status – Integrity is the foundation of our work.” I couldn’t believe it. And then I could.

Adultery is no longer a reason for divorce in France (the law was changed in 1975) so this actually makes sense. It certainly wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a market for it. In France, Gleeden is most popular with finance executives and doctors. There are also huge increases in French women visiting the site during the World Soccer Cup, World Rugby Cup and the Tour de France. No surprises there.

Assuming that the French are the forerunners in the adultery department, I naturally thought that Gleeden was the first of such web dating services. I did a little research and discovered the existence of Ashley Madison, a married couples dating service which began in 2001 and is based in Toronto. So, for once, the Canadians upped the French.

"Thanks for your loyalty", another sassy slogan from Gleeden - recently removed from Versailles buses.
“Thanks for your loyalty”, another sassy slogan from Gleeden – recently removed from Versailles buses due to the French Catholics’ petition.

I also found out that the public transportation system in Toronto would not allow Ashley Madison to advertise on their streetcars. Canadian public officials thought encouraging adultery was morally offensive, comparing it to inciting students to cheat on their school exams – just plain wrong. Speaking of immoral sanctions, in 2009, there was a French website called “domyhomework.com”, which would supply students with finished school assignments for a fee. It was forced to close almost as soon as it opened due to protests from National Education officials and angry parents and teachers.

I guess, in France, cheating on exams is different from cheating in a marriage. In France, they strongly believe that children should not be encouraged to cheat – cheating should be left to the adults.   So, if you’re an adult in France looking for where to go to cheat, just take the Parisian metro and follow the apple – the Gleeden ads are still there – at least for now.

Presidential Speeches in Paris and Chicago – Vive la Difference

Politics Everywhere

From May 6th to November 6th, as an American living in Paris, I got to follow two political adventurers in their bout for their respective Presidencies.  For the French election of François Hollande the campaign, the debates, the hype and Election Day coverage were omnipresent.  For the American election of Barack Obama, the campaign, the debates, the hype and Election Day coverage were also omnipresent – and I live in Paris, France, not Paris, Texas.  Why the French follow the US Election almost as closely as their own is beyond me.  I was just happy to be able watch it live from this side of the pond.

Declaration of Love
As I listened to President Obama’s acceptance speech and heard the words “love”, “family”, “spirit”, “hope”, “God”, I thought about the wonderful differences between France and the US and started smiling away as I imagined President Hollande accepting his new job using the same buzz words – especially the love buzz. Barack made a public

Obama and his family – up close and personal.

declaration of love for his wife, Michele Obama.  He said he wouldn’t be the man he is today without her.  He even said how proud he was that America had fallen in love with her too during these past four years.  The President mentioned family as well – his view that Americans are all one, big American family.

Stand By Your Man – Maybe
As an American, this habit of using one’s wife as part of the political platform didn’t surprise me.  But, in the French mindset, that just wouldn’t happen.  I saw flashes of all of Mr. Hollande’s women during his candidacy, but they were always in the background, not in the forefront.  And, since Mr. Hollande is not married, and his girlfriend tends to be outspoken in a bad way, he would just not “go there.”  In France, the wives and/or

Here’s the French President’s girlfriend, close but not too close.

girlfriends of politicians are not running for office with them.  No one cares what happens behind closed Presidential doors.  This is so NOT true in the US where the wrong companion choice can make or break a candidate.

Family Guys
Calling the nation an “American family” may sound a bit corny but it did get a huge round of applause from the public at Obama’s acceptance speech.  I cannot even imagine the President of France addressing his constituents as a “French family” – it would seem ludicrous to the Parisians.  Such a remark might be greeted with shouts and tomatoes.  French families are blood-related, not ballot-related – no exceptions.
One interesting thing I noticed as I re-read Hollande’s acceptance speech is that there is a bit of flag-waving (but no French flag pin on his lapel) as he says, “we are just not any nation on this planet, or this world, We are France.”  He had also mentioned that all of Europe was watching the results of the French elections – for Obama, of course, it was the whole world (but who’s counting?)

Happy Endings
The difference in the endings of the speeches was striking, even if predictable. I think Obama was really over the top with “Together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.  Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.”  I mean seriously, “the greatest nation on Earth?”  Now who says the French are arrogant?
However, I re-read Hollande’s last words and noticed they centered on serving his country; enforcing the values that were made clear by his election.  The French President emphasized that these values will be heard all over France, Europe and the World.  And then he repeated the traditional “Vive la République et vive la France !”  It was a bit boastful, as close to patriotism as a Frenchman can get but subtle compared to Obama’s declaration.
Divine Separation
There was no mention of God, since there couldn’t be – one of France’s cornerstone values is the separation of Church and State.  They actually enforce that belief in their political system.
The political roller coaster ride on both sides of the Atlantic is over for now.  It’s funny how wives, girlfriends, family, flag-waving and God can be such relative matters in a Presidential election.  That’s why I say, “Vive la Difference.”

Office Erotica – Frenchie Shades of Grey

A Different Kind of Monday

I never, in my wildest dreams, could have imagined that the coffee break conversation at work (on a Monday morning no less), would center on erotica. The week was slowly getting underway – at this point we usually talk about sports, movies or politics – or the actual work that needs to get done during the current week.  So I was a bit surprised when one of my male colleagues, with a snicker of anticipation on his face, asked for my opinion on handcuffs.

I Got the Hint
I knew what he was talking about immediately.  The modern-day erotic trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey” had already hit unprecedented popularity in the US.  The French edition made front page news – they all must have read the same newspaper on the subway on their way to the office.  So there was a simple explanation.
Jean-Jacques actually brought out the newspaper so everyone could see.  He showed us the handcuffs; I mean the picture of the handcuffs.
“You Americans are real masters of porn,” he said.  It’s funny because you’re all so repressed sexually – can’t even go topless at the beach.”

The Proof is in the Spelling
“E.L. James, the author, is British, not American,” I said.  “You can tell by the spelling of the word grey in the title.  It’s the UK spelling.”
“I bet you already read it then,” he said.

Grey – with an E

“A little bit, I read it over a lady’s shoulder on my flight from New York to Paris a couple of weeks ago.  I read something about a blindfold too – is that what you’re getting your wife for Christmas?”, I joked.

Blindfolds and Bragging
The four male colleagues all laughed and bragged that their wives didn’t need blindfolds or handcuffs.  French men know what a woman wants but, if their partners did express a desire to be bound to the bed post, that wouldn’t be a problem.  The French lover aims to please.  Jean-Jacques offered us all a second cup of coffee so that we could have time to continue this conversation.  No one was in a hurry to go back to their desk.
“What about toys?  Would you use sex toys too?”, I asked.
“Of course!  No problem with anything our lady desires.”
“How about a three-way?”
“This country invented the “ménage a trois” before you were even born!  Before your country was even born!”

Proud of Being French
We then got into a general discussion of whether or not this book would be a success in France.   My four colleagues all participated in the debate.  (They are usually very quiet, almost docile when they’re sitting in front of their computers.  Sometimes I jokingly pinch them as I walk by to make sure they’re still breathing.  I didn’t have to pinch anyone this lively Monday morning.)
They talked about Brigitte Bardot, the 1974 French erotic film, “Emmanuelle” and the swinging “free sex” clubs that are all over Paris.  In the end, these guys all agreed that that “Fifty Shades of Gray” wouldn’t do as well in France as it has in the USA simply because there is no need for it.  Their collective opinion was that French women were sexually satisfied – thanks to them.

A Friendly Wager
I didn’t believe them.  But, instead of saying that out loud and damaging any fragile male egos, I challenged that premise with a wait-and-see attitude and a little friendly wager.  I suggested that we go review this same topic four weeks from now and see how the French version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is doing.  If it is as successful as they assured me it would NOT be, they lose and I win.
“OK,” agreed Jean-Jacques, “what happens if we lose?”
“That’s easy,” I said.  “If you guys lose, you all have to buy the book for your wives – just think of it as marriage insurance.”
“And if we win?” they collectively asked.
“I’ll buy you all coffee – and an extra set of handcuffs.”
I’ll let all you readers know in a month how this works out.  I hope they lose since I have no idea where to buy handcuffs in Paris!

A Dog’s Life in Paris

Courtyard Intrigue
I ran into the concierge as I left my Parisian apartment the other day.  She had this “cat who swallowed the canary” look on her face.  I was in a hurry and would normally have breezed right by her with a quick “bonjour” but I was intrigued – my errands could wait.
“I finally did it”, she whispered, looking around with a furtive glance.  This was highly confidential, top secret info she was about to spill and it was for my ears only.
“I got her good this time, that Mme Blanc and her stupid dog, she is not dealing with an amateur here.”

Canine Disrespect
Now, for a little background information, Mme Blanc is a 70-something tenant on the ground floor who benefits from the post-war Rent Control Law of 1948, meaning that her rent was frozen in that year and has not been raised since(!).  So, in essence, she pays about 150€ monthly whereas other tenants in the same-size apartments would pay ten times as much, if not more.  Once she moves out, the rent will hit the market price.   But, I can assure you, Mme Blanc and her Yorkshire terrier, Rafa, (short for Raphael) are not going anywhere.

Here’s Rafa, the Parisian dog who is much smarter than he looks.

Nobody Likes Rafa
To be fair to Mme Rodriguez, the concierge, the fact that she herself pays more rent than Mme Blanc doesn’t matter.  What matters is the disrespect shown to her by the silly little mutt, Rafa.  Rafa barks, bites and poos in the apartment courtyard which is supposedly off-limits to pets.

Mme Blanc has a habit of sunbathing in the courtyard hardly dressed appropriately for a public place (but we don’t care about that here in France; what we care about is the dog).  When she does her sun-worshiping routine, Rafa is at her side trying to bite anyone who crosses his path (myself included).  Nobody likes Rafa.

Repositioning
“I couldn’t stand it anymore.  That dog continues to poo in the courtyard and she doesn’t pick it up.  It’s not my job to clean up after her dog.”
“So what did you do?  I know you did something,” I said.
“You’re freaking right,” Mme Rodriguez said.  “I picked up the poo and put in on her door mat.  Now she has to deal with it.”
This was a real Laughing Out Loud situation.  I couldn’t help it.  I could just imagine Mme Blanc’s face when she discovered her dog’s poo hand-delivered to her doorstep.  I wish I had been going up to my apartment at that moment and had seen/smelt it first-hand.  I bet Mme Blanc would not even suspect the concierge.  She would probably think it was one of the kids in the building.  The secret is safe with me (and with all of you now).

Taking Care of the Shituation
I was proud of my concierge that day.  She took matters into her own hands and handled the shituation (pun intended) in a very efficient way.  I’m sure that Rafa’s poo will be disposed of in a proper manner from now on – and not left in the courtyard.  However, I did run into Rafa on my way home yesterday.  We crossed paths and I was an eye witness to his peeing right at the entrance of the concierge’s apartment.  That dog is smarter than I thought!

Tasting Tips for the French Wine Connoisseur Wannabe

Tilt and Swirl – Gently, very gently

A Fair Paris Tradition     

Now that parents have depleted their school supply budget and the kids are safely back in their respective institutions, the Parisians are ready to party.  The first sign of this is the hype for the traditional “Foire aux Vins”, or “Wine Fair” which starts in mid-September and lasts for two weeks.  There are wine tastings everywhere – private homes (beats a Tupperware party), supermarket retailers, wine store chains and farmers’ markets (my favorite).  A wine consumer really gets to consume before they buy at this time of year.  It could be overwhelming for those of you who aren’t used to the many facets of wine. So, here are some tips for the wine-tasting neophyte.
1.    Look before you leap – Take a good look at the wine you have poured into that glass; observe and enjoy its color.  Look beyond the usual suspects of red, white or pink.  Is it ruby, maroon, purple or brownish?  For white wines, is it pale, yellow, golden, straw-colored? Is it opaque, cloudy, translucent?
2.    Tilt and Swirl – Tilt your glass slightly and give that wine a gentle swirl.  Look for traces of sediment, which is a sign of an aged wine.  Older reds might have more of an orangey tinge on the outside as you swirl; older whites would be darker.  The swirling aerates the wine, which will release its aroma.  The secret of the perfect swirl?  Be gentle and don’t stand near anyone who is wearing white.
3.    Smell and Sigh – Well, maybe, just smell.  The aroma of the wine will conjure up fruity memories of raspberry, blackberry, gooseberry or black current.  You might also smell vanilla, oak or citrus.  Enjoy it – smell once, smell twice.  Your nose will remember.
4.    Taste and Savour – Now, taste the wine, really taste it.  Remember, you drink water but you taste wine.  So, take your time.  If the wine doesn’t stay long enough in your mouth, you cannot appreciate its magnitude.  Sip it first, letting the wine spread across your tongue.  Swish it from front to back and side to side before finally swallowing. Let its acidity, tannin and depth explode in your mouth.  And let it linger.
5.    After-taste – Once you have imbibed the wine, it’s time to pay attention to how long it lingers.  Can you still taste it on the back of your mouth or throat?  Is the taste sweet, acidic?  Like butter, fruit, flower or oak? Do you like it?  Do you want more?
6.    Discover your preferences – There is no wine that satisfies everyone’s palate so it’s to time to pay attention to yours.  Know what you like.  Tastes can vary from fruit, leather, wood, spices, nuts, vanilla or any combination of these.  Pick your favorite flavor from the wonderful range of options.
7.    Write and remember – I can’t tell you how many times I have tasted a wonderful wine only to forget its name the morning after.  So, keep a paper and pen handy when you embark on your wine-tasting adventure and write down the ones that you liked and want to buy again and again.
8.    Buy It – The Wine Fair in France in September is a great time to buy – in wine store chains or even in huge supermarkets such as Carrefour or Auchan.  At a supermarket, you might not be able to taste everything you would like to so here’s a little hint.  Buy a bottle that you think would be a good bargain; drink it the same day.  If you like it, go back and get a case or two before they all sell out.  Have a party or get a wine cellar.  Whatever you do, enjoy it.  Wine and dine your lover, family or friends – or yourself.  You know you’re worth it!

August in Paris – An Entire City on Holiday

Heaven on the Seine

It’s the most wonderful time of the year in Paris.  It’s the month of August, the time when vacation with a capital V invades the city; kidnaps the Parisians and forces them to go somewhere else.  Most of them go south or to Normandy but it doesn’t really matter where they go.  The big deal is that in the month of August, the Parisians are not in Paris.  They lend the entire metropolis to a few stragglers (like me) and lucky tourists who can peacefully explore Paris without the usual hustle, bustle and stress.  It’s heaven.

The Inherent Right to Go Away

It has always been amazing to me, almost scandalous sometimes, the way Paris allows itself to slow down to a near-halt in August.  It’s a time-honored tradition that gets everyone involved from shop keepers to civil servants to government officials.  It’s probably the one thing that opinionated Parisians agree upon – their need, their right to a month’s holiday.  Good for them.

The newspapers are full of stories of where the president, ministers and local celebrities are spending their time off.  Francois Hollande made news by taking a high speed train instead of the expensive government plane to get to Fort de Bregancon, an official presidential retreat on the French Riviera.  He and his girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler did travel first class but I guess that’s to be expected.  Their appearance at the Gare de Lyon in the middle of thousands of other fleeing Parisians was certainly a surprise and a big change from his predecessor.

Police Peace of Mind

There are a couple of downsides to an empty city but the Parisians have thought of everything.  For example, there is a higher incidence of break-ins in Paris in August.  To help combat this, the Prefecture de Police has launched Operation “Tranquilité-Vacances” (which translates to something like Peace of Mind during your Vacation).  What this means is that the police will pass by your apartment during the holidays just to check that everything is all right.  You have to sign up for this service in person at the local police station (bringing the right form and proof of residence) and must be gone for at least 7 days (that’s super-easy to do in France!)  This free service applies to private citizens and shop keepers alike.

Daily Bread – It’s the Law

If you are thinking that fresh bread might be hard to find in Paris during the month of August – don’t worry.  The French government has it covered.  The 1200 bakeries in Paris are forbidden by law to choose their holiday period; the city does it for them.  In 1790, right after the French revolution, a law was passed forcing all bakeries to close either in July or August – on an alternating basis.  And that law is still enforced to this day.  A baker who has closed up his shop when he should legally be open risks a fine of 11–33 € per day.  We all know how serious the bread business is here.

A big upside in Paris in August is car-related.  There is a liberating lack of traffic jams; an unheard abundance of street parking – which, unbelievably, is free.  Yes, the meter maids are all on the beach in August; no one is minding the store.  How cool is that? You can count the cars on the fingers of one hand - that's how you know it's August.

The Ultimate Playground

So if you really want to enjoy a city on vacation during your vacation, come to Paris in August.  Just don’t expect to mingle with the natives – mingling with foreigners is not a Parisian cup of tea anyway.  Just come and enjoy the ultimate playground – Paris.

Blood, Sweat and Sneers in the Parisian Metro

Summer in This City

A mini-heat wave slapped Paris this week and one would think that would make the Parisians happy.  The sun had been hiding for at least four weeks and it was reassuring to see it finally make an appearance.  However, the transition was “quick and dirty” and the citizens of this beautiful city were just not psychologically ready for it.  How do I know?  I take the “Metro”.  There, in the underbelly of this beautiful capital, you see the real Paris.  And this week, with 90 degree temperatures and high humidity, the real Paris was not a pretty place.

As soon as I walked into the passenger car on Line 1 of the Metro and smelled the overwhelming scent of summer sweat, I knew this would not be a pleasant ride.  The train was packed – people were impolitely pushing to get on and to get off – it was chaotic to say the least, but that’s not new.  The new thing I noticed is that the fellow passengers, who usually have indifference written on their faces, now looked nasty.  They wore snarls instead of smiles – as if they were angry at everyone present because it was hot and they were uncomfortable.  I had a premonition that something bad was going to happen.  And I was right.

Mistaken Phone Identity

The train stopped at Concorde, a particularly busy station, and in the hustle and bustle of entrances and exits, someone dropped their iphone without even realizing it.  A happy, helpful tourist who was coming on the train picked it up and gave it to a man who was leaving the train.  The tourist innocently thought it belonged to that guy.  It didn’t.  The real owner of the iphone, who was standing near the door, finally woke up and acknowledged that it was his.  He snapped it back with a quick flick of his wrist and looked at the tourist with that snarly, nasty look I had mentioned earlier.  He did manage to whisper an unconvincing “merci” to the tourist who saved his phone; then plugged himself into it and turned on his indifference.

Here is the scene of the Blood, Sweat And Sneers in the Parisian Metro.

Showtime

Then, the real show started.  The tourist was from southern France (I could tell by the accent) and he was with four other friends.  One of them started a monologue about how the man who recovered his phone was practically yelling at the tourist when he should have been showing a little more gratitude.

“You do someone a favor and they treat you like scum”, the man said.  “He should be happy he got his phone back, the ungrateful jerk.”

At that point, the “jerk” unplugged himself.

“What’s your problem?” he asked the friend of the tourist, “I said thank you.”

“It was the way you said it, you thought that my friend was trying to steal your phone instead of giving it back to you.”  The steamy metro car just got steamier.

Fight to the Finish

They shot insults back and forth – the usual angry talk about going outside to finish this off, wherever, whenever.  People stepped back to give them room; there were a couple of passengers taking out their iphone to film the scene.  When the Metro reached the next stop, they were both sneering at each other with red faces – who was going to throw the first punch?

Fortunately, the iphone jerk was with a girlfriend.  She had been standing right behind him in stoic silence all this time.  Anyway, she touched his arm and told him it wasn’t worth it.  It seems they were already late for wherever they were going.  (I wonder if they were going to be late for an Anger Management class – at least that would be funny.)

So, the incident was over; there was a little less steam on the subway train and people went back to sneering.  I hope the heat wave ends soon.  I don’t know if I can handle the drama.