While living in Paris with my classmates, we often welcome friends and family from the US. After being in Paris for a couple of days, they always seem to have a ton of questions about all things different between the cultures. I seem to have heard and answered the same questions over and over so I have compiled a list of FAQs that I will do my best to answer.
Q. Are there ANY fat women in Paris?
A. Yes, they are called "foreigners". Despite the fact that the French eat the heaviest sauces, stinkiest cheeses, and the fattiest parts of every animal, French women seem to stay super thin. Not Nicole Richie thin, mind you, but slim and sexy. Why? The portions are much smaller that those in the US and the French take their time to sit and enjoy a meal. You will almost never see a French person walking and eating at the same time. Meals are social events where people can sit and talk and enjoy the food. It is not to "feed the beast", it is to be savored for apparently as long as possible. Which is why you can never have dinner and a movie; here it is dinner or a movie. Also, French cities are usually quite small compared to other major cities and they lend themselves to walking. Paris is literally an outdoor museum with monuments everywhere you look. So, why take the subway and miss the most beautiful city in the world? Why not walk and enjoy it? Plus, you definitely do not want to miss all those slim and sexy French women!
Q. What's with all the babies?
France has Europe's largest birthrate with 2.2 kids per family. Why? Well it is really simple, the government makes it easy to have children. Women get mandatory maternity leave, and men can get paternity leave as well. There are plenty of government run day cares for kids 2 and up called "creches", or "cribs" en anglais, which do a good job of letting mothers and fathers get back to work. After that, the kids are in school until they are 18 or 19 years old. Pretty cool, huh? People can also work 4 out of 5 days a week (don't worry, they only get paid 4 out of 5) and most mothers take Wednesday off, when the maternal schools are closed.
Q. What are those things men carry that look like purses?
A. It is called a "man purse". The biggest oxymoron since jumbo shrimp.
Q. Do the French ever work?
A. Yes. You just don't notice it. Like eating, the French work ethic is one that mandates that work should take as long as possible. There is no such thing as a deadline in France. Things are never done on time. But, amazingly, things seem to get done nonetheless. The French make the most of the time at work by doing what needs to be done and not really worrying about it. So it just looks like they aren't working. They never look like they are in a rush, except to get to a cafe table in the sun (more about that later). There is also a 35 hour work week, but this only applies to hourly workers. Most people go into work around 9 and leave around 6. Just like the US. But the manner in which things are done are COMPLETELY different than the US. In my humble opinion, Americans live to work and the French work to live. If you have an appointment at 10am, expect your French counterpart to arrive at least 15 minutes late (up to 30 depending on how high in the hierarchy that person might be) and for the meeting to start at least another 15 minutes after that. Coffee and small talk are extremely important. Most french workers get at a minimum 4 weeks vacation a year with some getting an amazing 11 or 12 weeks depending on the job. That's a frickin' week a month! But the salaries also reflect the fact that they get this much time off. The paychecks here are about half of what they are in the States. So, you decide. Would you rather get the vacation or the cash? Tough question.
Q. Why can't I get a table at a cafe on a nice day?
A. The French beat you to it. And they are not going to leave! When the weather turns nice here in Paris, everything moves outside. It is a typical French postcard scene: Sunshine, beautiful architecture, and a sea of tables filled with Parisians drinking coffee, reading books, people watching, or being people watched. You can order a coffee at a French cafe and sit all doggone day if you like. The server will never bother you. They will also never ask if you would like anything else, so if you do, and you manage to get the waiter's attention without yelling; head to the track, it is your lucky day.
Q. Do the French hate Americans?
A. No. They hate George Bush. They have to be reminded from time to time that over 50% of Americans did not vote for W. Twice.
Q. Why don't they speak English in Paris.
A. Paris is in France. They speak French in France. I take back what I said in the last question. This question demonstrates why the French hate Americans. Yeah, yeah, yeah, if it wasn't for us, they would all be speaking German. And if it wasn't for them, we'd still be colonies. It's called history, learn it.