Figure/Ground

Paris


Through some unfortunate decisions on our part, we ended up with fragments of three days in Paris. Two nights, one afternoon, and one morning. Obviously, that's not enough to see most cities, let alone Paris, so take my ramblings with a huge grain of salt.

Paris is different from London in one important aspect for me: it seemed less well kept. It just seemed dirtier and more broken down. In fact, there were graffiti on some of the trains (something I haven't seen since the late 80s in New York). Paris also didn't seem very tourist-friendly. I guess they are clinging to the idea that the lingua franca is still French, not English. The two big stereotypes about French people (that they stink and refuse to speak English) are both true. The men we came across either stunk like alcohol or just plain stunk. And it was a chore trying to communicate with these people. I wonder if it's us damn English-speakers who are provincial in our refusal to try speaking the local language or the French who are provincial in having no interest in trying ours. In any case, I felt less welcome in Paris than in any other city I've visited yet.

Less I end up sounding sour about our Paris trip, I will mention that I loved the Louvre. It was glorious. I've read about it, heard about it, seen pictures of it, but I was absolutely floored by it nevertheless. I'm not talking about the collection (which is unbelievable), and I'm not talking about the pyramids (which look dated already). I'm talking about the Palace itself. The Forbidden City is a wooden shack compared to this. The London and Paris museums in general are in a different class than the ones here, I'm afraid to say. We might put on a good exhibition here and there but the pure size and breadth of the collections just can't compete.

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December 2003 update:

I had a fun exchange with JPH from France about my stereotyping of the French as unfriendly and smelly. Here is an excerpt:

Something you might be interested about: I would say that our "smelly" reputation is partly due to a man named Saint Simon. Saint Simon was a writer living at the Versailles court, and probably was one of the first to describe the day-to-day life of the courtisanes, including the hygiene habits of the 18th century [which can be considered as horrible according to our current standards!]. Versailles probably wasn't the only dirty place in Europe, but the story was written, and our reputation established! Well, at least this is a part of the explanation: there are still people I would like to offer soap to!




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