Friday, February 01, 2008


What's wrong with this picture?


No, I'm not inviting you to comment on my meager photography skills. The theme for today is: how is Paris different from just a few years ago (the last time I was here).

1. Where are the cigarettes?

Paris has instituted a smoking ban. I don't know the details, but cafes disallow smoking indoors at cafes, restaurants, etc. I'd heard about this before our arrival, but we'd assumed that the ban would be as strictly enforced as the requirement to pick up dog poop. But so far, we haven't encountered any scofflaw-ism. It's incredible to linger over your amazing French coffee without the acrid smell of cigarette smoke wafting into your face. Maybe Parisians are even discovering that their food tastes better! Smokers are relegated to the outdoor seating -- they have to be pretty intrepid to smoke in this cold, rainy winter weather.

DSCN9865 DSCN9863
Get your butts outside! Paris smoking ban seems to be working.

Unfortunately, there is still dog crap all over the sidewalks, as usual. But one victory at a time -- today, public indoor smoking, tomorrow dog poop!

2. Les velos publiques

Paris now sports 20,000 community mopeds. Apparently, you rent one at these stands located all over the city, ride it around, and leave it at an open stall in the stand nearest your destination. Quelle bonne idee!

3. Where's the attitude?

As incredible as the smoking ban is, I'm at least equally struck by the consistent friendliness and politeness we've encountered from Parisians. The legendary Parisian brusqueness toward American tourists isn't merely a myth -- it's what I've always encountered, in 5 prior trips to Paris. But not this time.

This morning, B and I entered a coffee store to by some ground coffee for our apartment. And while I have no trouble ordering a cup of coffee, I suddenly realized I lacked the vocabulary to buy bulk coffee. How do you say "beans"? How do you discuss which degree of grind you want? I said to the proprieter (in my high school French), "I believe that I don't speak coffee" -- and he actually laughed!

Taxi drivers, proprieters, people on the street... they've mostly displayed patience with our lousy French, a willingness to help, a general benevolence, even a willingness to smile.

What's the difference? Could it be that they like Americans at this particular moment because of our Democratic primaries -- enchanted by the potentiality that the Americans may replace the internationally despised Bush with a woman or a black man?

Could it be that we're here in the dead of winter, rather than -- as in my past visits -- during spring or summer when there were heaps of tourists?

Who can tell? I'm just going to ride this velo of good will as long as it lasts.

I think it may be the influence of the EU. Perhaps the French have finally embraced the plurality.

(and I feel slightly guilty about not checking your blog, and I am busily catching up on your posts. I suppose I should learn about this RSS thing so I get notified when you post.)
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