The lady who works at the magazine kiosk at the arrivals hall at Charles De Gualle airport speaks English perfectly well. I know because this particular kiosk is always my first port of call upon my arrival in Paris. But on this particular day, she seemed to have decided that she did not understand English at all. I made my purchase in broken French and I left, annoyed with myself that I still find the rudeness of some Parisians so frustrating. You'd think as a Paris fashion week veteran I'd be immune to it by now. After all, it's not personal, it's cultural.
I was in Paris to attend another frenetic round of shows, dinners and fashion sensation that could only be Paris Fashion Week. Ah Paris... the City of Light, City of Love, allegedly the most romantic place on earth. What is it about Paris that makes you want to swear at her and declare your everlasting love, all in one single day?
However, it is impossible to feel annoyed for long in Paris. There is even something poetic about being stuck in Parisian traffic. As I gazed out of the window I watched a bunch of scruffy, teenaged skater boys trying their best to impress a tall, slender, impossibly glamorous Parisienne in sky-high Balenciaga stillettoes. It looked like a shoot for French Vogue, but it was just another day in Paris.
While we're on the subject of impossibly glamorous Parisian girls, I have never understood how they manage to remain so slim. Despite my tireless cultural research into this matter (mainly in the form of consuming as much French food as possible) I have never gotten to the bottom of it. The foundations of French cuisine seem to be butter, cream, foie gras, all of this accompanied by legions of baguettes and washed down by red wine and/or champagne and followed by fromage. Doesn't that defy every dietry rule known to fashion?
Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for a cuisine which produces such a fine array of culinary delights. I just don't understand how a diet based on fat and carbs could produce such slender silhouettes. I had thought it must be due to the steady stream of cigarettes they smoke, but since the prohibition of smoking in public spaces, Parisians have mysteriously retained their size zero figures.
Perhaps one of the reasons I can't make sense of it is that I am not one to do anything by half measures. Perhaps this is an understatement. I adore French food so much that once seated in a Parisian restaurant, I become gripped by an irrational fear that this may be my last French meal and cannot restrain myself from going for all three courses, eating and drinking as much as is socially acceptable. I inevitably roll home from Paris feeling guilty and overweight, throwing myself into a rigorous gym schedule and low carb/high protein diet.
After a series of debates on this subject among friends (over dinners of foise gras and champagne, naturellement) we concluded that the answer is not in counting calories, but rather in the dining experience as a whole. The French take their food and the art of eating it tres seriously. Meals in Paris are seen as a significant social event. It would not be deemed unacceptable to linger over lunch for hours, drinking wine as an accompaniment to the meal. They don't feel guilt, only pleasure. They would enjoy sinful indulgences without shame. The resulting experience is so satisfying that it curbs the desire to binge on fast food or take out. Perhaps theirs is a more healthy way of eating after all.
As much as I love Paris, it is always something of an emotional roller coaster for me. I feel annoyed at least three times a day by the sporadic Parisian rudeness, but conversely enjoy double that in pleasant surprises and wonderful experiences. Paris is the most visited city in the world, with almost 30 million people visiting Paris in a year. Perhaps it's understandable that Parisians feel impatient with the perpetual invasion of foreigners.
On my way back to home to sunny Madrid I stopped to buy some magazines, at the same kiosk which had caused me such chagrin on the way in. The kiosk lady seemed to have miraculously relearned English . She even smiled when I told her I was going home. Allors, c'est Paris...
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