1) SMALL PORTIONS
In France, everything is miniature. The house I am staying in has a lot of antique furniture and right now I am sleeping in a bed from the 1800s that requires me to position myself at a 45 degree angle just to fit between the headboard and the footboard. The people are small, the mustaches are small and the food portions are even smaller. Do I initially find it almost offensive when the waiter comes by and puts this mouse-sized offering of popcorn at my table? Yes, it's essentially a "shot" of popcorn, which is not an actual amount that that food should ever exist in, and for a popcorn lover such as myself, it is the equivalent insult of giving a penny to a homeless person.
But do I eventually thank him? Well, ok maybe not -- but I do eventually not care or think about it anymore. The thing with smaller portion sizes is, over time you realize that you don't in fact need as much as you maybe have come to expect. After all, humans can adapt to anything, and after the third time you take a swig out of what turns out to be a "pitcher for the whole table," the new size of the world around you begins to sink in. In almost no time you will find that, while you may have appreciated more popcorn, you don't really need it (also you can just make more for yourself when you get home).
2) BUSINESSMEN ON BICYCLES
Sure you could argue that in America we have "businessmen on bicycles" too, but the French Businessman-on-a-Bicycle is an entirely different species. Americans will never master the same level of "Yeah I'm wearing a designer suit and I also have a baguette in my basket (yeah that's right, I said 'basket')" je ne sais quoi. The French businessman floats along with a casual but upright posture, taking in all that is around him with breezy nonchalance and, in the event of an emergency, lightly ringing his little bell. He does not, like his Western brothers, bump taxi cabs, knock on car doors and frantically swerve around pedestrians as if they are simply cone-like obstacles in the giant video game that is his life.
3) REQUIRED SWIM CAPS AT PUBLIC POOLS
This added regulation for all swimmers at Parisian public pools instantly ensures that 1) the kids all look extra-adorable and 2) it's impossible for any of the adults to even try to look sexy. Simply putting a brightly colored plastic cap on the kids (especially if it matches their bathing suit) instantly turns them all into magical little water fairies, and for the adults it eliminates any pressure to look good by the leveling the playing field to everyone looking absolutely ridiculous. After all, what's the point of trying to slim down for "bikini season" if at the end of the day everyone's just gonna end up looking like a giant phallus.
4) *GOOD* VENDING MACHINE COFFEE
(Maybe there are parts of the U.S. that have this figured out, but I've lived in Boston, Los Angeles and New York, and I haven't seen it)
Unlike a typical morning in the U.S., where everyone tends to walk around with body-dwarfingly enormous cups of coffee as if we're all drones in a society of which the Olsen twins are God, in France no one has a coffee. I assume they either drink it at home in a leisurely fashion (aka how they do everything), or joyfully and conveniently partake in the bounty that is the vending machine coffee once they've arrived at work (which, providing they are there one minute early, they will have time to do). Since discovering the vending machine coffee at my school, I have been in heaven. It costs €0.80, equivalent to about a dollar. It comes in a tiny paper cup with no lid, straw, cardboard protecting sleeve or other unnecessary crap, aka future trash. It tastes good but is also strong enough that you can drink a little bit and be good to go; no need to carry around a giant family-size thermos of Starbucks everywhere as if you are preparing for a camping trip/the apocalypse.
French people have actually mentioned to me that they find it both hilarious and mystifying that in all the dubbed American TV shows they watch here, the characters are always carrying around huge cups of coffee. "Zey are at a murder scene, why do zey have zat beeg cup of coffee?!" they demand incredulously.
5) THIS RAMP THING
Why don't we have this ramp thing? This is basic high school physics. You don't have to build a whole elevator system, just lay a board on some stairs for God's sake! Grandmas, annoying tourists and all people with rolly-things, unite! And petition to get America this rolly thing, that you may more easily roll your rolly things!
(Not to fixate on Subways but...)
6) HIGHER TRAIN TRACKS/LOWER PLATFORMS
In the Paris Metro there is less distance between the platform edge and the train track floor. I'm sure there is a complicated engineering answer as to why the New York subways tracks were originally designed differently, but until someone annoyingly explains that to me at a party, I am going to keep complaining about this.
In Paris, if someone were to fall onto the tracks it really wouldn't be that big a deal: They could just climb back up onto the three-foot-high ledge. Not like in New York where instant panic is obligatory after finding yourself in what is essentially a Silence-of-the-Lambs-esque cavern, leaving you no choice but to scream at strangers to risk their own lives in an effort to save you. In Paris you don't even need someone else's help to get out. What we have created in New York is an unnecessary death-trap within a city that is already one big death-trap.
7) HANDS-FREE HAIR DRYER
Pretty self-explanatory. Why don't we have this? (Bonus Extra Credit: Why don't we have these lockers?)
8) PLUG-IN CARS/BIKE RENTAL SYSTEM
I'm going to combine these into one category called "Smarter Shit." While as an American without a European credit card, I cannot actually experience this quality form of transport firsthand, like the hot guy at the party who won't give me the time of day, the F U this system gives to all non-Europeans only makes me love it more. The company, called Vélib, has bike stations all over Paris, and members can conveniently grab a bike from any station and return it at another.
Using a *European* credit card, Vélib simply holds a deposit for the bike (in the event that it "disappears"), and when returned to a station, this hold is released. It is free for members to use the bike for less than 30 minutes and after that they are charged a meager amount per additional half hour (one to a couple euros depending on total rental time (more info here). Now, just to rub it in, Paris has implemented a similar system with, oh yeah, just an entire fleet of plug-in electric cars -- no big deal guys!
They just have this shit figured out.
10) PLENTIFUL PHOTO BOOTHS/NOT SMILING ALL THE TIME
I found this set of pictures on the ground which perfectly combines two of my favorite French assets: having photo booths everywhere and not smiling all the time. Just like in Amélie, there are photo booths all over the Paris metro system, which is great because who wants to have to go to an obscure hipster bar just to get an instant photo taken with their friends.
You will also notice that this man is not smiling. He would probably be smiling even less if he knew these photos were going to be posted on the internet, but if you throw something on the ground, you should probably assume it's eventually gonna end up on the internet. Don't get me wrong, even I appreciate a good shit-eating grin from time to time, and the French definitely tend to overdue the "bored indifference" act, but there is something to be said for not feeling obligated to patronizingly smile at everyone you make eye-contact with. In doing so, I suspect that the French must maintain a secret reserve of energy, as well as a not so secret reserve of dignity.
In a closing statement regarding the photo booths, I would like to point out that last time I checked we were the grown-ups who made up the god damned rules in this society, so there's no reason we shouldn't have them everywhere. Also, Coke in the water fountains please? Come on people, there's an election coming up.
View more Photos and Video from Elizabeth's Parisian travels at http://americanwerewolfinparis.tumblr.com/