07/22/2010 12:31 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Le Sénat

A good friend of mine from London moved back to Paris a few years ago and met her now-husband on her first weekend back in the City of Lights. He is now a Senator, and this lovely couple invited us to join a private tour and dinner at the Sénat last night.

I hadn't entirely understood what we were getting ourselves into. I've strolled around the Jardins Luxembourg almost every day since we arrived in Paris seven weeks ago, and though I knew that the gardens technically belong to the Sénat, I hadn't stopped to consider the actual building and what went on inside. We were late (of course), and the tour was in rapid fire French, so I can't be too precise about the politics, the electoral system, how a bill becomes a law, or even if Senators are the people who are responsible for making laws in France.

I can, however, speak to the few gems that I was able to glean on our whiz through the second half of the tour, including some obvious contrasts between the Sénat here and the United States Senate and its Capitol Building in Washington, DC:

- For one, we're allowed into the Capitol Building. The public is expressly forbidden from entering the Palais du Luxembourg without written permission. So, presumably, are lobbyists.

- The Sénat is the former palace of Catherine de Medici. She did not fool around. The walls and ceilings drip with gold. The Hub put it best: "This doesn't shout democracy."

- The French Senators have just imposed new limitations whereby no one is allowed to speak for more than three minutes. There are foreboding digital clocks placed in strategic locations around the main chamber that keep everyone in bay. If only the Republicans had such a rule.

- The Palais du Luxembourg is reputed to have the most well-stocked wine cellar in France.

and, my personal favorite:

- The Senators each have their own seat, all of which are upholstered in a warm velvet that is the color of a fine claret. They come in three sizes - for the slim, the average, and the more portly.

- By Ashley Maddox