Wanderbird in Paris

Teaching in the Ghetto. Schooled in the City. Bienvenue à Paris.

House Rules

Last night I wrote about my seeming incapacity to resist French deliciousness. In passing, I suggested the French don’t smile at strangers in the streets. This has been my experience in Paris, it’s true, but I can’t really comment on French folk so generally. Or rather, I shouldn’t do. It’s not in a genuine global spirit. Moreover, the French have been exceptionally good to me. Except in cafés and restaurants, of course.

In any event, this morning I was out for a jaunt along the Seine. It was relatively quiet, the smudge of daylight not quite risen and commuters mostly in cars or underground. As many as three passers-by–strangers, indeed!–initiated a little smile exchange.

I understood it as a message from the Universe–or some other version of higher power with free time enough to read my blog (and a fabulous sense of irony)–telling me to be fair.

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Here for a good time, not a long time

Cover of

Cover of French Women Don’t Get Fat

French women don’t get fat, it’s true. Mireille Guiliano wrote a book about it. To summarize her anecdotal masterpiece: everything in moderation is key to staying slim. Indeed, the French believe in this wholeheartedly. It’s just part of the balance and joie de vivre that we know them so well for. And tant mieux. What an excellent way to live.

I, however, am far from French.

Oh, sometimes I dupe myself into thinking I’m beginning to blend in. A doctor commented on the awesomeness of my chignon the other day as she struggled to measure my height, and I was like, “Yesss!!! My hair must look so French right now.”

Then I get all elated and do something that completely negates any cultural progress I’ve made: smiling at strangers on the street, for example. So not French, and least of all, Parisian.

Moderation, equally, is something I haven’t quite mastered here. At first, I was tempted by nothing. No whiff of white bread rising in a baker’s oven could tempt me away from my decidedly West Coast food education. And chocolate in muesli? Ha! I remember well those early days of sneering contemptuously at row upon endless row of milk chocolate, dark chocolate, organic and even triple-chocolate breakfast cereals thinking, “What do the French know about nutritional balance? Can people really feed this to their kids in good faith?”

But people really do, and now I know why.

It’s delicious. Food is not about survival, here, but pleasure.

Knowing this, however, be warned: the road to French deliciousness is long, steep, and slippery. Kind-of like drug addiction, except you don’t get skinny. Just when you think you’ve discovered an indomitable regional fromage, the best of all baguettes (there are city, even nation-wide competitions), the most unreal croissant d’amande to enjoy with the daily paper and café crème at your favourite neighbourhood bakery, someone goes and invites you out for rasberry millefeuille, or offers you a just-made tarte aux noix, or you accidentally discover it’s La Chandeleur (a national crêpe-eating holiday in February). Did I mention palmiers (flaky, buttery, heart-shaped and giant-sized pastry), the always-reliable pain au chocolat, or Camembert sandwiches the length of your arm? Nothin’ but cheese and fresh bread, baby!

To paraphrase: I have maybe four friends total in Paris, and even that (embarrassingly) modest number affords more than enough social engagement to seriously compromise any efforts to “moderate.”

Thank goodness for yogurt, then. According to a French nutritionist interviewed in an article I came across recently (yet another treatise on the illustrious French Paradox), French women eat a ton of low-fat yogurt. Though no facts, statistics or scientifically-compiled research was cited, the “expert” seemed largely convinced that yogurt consumption was the big French secret to staying svelte.

I admit I was holding out for something a little more earth-shattering than that. Heart-healthy cigarettes, for example. But, in the end, I’m equally open-minded when it comes to yogurt. It’s pretty tasty, and the supermarkets here do boast an unprecedented variety.

Relieved that the cure for obesity is so simple, I’ve thrown to the wind all attempts at the moderation principle (my apologies, Mireille, but it wasn’t as easy as you suggested. Paris isn’t Provence, after all). Having deprived myself too much as a brooding, body-dysmorphic teen, I’m now only all too willing to make up for lost time.

Before I left Vancouver, my two best friends bought me a book: The Patisseries of Paris: Chocolatiers, Tea Salons, Ice Cream Parlors, and more. I know they wanted the best for me.

Now I never leave home without it.