I was a French teacher for forty years, I lived in France during college, and I took eighteen school trips, as well as several family trips to France. I am in love with the language, the culture, and the people. My husband has only been to France three times, and they were all school trips with fixed itinerary, and the need to make sure that a group of teenagers was always present and safe. He decided that he wanted to go to Paris for our fortieth wedding anniversary. When I asked him why he chose Paris, he told me he wanted me to show him why I loved France so much. He wanted to see it the way I do. Here are a few reasons I love Paris.
Life moves slower in France, and the priorities are different. The average French person has five weeks of vacation, but in The United States we value work more, and sometimes feel guilty taking those vacation days.
Life is savored, and family is a treasure. Families eat together and spend time together.
Food is one of the great pleasures in life, and its preparation is an art form.
Change comes slower in France, and traditions are treasured.
I am an avid reader, and Paris has bookstores on every corner. They are the kind of bookstores with nooks and crannies where you can explore old books.
I love that you can be on a street where you feel crushed by people, and you only need to turn down a side street to be in an oasis of quiet.
There is history all around you. You don’t have to travel far to see a famous monument with a historical story attached to it.
Les Misérables, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Three Musketeers, The Red and Black, Baudelaire, Georges Sand, the list of amazing authors is long.
The beauty of the city
There are so many beautiful spots to stop and enjoy. One of my favorites is the Luxembourg Gardens. There is so much going on in one spot. You will see runners, people walking their dogs, tennis, biking, ponies, miniature sailboats, a small lake, beautiful flowers and fountains, a playground, a food stand, pétanque, and even a small vineyard.
The Latin Quarter
This is my favorite part of the city. It includes Notre Dame, The Luxembourg Gardens, The Pantheon, St. Chapelle, and many other important spots. I love bringing people to St. Chapelle. It is a medieval church built by Louis IX. When you walk into the bottom level you will be underwhelmed, and maybe slightly disappointed, but walk up the winding, well-worn stairs, and you will see why St. Chapelle is so special. The stairs bring you out into a room of floor to ceiling-stained glass. It is breathtaking. I remember when my friend Bob saw it for the first time, and he said, “I’m going to need a minute.”
I feel like I have grown up with Notre Dame as my favorite monument. It is my symbol of both France and faith. I never thought it could be destroyed, so the day it was burning, people came streaming into my room at school as I watched French news on the big screen. They wanted to make sure I was o.k. as I stared in shock as something that I had visited so often was going up in flames.
I’m always sad when I hear someone say the French are rude. No matter where you go in the world you will encounter a few unpleasant people, but my experience in France is that the average French person will do anything to help if you need it. Once we had gotten off at a metro station I had never been to and I was a little turned around on our way to Notre Dame, so I asked a woman if she could tell me where Notre Dame was. Before she could tell me, her husband moved protectively in front of her and asked me what I wanted. I made my request again, and the husband told me. We followed them to the corner, and I listened as they discussed whether they had given me good enough directions. I had to stop to tie my shoe, so they got ahead of us. As we approached the bridge where they told us to turn, they were waiting there to make sure we turned the correct way!
Another time, I was on a school trip around Easter, and we had some younger students who were used to receiving Easter baskets. I went into a pastry/chocolate shop, told the clerk that I wanted to make Easter baskets for my students, and before I knew it, I was behind the counter in a French patisserie with the owner who was making me beautiful baskets and throwing in extra candy. She charged me very little for some very beautiful baskets.
There are times when you can tell that our stereotype has entered the room before us. I went one year with my daughters. Jess was twenty and Kait was six. When we entered a small café for lunch, our reception was slightly glacial. We were a bit tense already when Kait knocked her Orangina bottle to the floor and it shattered. Jess and I both said, “Oh, no!” Kait started to cry, and suddenly the owner was next to Kait telling her in French that it was o.k. that it wasn’t a big deal. I always try to understand why we might be received like we were initially, and I think it might be difficult when there is often a language barrier that causes frustration.
I mentioned this in the culture, but French food deserves its own section. French bread is phenomenal, and you have over 300 choices of cheese to eat it with. When I sit down for a meal, I have to be careful not to order too much because there are so many amazing choices. The pastry stores are amazing which is why I gained twenty pounds when I lived in France.
I hope I can show my husband the wonders of the city, and I hope I can continue to make memories in this wonderful city.