Timing… and Culture is Everything
I don’t really like the saying “timing is everything”. It’s a passive outlook, forgoing any accountability in a result. It’s not the timing of “the thing” that matters, but the recognition of “the thing”. For example I’m in Dallas visiting friends. On the way to meet them I stop at a coffee shop and order a double shot latte at the counter. Behind me in line is Wolfgang Puck.
As I turn to leave, I mention how much I enjoyed my meal at his Bar & Grill in the MGM, Las Vegas. He thanked me and asked if I’d been to his Dallas restaurant, Five Sixty. “No, unfortunately not.” I say. He gives me his card and says to bring my girlfriends for dinner tonight, as his guest. Wow!
So – is that timing; same place at the same time? Or, is that the result of my 1) recognizing who he was and speaking to him? I’d say it is the latter.
It’s the Little Things
In Paris, “the little things in life” aren’t “little”. Paris is a place where beauty, style, and quality are important, appreciated and valued. To them, the French culture is everything. Look around and you’ll see it everywhere, if you pay attention.
- The beauty of ancient history standing toe-to-toe with the 21st Century,
- The way shops arrange their wares as if displaying art,
- The care most restaurateurs take to use only the freshest and best quality. If quality isn’t available, they change the menu.
In the US, we are constantly rushing from one thing to another, multi-tasking, wearing our high blood pressure like a badge of honor. Back in my NYC days, I remember watching my fellow coworkers leaving the office “early”, before 6pm, and thinking “what a lack of commitment, what a waste.” To the French, rushing through life the way we do, skipping lunch, working late, we are the ones wasting our time / wasting our life.
Culture Is Everything
It’s funny that most complaints Americans have about the “rude” French are due to cultural differences, not bad behavior. Here are a few examples:
- The Restaurant Experience. In Paris a meal, whether morning, noon or night, is a leisurely experience. The primaryobjective isn’t to fill your belly with as much as you can, as fast as you can. The primary objective is a relaxed, enjoyable, respite where you take the time to nourish yourself, food and spirit. Here in the US, (if you forgo the drive through and actually sit down in a restaurant) your order is taken, delivered, eaten and check delivered in lightening speed. The waiter leaves your check, sometimes, before you even take your first bite. In most of France, Paris in particular, a waiter will not bring your check until you ask for it. Many Americans complain about the poor service and how they had to wait forever and then ASK for their check. In Paris, life is not to be rushed (nor, is dinner).
- Personal is Private. There is a definite line between personal and public life in Paris. It takes time to build friendships. It’s not like in most places in the U.S., particularly the south, where everyone is your friend, at least on the surface. Being overly familiar or chatty will rub most Parisians the wrong way. The shopkeeper, your waitress, the person next to you on the metro will not want to chat with you about the weather, your visit or your life back home. They will certainly not offer you any small talk either. Also, when walking down the street or on the metro, it’s not appropriate to meet passersby’s eyes and, if you do, smiling at them is just adding fuel to the fire. Don’t do it. This doesn’t mean they don’t like you, it is just the cultural difference.
- Customer is not king. In the U.S. good service means to be catered to by a polite, patient, sometimes overly-helpful person. Businesses at home live by the code “The customer is king”. Not so In France. The customer is not king, nor are customers always right. Whether a shopkeeper, a clerk, a waitress or ticket-taker, the server and customer are equals. The server expects the same respect and consideration the customer expects. If you are in a private business and the owner is your server, it’s even more pronounced. You are now in their place, of which they are proud. Show respect to all. Not deference, but mutual respect.
In Paris – and most of France, good friends, good conversation, art, quality food and wine are all important for a good life. Quality is valued far more than quantity. The finer things in life are cherished and savored, not saved for “later”. To the French, the French culture is everything, and I love that. Earlier, Barb and I each shared our love for our mutual favorite places. Check this out for more of “why I love Paris“, if you so desire.
Check out our Paris itinerary and join us in spirit!