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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Dog Poop and Skinny Girls



As insulting as it may seem to cultures and countries, Angela and I have decided that once you travel to a few cities, they all begin to seem very much the same. Had someone dropped us into Paris, and had we had no knowledge of the difference between the French and Spanish languages, we may immediately have believed we were in the city centers of Madrid or Barcelona or, if we did not know English, even London. All of these cities have the obvious rows of colorful shops, lots of flower shops, cafes, basic public transportation, and much-too-similar tourist attractions: museums, cathedrals, historic monuments, and parks.

However, when we made this observation, both of us were tired, sore, grouchy, and annoyed at having been ditched by our French friend Melanie the previous night when there seems to be nothing to do in her tiny hometown, Lille. To be fair to Paris and even to France as a country, people, and culture, it does possess several striking features that differentiate it from other places.

  • Paris has much wider streets than either London or Madrid. It is probably more comparable to Barcelona, but with fewer alleyways. Of course, this is considering the fact that we did not stay in Paris; we stayed in Lille, and so we did not have the opportunity to become familiar with all the nooks and crannies of the city. However, even Lille seemed to have generally wider streets than the typical “alleyway”, and this is considering even the fact that we stayed in the dodgiest of areas. (For those of you from Pittsburgh, I would say we stayed in the “East Liberty” of Lille.)
  • France is really dirty. Not in the metaphorical sense, but literally. I have never had so much dirt blown into my eyes, anywhere. Not in New York City, not in Madrid, not even in Arizona, where there was all that dusty dirt everywhere. I think it comes from the fact that they do not clean up their sidewalks. They do not employ people to clean them—as they did in Spain, where you could find people in neon vests at every corner, wheeling trash buggies and spearing or sweeping rubbish off of the ground—nor do they clean the walks themselves—attested to by the fact that there are small crusty nodules of dog poop on the sidewalk every ten meters or so.
  • Girls in France are really skinny. It is not a stereotype; it is fact. Angela bought a jar of mussels, but she needed a utensil to eat them, so we went to McDonald’s and bought McFlurries. Then, we sat in the second floor dining room and watched people on the street below while we ate our “meal” (me: brioche, apple, tap water, McFlurry, her: croissant, preserved mussels, apple juice, McFlurry). Yes, we really were that bored with Lille and what there was to do there (i.e. nothing easily accessible by broke, foreign, English-speaking students), but it was also massively entertaining to analyze the crowds that passed below without worrying that we were offending anyone, since virtually no one in Lille spoke English. We discussed men, women, children, their clothing, their actions, and their body types at full volume with no regard for who might sit down at the tables beside us. And after two hours of this type of analysis, we came to one very miraculous yet definite conclusion: French women are skinny.
  • Our second conclusion: males should not wear skinny-leg jeans. Skinny boys are not attractive, and skinny-leg jeans just make them look skinnier than they already are. Whoever started this trend should be removed from the fashion industry.
  • France seems intent upon being more chic than either Spain or England. I do not say this because I went expecting this stereotype to be true, either. The traditional architecture is more ornate and detailed than that which I saw in Spain or England. Compare cathedrals for instance: the Notre Dame blows any Spanish cathedral away ten times over for the intricacy of its carvings and statues, never mind any English churches. Spain certainly had its own style of ornament for buildings, but it was more “robust” and, for lack of a better description, less “hoity-toity.” English traditional architecture, by comparison, is just plain plain.
  • Another way in which France maintains its chic status is in its eateries. The cafes are ritzier, with wineglasses crisscrossed over the tables that are unoccupied and napkins folded quaintly at each place setting—and this is at nearly all of the outdoor cafes we passed, not just the occasional one or two. Obviously the French have fast food chains (how else would we have stayed within our budget and comfort zone without Subway or McDonald’s?), but what they do not seem to have is buffets, which both English and Spanish cities most certainly provided in some variety. Combined, these observations would imply that the French take their eating very seriously: they intend to appreciate every bite they eat. They had better, for what they pay.
  • And as for the differences in food, here are the most popular/originally “French” foods (by what I could gather from my time spent there): olives, cheese, wine, and mussles. They seriously had a cafĂ© that appeared to serve meals of only steamed mussles and side dishes, and in the supermarkets, they had a cheese deli with a greater variety than Americans enjoy when buying sandwich lunchmeat. They also have more varieties of olives than I have seen in a long time, although I assume when I go to Greece I will see more; and as for wine, well, let us just say that their wine lists usually supersede their menus, and their supermarket dedicates more than two isles to the beverage.
  • 1 comment:

    Julie said...

    I love your observations, once again. You are a born write and I'm so glad I get to read! Your bathrooms piece was funny and well thought out as well. Kudos.