Lessons from Paris

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, filled with family and friends, fuzzy sweaters and pjs, hot chocolate and pie. Our family celebrated in Houston this year and now, I get to finish up this post I started a couple of weeks ago…

When I travel somewhere, I make it my private mission to blend into the look and feel of the local culture. I like to find out the not-so-publicized cafes and streets to wander. The unspoken rules and faux pas. The fashion, foods, and habits.

This is what makes Paris so incredibly interesting.

So pedestrian and so particular, the Parisians are fascinating to study. And as long as you know a few key things and phrases, you could play the game too. Here are some of the most important lessons I learned, read (and plan to bring back with me) from our trip to Paris:

Paris Lessons Collage


1. Red lipstick is awesome. If you know me at all, you know that I don’t wear a lot of make up. Like, for my whole 28 years of life, I’ve never truly owned lipstick I used more than once. But while on this trip, I started noticing something. Even if tired and rushed, dressed up or dressed down, a lot of these women wore red lipstick. So I decided to give it a try — I dropped into a pharmacie, butchered my way through “je voudrais…holds up lipstick,” and gave it a shot. I liked.

2. Let’s wear all black. This is similar to fashion in New York and personally, I prefer it. Layered textures and fabrics, loose and tight, the Parisians wear a lot of black. And then, accessories with a splash of color. Or a stunning gold statement piece.

3. Always have french bread on hand. French bread comes with pretty much every meal in Paris. But don’t ask for it beforehand, like a basket of chips or the bread and butter you fill yourself with before real food comes. You will look like a hungry monster who doesn’t get it. So don’t fret, the basket of bread will come when your meal is served, so you can sop up all the delicious sauces and spices.

4. After 11am, wine is expected. At lunch, we were asked if we wanted wine. At dinner, it was expected. On any given day, you can expect folks to have hour long lunches with a glass or two of wine. I loved when it was served in a small carafe with little glasses.

5. Meandering is good. One of my favorite parts of our trip was wandering around the streets, taking in the windy cobblestone roads, and exploring the different arrondissements (their neighborhoods). Marais and Montmartre were by far my favorite. And the river. I listened to music while walking along the river, bundled up in a huge scarf from Amsterdam and pretending I was late to a very important meeting. I loved every minute of it.

6. Be prepared to use your knowledge of politicians and philosophers to spice up a dinner party. Apparently, Parisians love to discuss politics. They keep up with current events and pull from French philosophers to round out dinner party discussions. And the goal is to make it heated. And passionate — so you really feel alive. I like this. Not the slug it out at dinner part, but the intelligent conversations filled with compelling arguments.

7. Always carry a black moleskin journal and jot down anything that inspires, that moves you. I love this idea of saving little bits of introspection. I read that Parisian women always carry around a little notebook, so they can jot down the things that move them — a poem, a song lyric, a word they just learned.

8. Love good food. This was a big one for me. While in Paris, I reconnected with what it means to love food. To eat fresh, rustic, simple foods. To know the origin of your food and to share bread and wine around a table. American’s food habits are so incredibly different than the French. We are on the go, processed, quick. Even though we eat well in my home — we don’t get to really connect like the French. I started reading a book about French food and some of my favorite take-aways were:

  • Never eat standing up. Always take the time to sit.
  • Make up your table to make the meal feel like an event. Food is worth it.
  • Savor each bite. Don’t just push chips into your mouth — you cheapen the food that way.
  • And for a typical French meal, remember there are many courses involved — salad, small plate, main plate (not much bigger), cheese, fruit or dessert, and coffee.

9. Love others well. Finally, I was reminded that the French love intensely and well. Sometimes it’s in the moment. Sometimes it’s in a short-lived relationship. But they are intimate and they are the bread and butter of our days.


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