It’s been only two weeks since I arrived in Paris, yet it feels like I’ve been here for ages. Every day has felt like a new adventure with the potential to learn something new about France and its rich culture. Yesterday, I visited a McDonald’s and saw self-service kiosks waiting for me to tap their screens to order. I had never seen a kiosk like this at a fast-food restaurant before, but it definitely made the lines move faster since multiple people could order at once. In addition, food in France that can be bought for less than or about the same price as food in the US generally tastes better. For about ten euros, I bought a bag of croissants, bananas, fries, cereal, a box of spaghetti, and a bottle of juice. Eating out at restaurants also tends to cost around ten euros. Foods such as la pizza margherita (made with fresh tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella) and le croque monsieur (similar to a grilled cheese with ham) have been my favorites. They’re also commonly found at French restaurants, despite la pizza margherita originating from Italy. What’s also interesting about French restaurants is that there’s no rush to finish eating. Often, the French will sit outside conversing at a café or restaurant with une carafe d’eau (pitcher of water) and some wine. Whenever they’re ready to leave, they can simply call the waiter over or go inside to pay. Even after paying, they’re allowed to stay at the restaurant for as long as they’d like with free refills for their pitcher. The coolest part of it all is getting to drink water from a wine glass, since that is the primary glass used at French restaurants.
Given the relaxed atmosphere of restaurants in Paris that I’ve observed so far, it’s reasonable to infer that the French are more laid back and personal than Americans. For example, it’s common to say “bonjour” when walking into a store and “au revoir, merci” when leaving, even if you haven’t bought anything. Additionally, many stores close before 8 PM and all of Sunday. However, it’s important to recognize how much the French appear to value security, following the rules, and recycling. It’s common to find French patrols walking around in the metro, near tourist destinations, and in large stores. These patrols are strict about enforcing the law and stand intimidatingly on guard, but they’re really nice if you need help with directions or have questions. I’ve also noticed a heightened sense of eco-friendliness in France, as many people bring their own reusable bags to grocery stores. Don’t expect the cashier to grab plastic bags and start putting your groceries in them like they do in the US. Reusable bags only cost one euro and are usually next to the cash register, so it’s easy to become eco-friendlier!
Learning all of these things has made living in Paris a great learning experience for me. At this point in my journey, I almost feel like I am becoming a Parisian. Navigating the metro for two weeks and exploring various areas of the city has made me feel connected to Paris in a way I hadn’t been when I first arrived. Upon arrival, I was completely disconnected from French culture. It felt like being even more of a minority than in the US because I wasn’t just a minority by race, but also by nationality. Strangely, I feel more self-conscious about being American in France rather than being black because the way the French dress and express themselves contrasts greatly with American culture. Their casual outfits lean towards the conservative-but-casual side, with women opting to wear dresses and fitted clothing while men wear loafers and buttoned-up or fitted shirts. Sweatpants, hoodies, and baseball caps are rarely worn. In retrospect, arriving here in a hoodie was probably a bad idea since it clearly made me stand out as a tourist. People aren’t joking when they say Paris is one of the fashion capitols of the world, and making some wardrobe changes has helped me to blend in more. Plus, what a perfect excuse to invest in some new clothing!