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Us Versus Them

April 4, 2012

The first thing you notice about the French in Paris is how dressed up they are. The men in suit jackets and slacks or wearing a fashionable wool jacket. This is standard. Sure, men will wear jeans — they are universally ubiquitous, right? — but those worn here are dark washed, lending to an air of formality. Oh, and all of the men wear scarves. And not of the soccer variety. The women wear dark colored skirts, dark tights, and heels or knee high boots. They often wear scarves and have a form fitting coat on. They say that the Seattle uniform is a Northface jacket and a pair of jeans — for both men and women. I think I have seen only one person — not a tourist — fitting that description. Given, that Seattle by default is probably the most dressed down city in U.S., it was still a shock to see the formality in dress.

There is almost no rage toward bikers. Oh man, bikers — and not the motorcycle riders — are simply crazy here. The run lights, are inches away from cars and buses, will engage in traffic circles — often with dozens of cars around them — with the bravery of a terminal patient, and everyone rides — as you can imagine in suits and skirts (see above) — without a helmet. But that is not my point. There is no rage toward bikers and no rage toward cars. Which is amazing. Because bikers here do even more stupid shit than they do in Seattle. And drivers are even more agro here than in Seattle. Read any Seattle Times column about bikers and check out the comment section online — it’s like Middle East uprising (too soon?) in the comment section. Simply scary. And you can see this division in the streets of Seattle, through angry honks, slaps on the cars, and a little name calling. The ‘passive’ in Seattle’s passive-aggressive attitude disappears when it comes to bike vs car relations. In fact you have to really mess things up to get an angry honk leveled at you in Paris. I have honked at people in Seattle for much, much less.

There are subtle differences too. The women smell different. They wear different fragrances. So do the men. Everyone pays with bills and coins — okay, not everyone but more people in Seattle use credit cards. While the French walk at an amazing clip, they eat and drink much more slowly than we do. And the service is slower. They take their time — it would be a painfully long amount of time if this was in Seattle — getting exact change at grocery store. The pace of life is both faster and slower at the same time.

But for all of the differences, the similarities crack me up the most. There are the hardcore runners in the parks. And the impatient-runner-guy-jogging-in-place at a busy intersection. Here too there are ironic bow ties, hipster t-shirts, and ‘vintage’ dark rimmed glasses. Like in Seattle, there are iPhones. Everywhere. And people checking Facebook. And the iPhone makes that same horrifying sound in France as it does in Seattle when it is dropped onto the pavement. But when the person drops it, they swear in French, but they pick it up as fast as they can and pretend nothing happened — that must be universal.

And finally, to coffee. It is very different and the culture is very different. I am used to my quad shot, 16 ounce, Americano every morning. There is no such thing here. Well maybe at Starbucks. But everyone drinks coffee by the shot, and maybe with a little sugar and a drop of milk. With our giant cups of coffee we often have to take our coffee with us as we run to work or class. But in France you almost never see anyone holding a cup — or even traveler’s mug — of coffee. Coffee is done at cafes and bistros.

It is very strange walking by a Starbucks here in Paris. Even here — a half-world away — they were advertising their new Blonde Roast. With signs everywhere and with the same graphic design. The pastries looked the same. So did the chairs. And so did that token bistro table in every Starbucks with the chess board painted on it. But the most striking thing about the Starbucks here in Paris was the smell. It smelled like any Starbucks in Seattle. It smelled like the Madison-Swedish Hospital Starbucks I go to everyday. And it smelled like the one next door. It smelled like the secret-Starbucks on 15th. It smelled like the Starbucks at Starbucks HQ in SoDo. And the Starbucks in U-Village. And the Starbucks on the Ave. And the Starbucks on Olive. And the Starbucks on Roy. It even smelled like the original Starbucks in the Market. But simply, it smelled like home.

Highlights:
1. Met some people at the bar next to my hotel. Was invited to a concert at the bar on Friday.
2. Musée d’Orsay — Simply Amazing. I could and probably will write more about this.
3. A 30 minute respite in the basement of the Musée de l’Orangerie. Not too shabby of a place to do some trip planning.

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