My early years were dominated by the ‘British Empire’— a term you don’t hear much these days since Britannia no longer rules the waves or anywhere else for that matter.
Born shortly after WW11 and being raised and schooled in what were then the British colonies of New Zealand, Malaya, Singapore and Australia, I, like millions of others, was subjected to England’s ‘spin’ on history and the world in general.
And, as I’m sure you know, England’s history has been underpinned by a lingering animosity towards the French.
As well, like most New Zealanders, when I was young man I found myself at odds with the French over their nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll in the 70s. And I was thrilled when, in 1973, our government sent a navy frigate to anchor defiantly in the French testing zone, stating our position to the world and causing the termination of the planned test.
Later, in 1985, I was outraged when French agents bombed Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, while it was docked a few hundred metres from Auckland’s main street. This was patently an act of war in my view, and despite claims to the contrary, was surely sanctioned by the French Government at some level.
All of these things, coupled with the fact that I’d often heard how rude and disparaging Parisians were to tourists, meant that — despite my unabashed admiration for French impressionists, French movies, French writers, French wine and so on — I stupidly let 60 years of my life pass before I came to Paris.
Oh … and, I should also say — as clichéd as this will sound — I’d also held off because I hoped one day to come this city with the love of my life on my arm. Thankfully, in the end I finally accepted that may never happen and came alone.
I’m so glad I did.
I love Paris. Absolutely love it and I regret not coming many years earlier.
Paris may well be the city of romance for those lucky enough to be in that euphoric state, but for me it has been a city of inspiration.
Okay, I admit travel invariably inspires me — as I’m sure it does many of you. Being in new places stimulates our senses, we see things through new eyes; we come alive — despite our jet lag.
But, for me, this effect has been even more powerful here in Paris. I might not fit the role of the typical handholding lover in Paris, but I’ve fallen in love with the city itself.
I love the grandeur, scale and symmetry of the historical buildings that abound throughout the city. I adore the buzz and happy human chaos in the maze of backstreets that weave between the charming apartment buildings that sprawl for miles in every direction. And I love sitting in cafés watching the endless parade of beautiful Parisian women passing by with their understated sense of style and a casual sophistication that seems as natural as the breeze that ripples the Seine.
Above all I love the art. And with France being the birthplace and cradle of the Impressionist movement I’ve spent many happy hours standing in awe before works by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Lautrec, Van Gogh, Sisley and many others.
Every moment of this has been food for my soul.
And while we are on the subject of food, I love the fact that little owner-operated neighbourhood food and produce shops still abound in Paris. Colourful, intriguing, aromatic stores specialising in wine, meat, fish, cheese, bread, smallgoods and sausages, with charming names like Boucheries, Patisseries, Fromagers, Charcuteries and so on, all packed wall to wall with farm fresh regional produce with not a shrink wrap in sight.
I’d like to think this is because the Parisians prefer buying food this way — on their way to and from work with the ubiquitous baguette purchased twice a day — but the reality is probably that the diabolical lack of parking precludes the insidious invasions of mega supermarkets that infest so many other cities of the world.
The Parisians seem to celebrate art, life, liberty and food — how could I not like them?
By the way, how Parisian women stay so slender when they eat dinner so late and munch bread with every meal confounds me. Although, it seems everyone smokes here, perhaps that’s the carcinogenic secret: Look great, die young.
I could say less than flattering things about the abundance of litter and dog crap that proliferates in certain areas of the city, and the overpowering stench of urine in many Metro stations, but I think, by now you know I love this city and will forgive these things in the big picture.
I love Paris and I you can be sure I’ll be back time and time again for as long as my health and funds allow.
If I had my life to live again I’d learn the language and spend some time living here. And if you ever get the chance to do so, I strongly suggest you do.
In my experience, despite everything I’d heard to the contrary, Parisians are not rude or arrogant. It’s just that this is their city and you are a visitor. Rude guests are not welcome in any home, nor should they be.
Just remember Parisians speak French not English. If you try to communicate politely they will, too. Smile. And all will be well.
To give you an example: Early one morning I was walking alongside the River Seine towards the Museé d’Orsay. At some point I ran across a pedestrian crossing in an effort to beat the blinking warning light. As I reached the other side I heard someone yell ‘Monsieur!’ Turning I saw a Vespa rider pointing at my dark glasses lying in the middle of the road. The lights had turned green, the waiting traffic was to good go, my ‘shades’ were doomed. But … to my surprise and delight all the drivers, having seen what had happened, patiently waited while I scurried back to rescue my glasses. And when I waved gratefully and mouthed ‘Merci’ to them as they finally drove away, I received nothing but smiles in return.
I love Paris and I sincerely apologise to the French for holding misguided views about them for so long.
Je vous aimez