Monday, February 27, 2012

'Moms Gone Wild' or '6 Things I Learned From My Trip To Paris'

Aaaah Paris. {Said with terrible French Accent} Traveling to Paris and/ or France in general has been a life long goal. In my high school, the smart ambitious kids took Latin. The practical kids and the kids looking to get through foreign language without much effort took Spanish. Oh! But the romantics, the theatre kids, they took French. There were only one or two classes of French for every grade level in my school. I took them all. Four years or French, the last of which was AP French, I have always had a love for all things French.

However I was unable to continue my French studies in college because NYU didn't offer classes for 'dabblers' like me. It was immersion or nothing. And like so many other things, my love for all things French got trampled by the commitments of adulthood. In fact, our trip to Morocco in late 2010 was the first time that I had ever traveled to a French speaking nation. And just last week I stepped foot onto the sandy soil of France to finally experience what has been a lifelong dream of travel, food and experience.

My trip to Paris was not intended to be a Valentine's day gift. But in the end it felt like one. My husband dutifully took the reigns of the family so that I could spend our shared money on a flight across the Atlantic with only myself and two girlfriends. And upon arriving home he continued to say that he was glad I went (I even deserved it!) and that managing the family by himself had not been a burden. Keep your heart boxes of chocolates, that is what I want for Valentine's Day!!
Knowing enough French to start a conversation I couldn't possibly keep up with and having studied the basics of French culture, I somewhat knew what to expect. But like any novice international traveler I knew I would encounter unexpected things that surprised and delighted. And I knew that certain things would transcend the descriptions doled out to me in 1994 by a plump Southern public school teacher. So here are a few things I learned on my trip to Paris.

1-Not all Parisians are Rude. Even those friends of mine who traveled to Europe regularly warned me that the Parisians would look down their noses at us Americans. They said 'Be sure not to ask if they spoke English. Try not to be gauche.' However the vast majority of Parisians that we encountered were very nice. Several people stopped and asked if we need help, both in French and in English. Although we rarely, if ever, asked if someone spoke English, many people instantly heard our accent and spoke with us in English. In restaurants many times the wait staff came over and chatted with us or sat at our table to told us some tidbit about themselves or the neighborhood. One lovely place appreciated our vivacity enough to serve us a digestif on the house as a gift. The bottom line lesson? Smiles go a long way in how other folks treat you. Be nice. It is hard to be rude and snobby to someone who is so gracious, thankful and pleasant.

2-French coffee is not the same as Italian coffee. My dear French coworker's eyes rolled into the back of her head when she spoke of the Salon Du Thé. She said 'You must have the café créme and a pain au chocolat.' I was anxious to have French coffee and so, jet lagged and practically bruised from sleeping on the plane I picked up a latte from an Illy stand in the airport. It was amazing!! A dark, rich and perfectly blended cup of bitter espresso and sweet milk. I had high hopes for the trip. But sadly, my travel companions quickly informed me, Illy is Italian coffee. The French coffee I found in most places was not as rich or dark or powerful. Like everything else that I experienced with French food, French coffee is lighter, more subtle and more delicate. The coffee was excellent, it just wasn't what I expected.

3-Just about everything in Paris is slightly smaller, more delicate, more complex and more perfect than anywhere else. From the cobblestone streets, the pain au chocolat, the shoes, the cars, the dresses, the apartments, everything seemed smaller and more perfect. At first I assumed that this perfection was concentrated at the high end shops that were so close to our rented apartment. But as we moved into other neighborhoods the perfection continued to abound. Tiny gelatin aspics. Petite molded chocolates lined up among displays of cocoa nibs. Silk dresses with embroidered edges. Gilded bridges decorated with the locks of lovers. Of course I know, every city has it's industrial parks and squared off affordable apartments. But to me it seemed that Paris offers a culture of perfection. It is beautiful and I am seduced.

4-Gluten Free is tough, but not impossible. I wasn't gluten free in Paris. I had no intention of being GF in the gluten mecca of the world. But I found that while bread was everywhere, many dishes were easily gluten free. There was little pizza and pasta or wheat based dishes. Breakfast was hard, it was virtually all wheat. But I was able to find hard boiled eggs, nuts and fresh fruits. We did see several sandwich shops and I did stay away. Now that being said...I am not so gluten intolerant that I worry about what thickens a sauce, but overall gluten free (and amazingly rich and delicious) options were many.

5-Coffee and Wine masks the effects of gluten for me. It makes so much sense to me now why I never noticed that I have a problem with gluten! It makes so much sense now that when I started to limit coffee and alcohol from my diet I began to notice my problems with gluten! This is a good discovery none the less. When I was caught in an airport with a choice between a sandwich and a croissant, a cafe creme made that choice less painful.

6-We parents have given up so much. I never did any travel with friends pre-marriage. And I haven't taken a vacation without my children since having them. When I have traveled without the kids, they have been work trips or super quick trips for family obligations. Having 5 days to do nothing but eat and sleep and shop...well...I felt like a kid again. I got quiet time. I got to walk down streets just because they looked interesting to me. I didn't have to look for the quickest way out of the restaurant in the case of a tantrum. I did not have to keep my eyes on the road for fear that some short person would launch themselves into oncoming traffic. Truly, I have forgotten what it was to be just an adult in my personal time. Being a parent has become so overwhelming to who I am. It is great, parenting, but I don't want to lose this time in my life. By the time I get the ability to just 'be an adult' again I will be close to 50. Life is fleeting and obligations are many. Enjoy and appreciate every moment that transcends. Take 5 days to live like a kid again. How many Paris's will I get in my thirties? Who knows. But I am thankful that I at least got one.


  1. Sorry about the coffee but so glad you got away! Sounds perfect.

  2. Yay! Sounds wonderful!!!! I'm inspired. :)