When I was in Paris visiting a friend earlier this month, we had an ongoing joke.
“It’s the people,” I’d say. “They’re the best kept secret of this city. ‘The delightful people of Paris’ should be the new tourism slogan, in case the old capital of gastronomy/city-of-lights-thing wears thin.”
She’d groan and ominously warn that I’d soon see. My awestruck-anglophone-in-Paris persona, she said, was shielding me from the true nature of Parisians.
She knows a lot more about the topic than I do, given the city has been her home for the better part of a decade and she lives with two Parisian men— one of whom she gave birth to, so it’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds.
The mythical, monstrous Parisian, however, never revealed itself to me.
Off the top of my head I can think of nearly a dozen times when people went out of their way to be friendly and accommodating. There were smiles and eye-contact galore, and people even laughed at my jokes. Not polite laughter, either. That’s not in their nature.
My favourite moment of all, however, was when my friend discovered a grey hair while we were waiting for the Metro, and started fretting.
A woman, rounder and less finely dressed than the Parisian stereotype would have previously led me to believe existed, leaned in and said, ‘I’m 70, have many grey hairs, and I hope I get many more,” she said, as a smile warmed her entire face.
Chic personified, non?
Maybe I’m still high on crepes, croissants and culture, but no matter how hard I try to be critical all I can say is that Paris is perfection.
So much so that I think there are a few things the people of Kelowna could learn.
We can’t have the history, the architecture or delicious unpasteurized butter, but we can borrow from the culture.
My first France inspired recommendation is that we convert every third business to a bakery.
That alone would cure a few community ills. If we were all eating more really phenomenal baked goods, there would be less incentive to walk around city streets in little more than a bikini.
Now I know near-nudity is Kelowna’s cachet, but I dream of a day when being clothed becomes the norm.
Next, I’d like to suggest that all restaurants with patios dispense with the formality of facing chairs at each other.
Paris cafes have all their chairs facing toward the street, dispensing with the illusion that people sit on patios to do anything other than people watch. It’s gloriously honest.
Lastly, those people. Notoriously one of the most brusque cultures in the world showed more warmth in one week than I’ve seen in months in Kelowna.
It’s tourist season, and I know that wears thin. We as residents of a tourist town want people to drive better, walk in a straight line and generally get out of the way.
But, frankly, there’s something wonderful about others learning to love what we already understand to be so great. That, I think, is the allowance the Parisians I met gave me and I will forever be a fan because of it.