“I wonder how much lung cancer I’ve accumulated in the two days I’ve been here.” This is what my best friend who was visiting asked randomly while we were going on one of my out-of-the-way kind of walks through Paris. At first I was confused… “You know, from all the second-hand smoke,” she clarified. This friend happens to be extremely well traveled, has lived in big cities, and can make cross-cultural comparisons better than anyone I know. So when she observes that the French smoke a lot, it is because they really do smoke, a lot.  And it’s true. While most cities have discouraged smoking in every way possible, Paris almost welcomes it. Why do you think all the terraces have those exterior lamp heaters? It is not to make it more comfortable for the tourists.

I read/heard somewhere once (sorry for my vague, inaccurate sourcing) that you could always tell Parisian women apart from tourists by the way they crossed a street: if they dash across or increase their speed at the sight of an oncoming car, they are not from Paris. While this observation has yet to be statistically proven, I can say that I noticed it right away. The French do not stress when crossing a street. The car will stop. Nothing deters a Parisian from coolly maintaining their stride as they j-walk in front of oncoming traffic, choosing the place furthest away from the zebra crossing to do so. I guess there aren’t any fines for j-walking in France?
L’ Apéro:
Short for L’Aperitif, this is a very southern European (read: civilized) custom. Where in Spain it takes place before the hefty meal that is lunch, in France, l’apéro usually comes before dinner (or in place of it, depending on the crowd you’re with). This seemed to be the logical explanation for why all the cafés, bars and terraces were always full when I walked home from work every evening. And the drink choices vary: beer, wine, martini, or kir – the blackcurrant liquer, creme de cassis, mixed in white wine.


Perfume (and lots of it):
I don’t know if the perfume overdose is due to France’s reputation as the world’s greatest perfumier, or if it is covering up other odors, but either way there are potent scents to be discovered every day. And, in my experience, the French are very vocal about what they smell: “Mmmm, ça sent bon.” Whether you’re a N. 5 or Guerlain girl, Parisian women are willing to go on quests to discover their signature scent.


Sunday Brunch:
I don’t think I loved Sundays this much until I moved to Paris. People relish their Sundays here. They go to the market, see an exhibit, take the whole family to the park, go for brunch. If you don’t do a brunch menu in Paris, you’re nobody. Steaming coffee, fresh juice, a savory egg dish, a buffet of sweet cakes… Brunch is where it’s at. And while the croissant might seem like the breakfast staple, many people actually reserve it for the late night snack, on the walk home from a soirée (late night munchies people).

[Photo credit: Paris vs New York]