Why Paris? Reason #4

August 4, 2009 at 9:09 pm Leave a comment

It’s something almost everyone who has spent any time in Paris  has noticed.

That is the more relaxed pace of life here.

Or at least more relaxed than, say, in London, or Tokyo, or New York. But it’s not only in the “rat race” cities of the world that the frantic pace of life wears people down. It’s deeply embedded in our globally expanding, consumer-oriented culture, and in the notions that “time is money” and that money rules.

The French are doing something different in this regard, and they always have.

Edith Wharton wrote about it, in 1917. “The average French business man at the end of his life may not have made as much money as the American,” she observed. “But meanwhile he has had, every day, something the American has not had: Time. Time, in the middle of the day, to sit down to an excellent luncheon, to eat it quietly with his family, and to read his paper afterward; time to go off on Sundays and holidays on long pleasant country rambles; time, almost any day, to feel fresh and free enough for an evening at the theatre, after a dinner as good and leisurely as his luncheon.”

Paul Krugman wrote about more or less the same thing in 2005. “The French family, without question, has lower disposable income,” he wrote in a column in the International Herald Tribune. “But,” he added, “there are compensations for this lower level of consumption,” pointing out that “French families are compensated for their lower income with much more time together.” (On average, about seven weeks of paid vacation a year!)

Parisians who are told by Americans that the pace of life in Paris is “leisurely” or “relaxed” have a hard time knowing how to respond: they don’t want to be rude, but they do know that in recent decades, life in their capital city has developed a much more frantic pace than it used to have, and that it’s not nearly as relaxed a pace as that found in smaller towns and villages.

And yet. It’s 2009, it’s August, and plenty of Parisians have left this city full of tourists and their tourist dollars, have packed their cars and headed for the south of France or to various other parts of the countryside to relax, enjoy life with their families, and not worry about the lost revenue their closed doors might represent to more mercenary souls.

It’s August, and just as in every other month of the year, plenty of the Parisians who have stayed behind are taking the time to enjoy their lives, passing leisurely hours in the parks and cafes of this most beautiful city, quite clearly enjoying them. In Paris, l’art de vivre is alive and well.

It’s a bit deceptive, the leisurely pace of life in France. You do have to be sure to follow the rules about getting up early enough in order to buy the fresh food for your leisurely meal in various little shops, before everyone closes their doors for several hours in the early afternoon. Sleep in too late, and you just may have to wait until dinnertime to eat!

And although there’s a bit more flexibility, and there are more options available in Paris than in the small towns and villages of France, even in Paris you can’t just charge into any restaurant at any hour and demand a meal. You have to eat when the French think it’s the right time for eating.

I think that’s a small price to pay for the pleasure of living in a country where taking one’s time to enjoy life (and most especially to enjoy leisurely meals in the company of other people) is not only considered an important part of life: but where the whole culture is built around the assumption that everyone else agrees with the premise.

It’s not very flexible, and it is sometimes inconvenient. It’s focused more on community and family life than on the preferences and whims of the individual, anathema to the American mindset. It is also healthy, sane, and deeply rewarding.

And it’s good for people!

I think we could learn a lesson from the French in this regard, and improve our lives in the process. What’s the big hurry, anyway?

A bientot!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of writing and literature based in Silver Spring, Maryland.  She teaches literature courses in Paris and Hawaii for the Education Abroad program at Queens College, CUNY, and twice a year she offers Writing from the Heart workshops in a beautiful little village in the Champagne region of France.

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Entry filed under: About Paris. Tags: , , , , , , .

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