A Few Surprises

Living in France is nothing new to us.  Hard to believe, but it’s already been over twenty years since we moved to Lyon for a year with our two children.  Subsequently, we’ve been fortunate enough to spend one semester in Montpellier and another in Bédoin, a small town in Provence.  The last excursion of this type was a mere four years ago, so you’d think that by now we wouldn’t be surprised by what we see.  There are a few things, however, that have already jumped out at us this trip.

For one, smokers seem to be everywhere.  According to current statistics, half of the people in the 18 to 34 age group smoke.  Much like in the U.S., they are relegated to go outside of public places with their cigarettes.  At first we kept wondering why so many folks were braving freezing temperatures by sitting at outdoor cafés.  You guessed it…many of them are lighting up.  The evidence is all around: people (a lot of them young and female) walking down the street smoking and cigarette butts strewn all over.  Wrought-iron grills around the base of trees are often completely littered with them. We’ve heard news stories since arriving about the prevalence of lung cancer especially among French women.  As for why this unhealthy habit continues in the female population, a 2010 article from The Daily Beast points out that French women would rather be dead than fat.

Another stunner is how many fur coats you see on a daily basis.  Despite the fact that PETA (“pour une éthique dans le traitement des animaux”) exists and that celebrities like Brigitte Bardot are decidedly anti-fur, you see many more minks and other pelts of all shapes and sizes on the streets of Paris than you do in Manhattan.  There have been demonstrations against the wearing of fur in the French capital in the past.  I guess there have been no incidences of activists throwing ketchup or red paint at fur-wearing people like there were in the U.S. years back.

Not all of the surprises have been negative, though.  Something we’ve really appreciated in Germany over the years is that there are electronic signs at bus stops and subway stations which tell you when you can expect to get onboard.  Just about everywhere in Paris the same is true.  Perhaps if public transportation were more of a priority at home, we’d have such a system in place.

Finally, in my blog from the semester spent in Provence, I devoted part of one post to the lack of restroom facilities in France.  This time, too, we keep saying that French people must have bladders of steel!  Although public toilets are few and far between, even in places we would expect to find them like department stores, some WCs are appearing on downtown streets.  These toilettes are a far cry from the old-style pissoirs that used to be found in French cities; the newer variety is spacious, clean, and free-of-charge.  Now if there would just be more of them.

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