Recently I hopped (was dragged) onto a plane totaly excited (completely panic-stricken) for a flight across the pond (the frigid, shark-infested Atlantic Ocean) to see Paris for the first time. Although apprehensive, I knew all would be well with my kids (my sleeping pills) within reach and my husband (my jumbo bag of peanut M&M’s) by my side.
Twelve hours in coach, two metro rides, three flights of stairs, one taxicab, and a half-day later, voilà, we were all checked into the Crowne Plaza in the eleventh district of the City of Light. After a brief, three-and-a-half hour snooze we found our second wind, along with our first quintessential Parisian outdoor cafe just steps from our hotel. Ooh-la-liking this place already…
Picturing Paris since the first grade, my Madeline books did not disappoint. From the light (the sky really is pink), to the sights (jaw-dropping), to the food (fabulous), the people (unexpectedly friendly). C’est magnifique. But as we ran in and out of our very first cafe on that very first day, I left with some lingering questions. What’s with all these seats so close together? Why is every chair facing outward, toward the street? And how come the bill takes so dang long?
A few days (and a half-dozen cafes) later, I began to get answers, learning a little more about the way another culture is doing food, and a lot more about the way I’m doing life.
What’s with all these seats so close together? We’re Americans- we know about personal space. If I don’t know you, kindly, if at all possible, don’t sit by me in a movie theatre. Don’t take the treadmill next to me at the gym. And for goodness sake, give me the most secluded table in a restaurant. But in Paris, I was regularly elbow-to-elbow with complete strangers and, shockingly, I survived. I didn’t catch a cold or measles or cooties from anyone. People were respectful and quiet and just let others be. Different walks of life sat cozy, yet content. Close, and still kind. I want to live like the French eat… more open, more accepting, more inviting to the people in my path. Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you. Romans 15:7
Why is every chair facing outward, toward the street? Why aren’t we all seated around the table like normal people? What’s there to look at? The view from atop the Arc de Triomphe is breathtaking indeed, but it seems the French are able to spot beauty in everyday life: the sidewalk, the people, the conversation, the commotion happening all around them. They choose to see the splendor in the seemingly mundane. Admire the ordinary . I want to live like the French eat… I want to see the joy in the just normal. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. (Ecclesiastes 8:15)
How come the bill takes so long? No, thank you, I don’t want a starter. No dessert for me. Nope, not another latte. Just the bill. Merci. And make it quick. But in France, they stick around. No one rushes. They aren’t in a hurry. The servers don’t get annoyed with patrons taking up too much time in their station; in fact, they seem a bit insulted when you make too quick an exit. No one gets testy about ordering more food, more coffee, or not ordering anything at all. They sit. For hours. Enjoying. Talking. Being. I want to live like the French eat… I want more stopping and staying and stillness. Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
Our last day in Paris, we enjoyed our favorite meal… We sat easily next to strangers. We enjoyed the beauty before us. We stopped and we sat and we stayed. Bon appétit.