Joie de vivre: living well in Paris

Living Well

Travel can open our eyes to so many things, including vastly different ways of living, working and thriving. Whenever I go anywhere — from the familiar to the exotic, be it Seattle or Grenada, or most recently Paris, France — I look to locals to see how they live and try to experience life as one of them. Inevitably, along with photos and memories, I return with tips for a richer life, simply by being curious. Here’s what I gleaned from new and old Parisian friends about their joie de vivre (joy of life).

Have coffee — strong, hot and often. But don’t quickly slurp your café au lait; take a moment to savour the experience and warm your milk. In Paris, you rarely see someone with a coffee to go. Coffee is taken and savoured over conversation, typically at a café bistro table or, when hurried, at the café bar. Use a real cup, no paper; it’s less wasteful and you’ll have a moment to linger and exchange pleasantries with your morning coffee tribe. It’s just a coffee — a few minutes of your morning — but it adds a whole new dimension to the experience when you take your time.

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Eat, drink, indulge, repeat: but peak your intake at mid-day, not midnight. Parisians are more often than not sporting a baguette under one arm and a bottle of wine under the other. So, how do they stay so svelte? My Parisian friends take their big meal at lunch, allowing the activities of the rest of the day to readily burn off calories. The evening meal is much lighter, typically a tray of charcuterie with meats, sardines, cheeses, pickles and olives and vegetables.

Walk everywhere. You’ll stay in shape. And in Paris, bikes are available on every major street to borrow or rent.

Be polite. Parisians often get a bad rap when it comes to manners or being rude, especially with tourists. But Parisians have a formal set of codes and social conduct which can take some getting used to. If you catch on to what’s expected, you’ll experience an undercurrent of respect that drives everyday exchanges. For example, always say hello (bonjour madame / monsieur) when entering a shop or asking for any service, including getting on the bus. It is considered very rude not to acknowledge employees and shop keepers. Similarly, always say thank you (merci) and goodbye (au revoir) when leaving a shop. It’s basic and gracious.

Give beauty its due. Why not make a bit of an effort to look your best? Parisians do this with panache. The men and women young and old, have a certain polish in their outfits and attitude. It doesn’t take much: a jaunty scarf, a bit of lip gloss, topped by a nice haircut or a handsome hat. When we’re pulled together we feel more confident, alive and engaging. Similarly, don’t forget to beautify your living space. We can’t all live in a Parisian apartment, but most of us can indulge in a few cut flowers or a pot of herbs. If the number of floral shops and vendors in Paris is any indications, flowers as just as important to pick up and embrace as the daily baguette.

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