It’s the little differences

In the film Pulp Fiction, there’s a memorable scene where John Travolta’s character discusses the little differences between Europe and America. His character talks about the differences between fast food names and other cultural things. When I recently went on a week-long family vacation in Paris to celebrate my children’s graduation from high school and college, I was constantly reminded of that scene by noting the many little differences between my native city and Paris. These little differences made me want to temporarily forget all of the things that identify me as a New Yorker to explore what it was like to live as a Parisien. Here’s what I learned…

  1. When Parisiens greet each other in the morning, they enthusiastically say, “BON JOUR!!!” as if to state, “I am happy to see you!”. New Yorkers greet each other with a more monotone and less enthusiastic, “good morning”.
  2. Paris provides free public toilettes (bathrooms) dotted throughout the city. Although New York City once tried this years ago, it did not work out. If you have to pee in NYC, you’ll have to either find a Starbucks, hold it in, or find a tree.
  3. The French do not overeat. There are no such things as all-you-can-eat buffets in Paris. Compared to American meals, Parisien meals are small. It’s no wonder why I didn’t see any overweight people in Paris. A number of cafes that serve a petite dejeuner (little meal) also serve an additional American dejeuner (larger meal) just for American tourists.
  4. Street signage in Paris is attached to actual buildings and does not hang on poles. In fact, street signage poles do not exist in Paris.
  5. All subway cars in the Paris Metro have rubber wheels instead of the standard steel wheels that one finds on train cars throughout the New York City subway system. As you could imagine, trains leaving and arriving at the Metro stations were quieter than NYC subway trains.
  6. Wine in Paris is super-cheap. If one shops at a supermarche (supermarket), they will find a wall of wine bottles costing anywhere between $1.00-$5.00 Euro (similar to the American dollar).
  7. There is no tipping at Paris restaurants. The tip is already included in the bill. While there, it was so refreshing for me to get my bill, pay the amount on the bill, and leave without having to calculate what the tip should be.
  8. The first floor of all Paris department stores is numbered “0”. The floors going up are “1, 2, 3, etc” and the floors going underground are “-1, -2, -3, etc”.
  9. Parisiens love their coffee so much that many Metro stations have a Lavazza coffee machine in them.
  10. Paris is a planned city where Napoleon wanted all structures to be built exactly six stories tall. They were all made out of locally-excavated limestone which gave the entire City of Paris a very consistent look. Building uniformity heights are very inconsistent throughout New York.
  11. Also during Napoleon’s rule, Paris was divided into 20 distinct arrondissements (neighborhoods). You can easily see what arrondissement you are in by looking at the top of most street signs.
  12. The street system of Paris was designed in a very disjointed radial format full of irregular street connections. If you are a visiting tourist, you will need a map or gps technology to find your bearings. New York City streets mostly follow a grid system. Many Parisien streets are named after a historical figure. NYC streets are mostly numbered.
  13. I felt a happier vibe in Paris than in New York. I felt this even during the days and hours when many Parisiens were walking off to work.
  14. Although I did not experience this first-hand, my good friend Michel, a native of France, told me that Parisiens are a lot more racist and prejudiced than New Yorkers.

And here are some things that are pretty much the same in both New York and Paris:

  1. Grafitti
  2. Homelessness
  3. Inconsiderate tourists who throw trash on the ground
  4. Major terrorist targets. Like some buildings in New York, the Eiffel Tower is surrounded by a protective anti-terrorist barrier.
  5. Crappy food at McDonald’s