I really didn’t keep up with filming the way I thought I might before I came here. Making videos is ridiculously time-consuming and to do any more would have just robbed me of time to actually see France.
Nevertheless, I threw together some random footage for one final brief remembrance of Amiens.
In addition to random footage I possibly have acquired also a few random thoughts about France which I will now blather on about; some of which I suspect are applicable to Europe more generally – and none of which are going to sound very original to anyone who has been to Europe, or read about it.
I saw a lot of people on crutches, as in daily. I’ve tried to decide if French people break their legs more often than Americans, or if I just see a lot more people every day on the street than I would in America. They do have mountains here, maybe everyone went on a ski vacation over Christmas and crashed into a tree? But I sort of think it must be the second explanation.
Cities here, even large ones like Paris, are (or were) designed around the concept of the human being, whereas in America they were designed around the concept of the car. This has a million ramifications that alter every aspect of daily life. For example and on the one hand, everyone possesses less personal space, but on the plus side no one is wasting summer evenings mowing lawns. Without a garage to fill with pointless junk consumption is inevitably different, and I think also must simply be less overall. People spend their time and money at the cafés with their friends. I don’t see many Furniture Marts and Home Depots, but there are countless fine clothing stores even in a small town like Amiens that my large town in the Midwest could never hope to have. Not to mention chocolate shops, jewelry stores and every other sort of place selling small, fine things.
People dress better here than in America. Of course it is winter but even in winter going to the grocery store or Wal-Mart in America is to be confronted by late stage clown world. And come summer you wonder if Americans have even heard of clothes. Certainly no one seems to have heard of shoes.
Women in France are not afraid to wear perfume and it is absolutely marvelous. In America in recent years wearing fragrance has been actively discouraged at most places of work, and banned outright at public places like hospitals. Here you walk down the street and if you aren’t smelling fresh baked bread you are smelling perfume (ok, occasionally you may be walking down the street and smell something other and less delightful than those two things). Many times have I stepped into the elevator at my building and lingering within is a divine fragrance from the previous occupant. Billboards at bus stops all over town advertise the latest perfumes; that or American movies.
Billboards here are also people-sized, not Everest-sized and incandescent to the point of blinding you, as they must be in America to attract the attention of all the drivers texting on their cell phones as they speed down the highway.
Spoiled by technology as we are it would take something truly exceptional to impress an American abroad, but the public transportation system here is definitely one such exception. Trains are even better than magic carpets. You amble down to your local station, step aboard and take a seat the likes of which no airplane has ever seen, read a book, browse the internet, or chat with your brother, and a short while later you step off hundreds of miles away as if by teleportation, conveniently in the very middle of whatever town you are going to. It requires no effort on your part, no map-reading or getting lost, no paying for gas, you don’t even have to keep your eyes open. The whole journey is smooth and quiet (well the train is quiet, certain passengers may not be). If you are lucky the car is filled with French women and you can smell perfume the whole way.
Heated towel racks are a thing here, and they should be a thing everywhere. Maybe Bill Gates has them but I’ve never seen one in my life and I’ve been all over America. My humble apartment in Amiens, which doesn’t even have an oven or a toilet paper holder, has a massive heated towel rack with multiple electronic settings. Several hotels I’ve been to have them as well. Not only is your towel hot when you get out of the shower, but the rack will heat the whole bathroom (I’ve left mine on for three months straight, hopefully that is allowed). There is nothing better than stepping into a hot bathroom after waking on a cold winter morning (I also haven’t shut my window in three months). Did you come in with your coat soaking from the rain? Hang it in the bathroom and it will be dry in no time.
Speaking of toilet paper, an unusual and it seems to me altogether unnecessary “feature” of toilet paper rolls here is that they will supposedly disintegrate in water. Just throw the tube in the toilet! it says on the package. Really, you’ll be fine! Needless to say I wasn’t about to take that chance, it’s bad enough I brûlléd my couette. Although it’s true trash cans in France are sized for miniature fairies, I think they still have enough room to throw away a toilet paper tube the old fashioned way.
Public bathrooms are not a thing in France, although you can find them in some places. Otherwise you really need to think ahead if you are going to be travelling around all day to this or that small town. Conveniently most of the trains have bathrooms (most of the small train stations do not); oddly there are signs that say you shouldn’t use the train bathrooms when the train is stopped, though of course while moving poses its own challenges.
My brother and I tried to use a McDonald’s bathroom in Paris late one evening. Being an experienced traveler by then I didn’t really need to myself, having already spent the entire day on the brink of cardiac arrest from dehydration to avoid just this contingency. But my brother had indulged in the authentic French experience of drinking coffee all day (and we had failed to use the bathroom at the cafés, which I’m sure is what the French do).
It was not like McDonald’s in America. First of all, no McDonald’s is like any in America, in so much as they occupy the bottom corner of some centuries old building. The bathroom in this one was down an unlit stone staircase into a dark basement that would have made the perfect set for a horror movie. As with many public restrooms in France, it is unisex so men and women can be in a stall next to each other. There were only two stalls in this one, and a couple sinks, and a crowded line in the dim hall outside. One of the stalls was occupied and whoever was in it was still in it when we finally got out of there an eternity later. Some elderly woman was hovering around the sinks doing I know not what for that same eternity too, and might still be there to this day for all I know. People were shoulder to shoulder muttering to each other down in that foggy dungeon and the whole thing became a very confusing experience.
The eggs at the grocery stores here are not refrigerated, instead you can find them sitting on the shelf with all the other dry goods (actually refrigerating eggs for sale is prohibited in most of the EU). It is interesting to read the different approaches to combating salmonella that Europe and America have taken.
All the other differences with regards to food and eating between France and America are too vast to describe, but are well known by everyone. We could continue ad nauseam.
I am not going to say that either France or America is better than the other, but they are surely very different, and might as well be on different planets. I hope it stays that way.