Paris Quirks

The first thing I want to say about the Parisians is that they are so very much nicer than their reputations paint them. I haven’t met a rude or haughty one yet and I’ve been accosting people all over the place asking for all sorts of stupid information and directions. As soon as they hear me abusing their language they immediately, but politely offer to speak English “if I prefer”. They seem to enjoy the practice.

The stuff about them smoking a lot, however, is extremely true. Smoking has just recently been banned in restaurants and other public places so you’ll always find a gaggle of them furiously finishing their cigarettes at the top steps to the Metro. Restaurants have spread out their sidewalk dining area to the maximum allowable level and providing outdoor heating and make-shift shelters. So, you might find a dozen tables crammed into the restaurant and two or more dozen crammed outside.

Paris seems to be love the cinema. On the Champs d’Elysee there are cinemas on pretty much every block, for instance. Movie posters are everywhere.  I’ve never seen so many movie theatres.

Paris is also obsessed with Nutella. Poor XUP Jr. can’t find any peanut butter, but Nutella is sold in gallon jugs EVERYWHERE. Every cafe and restaurant offers at least one Nutella-based dish. Grocery store shelves have every imaginable size and variation of Nutella. The only peanut butter we’ve seen was in one grocery store and it was a tiny, dusty jar of Skippy. Skippy isn’t even real peanut butter since I think peanuts is the last ingredient on the long list.

And, the most quirky thing of all is the washrooms. For a country that loves to eat and for a city that has one of the most amazing sewer systems in the world, you’d think they would pay a little more attention to the “facilities”. But, no. They all just seem to be an afterthought – tucked away in some inaccessible corner. Most of the toilets have no seat. Which I guess is still better than the Turkish toilets some places still have, which are just a hole in the ground. I haven’t come across one of those yet, but I’ll do my best to find one before I leave.

The workings of the flush mechanism and the soap dispenser (if there even is one) or the air dryer are all very mysterious. Sometimes I can figure them out, sometimes not. No two are the same. It’s very adventurous to pee in Paris.

They do have the outdoor magic toilets, too, where you get 20 minutes and then the whole thing washes itself. I’ve tried to use them twice, but both times the one I was close to was out of service.

I can’t believe our visit is more than half over already. We’ve walked our feet off. For once we will look forward to sitting immobile in an airplane seat for 7 hours.

As Frenchless in France Linda commented yesterday, we met up with her at Montmartre the other day, which was wonderful. She seems so dreamy and introspective on her blog, but is so bubbly and exuberant in real life. Either way, she’s great. And it was good to get some insider tips. She showed us the secret doorknobs on the St. Pierre church that we had to rub for a year of good luck.

Also, as Linda mentioned the weather has been beautiful – sunny and warm – so we haven’t been doing too much inside stuff. It looks a bit cloudier today, so the plan is to head for the Louvre and see how long the lines are.


21 responses to “Paris Quirks

  1. Enjoyed your post very much. Sounds like time very well spent. You are inspiring me to travel again. I confess I have a little bit of an anti-travel thought process going on in my head. The last time I traveled I spent a lot of time talking to total strangers about the possibility of a global state of peace. Somehow that seemed like a very good justification for the fuel burned to power the airplane. Then there is the airport hassle factor. I really don’t like that at all. I am very happy to read your posts and feel how much you are enjoying your trip to Paris.

  2. Oh yes, I noticed the Nutella thing as well. Mmmmm, crepes with Nutella….

    Did you use the bathroom at La Potager De Marais? It sounds exactly like what you’re describing. I thought the staff were messing with me when they said the bathroom was OUTSIDE the restaurant and I had to walk up a small, dark alley to get there. I thought David would never see me again.

  3. those fancy magic toilets are pretty cool actually. though i felt the need to hurry just incase it decided to disinfect itself while i was still in it.


    did you visit the sewer system? it’s very impressive and you get old retired guys giving you the tours. when i went, it was just my friend and i and this old sewer rat (his words). it was a good time.

    happy travels!

  4. As an ex-puffer, I noticed the smoking thing immediately… but it’s not as bad as Beijing.
    @Friar – even better – you can get a beer or a glass of wine with your Big Macs! Très civilisé!
    Have fun at the Louvre! Say hi to Venus for me!

  5. I’ve never found Parisians snobby or snarky either. They just comment on my French, which is now a weird hybrid of Québecois and the accent from the south of France, and they can’t quite figure out where I’m from. They must think I’m messing with them!

    Yeah, Nutella. DD was introduced to the stuff in France, and is now quite addicted. I try not to have it in the house too often now – tough love and all.

    And I hope you check out Napoléon’s apartments at the Louvre – one of those hidden gems that most people don’t know about!

    Sounds like the two of you are having a most amazing time!

  6. I am so happy you are having a wonderful time. They had banned smoking back when we were there in 2008 so they should be getting used to it by now.

    And we also never met anyone who was snooty or rude.

  7. OC Driver- The airport stuff was horrible as was the whole long flight, but it seems totaly worth at this moment

    J – Funny thing about Potage and bathroom. We went outside where they pointed and couldn’t figure out where the bathroom might be so we just left. It was a really good meal though. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that all the other guests were British. I didn’t come to France to hang out with Brits. Not that there’s anything wrong with Brits. It just didn’t seem like a very French place

    Friar – We hit the McDo’s every so often to use the toilets.

    Smothermother – We haven’t been to the sewers. Between all the Metro travelling and the morning at the Catacombs I figure we’ve spent enough time underground

    SAW – I don’t get the Nutella thing at all. Germany is all over it too

    Trashee – Venus was a lot bigger than we expected. So was Mona. We’d been led to believe she was really tiny

    Jazz – I had a Paris Brest the other day. OMG it was a never ending experience of delight

    DrMonkey – I’m already jealous of the me that’s here when I’m back in bland old Ottawa

    Pinklea – We didn’t see Napoleon’s apt. The Louvre is a big noisy place with hundreds of groups of Italian kids on school tours. Frankly, I couldn’t wait to get out of there

    Cedar – Actually, yes. I would like to stay here forever. Or at least until I get tired of it.

  8. It’s very adventurous to pee in Paris.
    This might be my favorite statement ever. And still a bit of an understatement! Glad you’re enjoying it.

  9. Wow. I didn’t realize you would be posting. Cool beans. I can’t wait to see your pictures and that gypsy story was awesomely cool. I’m glad you guys have had great weather. (And maybe for the bathroom stuff, buy some Purel.) Keep having fun!

  10. I’m glad your trip continues to be great. After I saw you I walked my feet off as well-walked downhill past the Garnier Opera House going through four arrondissements before finally taking a bus. It was such a beautiful day.

  11. I’ve been putting off going to Paris for a long time because I thought it would be not so great. But you’ve made it seem fun and friendly. So, now I’ve got to get planning a trip, since we’re in London that should be easy. And now I know to avoid the gypsies bearing gold rings. 🙂

    Hope you keep having lovely weather!

  12. Julia – I don’t think they’re ever going to get used to the smoking ban. Smoking right in the doorway of the restaurant is still okay apparantly. And the ban doesn’t seem to apply to a whole host of people including the staff who are puffing away in the staff room right next to the dining room, or workmen who work with a lit cigarette in their pouty French mouths anywhere they please.

    Charlene – YES. I always look forward to seeing what the next toilet is going to be like. I wish I could do a video exposee on them. “The Toilets of Paris”

    Geewits – We brought lots of Purel, no worries. The toilets are just odd. It’s all good though.

    Linda- The weather has been amazing. I haven’t even had to unfurl that umbrella everyone warned me to bring. I’m going to recommend that everyone who comes here brings at least 2 comfortable pairs of shoes. The feet get really tired of the same shoes after a couple of days of constant walking.

    Kimberly – DO. It’s a wonderful place. You can’t not enjoy it. It’s fun and quirky and beautiful and friendly.

  13. omigosh, Paris! I hope you’re taking photographs that you might share with us. I’d love to see Paris. Ditto to Secret Agent Woman, on Nutella in Switzerland. I found it the same when I visited there and Germany, too. Must be a European thing. I’d not even noticed Nutella before visiting there.

    I envy your joy in Paris!

  14. The peeing would be a problem for me b/c I drink a ton of water and have to go regularly and prefer clean places to do that in.

    Weird about the peanut butter, nutella is pretty ok once in awhile but I love peanut butter.

  15. Pauline – Don’t like the stuff myself. First time I ever had it was when I was 14 in Germany. I thought “what the hell are they serving me here?”

    LoLa – Ya the Nutella thing is crazy. It’s first ingredient is sugar. THAT’s a good breakfast?

    Leah – Me too, but I managed okay with all the quirky toilets. It’s totally worth it anyway