People-watching in The South of France

 

I’m on vacation with my family in The South of France.  I just love how that sounds.  In fact, when a local Frenchman asks where I live, I respond, “The South of Carolina.”  I think that sounds more sophisticated than South Carolina.  I’m not sure why.

Anyway, my wife and daughters are having a blast wandering around all these cute medieval French villages, shopping for, um, well, shopping for just all kinds of stuff.  Except shoes — apparently high-fashion French shoe stores do not carry size 14’s.  Which probably saved me some money.  But anyway, I’ll wander around with them for a while, marveling at the 1,000-year-old buildings which are still standing despite the absence of building codes 1,000 years ago.  But after a while, my wife will plant me in a café, pile some bags on the chair next to me, order me a glass of wine, and tell me to stay put.  Which I do.

Every so often one of them will swing by, drop off some more bags, pat me on the head like a loyal dog, and then disappear back into the chaos.  So I do my job.  I watch their bags, and I drink wine.  Which is fine with me.  The wine is yummy (although I know very little about it) and the people-watching here is outstanding — just top-notch.  Tourist season doesn’t start in earnest here for a few more weeks. I hear some English in the crowd, but it’s mostly French.  And I’ve had a great time trying to figure out who is who.  See if you think my stereotypes are accurate:

Overweight:    American
Trim but not fit:    French
Trim and very fit:    American

Another incidental finding is that any Frenchman who looks like he spends any time at all in a weight room is almost certainly gay.  Not sure why.

Anyway…

A man with jeans and white or black sneakers:    American
A man with ratty dark red pants and bright orange sneakers:    French

A man with neat, short hair:    American
A man with messy hair that is 2-3 inches longer than it probably should be:    French
A man with very long hair in a ponytail:    American

A woman with long, well cared-for hair:    American
A woman with short, messy hair:    French

I find it interesting that so many French men and women have hair that looks like they just rolled out of bed, and they haven’t brushed it in a few days.  Not sure why.

New, clean clothes:    American
Old, dirty clothes:    French

Americans are very clean.  Often bordering on neurotic.  The cleanliness standards in French street cafes are often difficult for Americans to accept.  But for better or worse, Americans are very, very clean.  They stand out on a street full of Europeans.

Woman with a bra:    American or French
Woman without a bra:    French

Smoking a cigarette:    French
Frowning at somebody smoking a cigarette:    American

Drinking:    French
Drunk:    American

Women under 4’10”:     Middle Eastern
Women 4’10’ – 5’6”:     Usually French
Women 5’6” – 5’10”:    Usually American or German
Women over 6’4”:           Bastiat

Smiling:    American
Frowning:    French

Laughing loudly:     American
Muttering quietly:    French

This is a big one that I’d forgotten.  Whenever I travel anywhere in the world, I can usually pick out the Americans because they appear to be happy.  Before marriage, I dated a Swedish girl for a few years.  She said when she moved to America, the thing that struck her most was that everyone was smiling, laughing, and outgoing.  Very different from the dour Swedes.  Or from nearly anyone else.  I hope America never loses that.

Extremely, unbelievably polite:    Japanese
Somewhat rude:    French
Extremely, unbelievably rude:    Chinese

In a hurry to get somewhere:     American
In no hurry to get anywhere:     French

French cafés are a cultural phenomenon.  They’re everywhere.  And they’re all full, all the time.  And remember, the tourists aren’t here yet.  The cafés are full of French people.  I’m generally the only American in each café my wife plants me in.

My wife is fluent in French, and studied here in college.  I asked her how the French ever get anything done, when they spend so much time sitting around, drinking coffee in cafés.  She said, “They don’t get anything done.  Have you seen the French GDP?”

And she has a point.  If France was an American state, it would be either the poorest state in America, or one of the bottom three (depending on the metrics you use).

Southern France reminds me of Italy.  Similar culture.  Very relaxing for vacation.  But I can’t imagine living here — nobody ever does anything.  I would lose my mind.  And remember, I live in South Carolina.  This place is slow and lazy.

But it is quite nice, in a street café, with a glass of wine in my hand, watching people go by.  What the heck.  I’ve got nothing better to do.

So what do you think?  Are my stereotypes accurate?  Or do you think I’ve had just about enough wine?  Eh, maybe I have had enough.

Oops.  The waitress just brought another glass.  Eh, why not?  It’ll give me time for more people-watching.  Letting my mind wander lazily around a bit, like the people I’m watching.

I’ve got nothing better to do.

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  1. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Marvelous, Doc, and spot-on. (Loved the “Bastiat” reference.)

    Paris is the only place where I’ve been laughed at for attempting to say my room number in the local language to the desk clerk when requesting my key. (She was lovely, which added to the sting.)

    I’d add two observations.

    Best simple street food in the world: French

    Weirdly upbeat chatty guy carrying a backpack and loving every minute of everything: Australian

    PS I do recall that I thought Parisian women dressed particularly… nicely. A lot of tights and short skirts.

    • #1
  2. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    I spent two and a half weeks in Paris during my junior year in High School, over Christmas/New Years 1978/1979.   Six kids from my high school,  a couple from another high school, and a grad student from UWM and his girlfriend as our “chaperones”.  So basically a bunch of high school kids running around pretty much unsupervised.  Man, that was a great trip!

     

    Anyway, with regard to dress.   Obviously this is more than 40 years out of date, but I distinctly remember the group of us commenting at the time that all the men in  Paris (by which I mean those between about the ages of 18 and 35) were dressed either like John  Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, or Charles Manson.  

     

    The  last time I went to Europe (London, Paris, and Normandy) in 2022 I made it a point to avoid white sneakers for footwear.  I’m planning to go again in the fall with my younger son, and this time I’m going to avoid blue jeans too.

     

    Women under 4’10”:     Middle eastern
    Women 4’10’ – 5’6”:     Usually French
    Women 5’6” – 5’10”:     Usually American or German
    Women over 6’4”:           Bastiat

    I LOL’ed.

    • #2
  3. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    Best simple street food in the world: French

    When I was there in 2022 with my older son, one night I bought a couple baguettes and a bunch of butter and that was our “dinner”.  He wanted to do the same thing again the next night but I insisted we had to have real food.

    • #3
  4. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Dr. Bastiat:

    A woman with long, well cared-for hair:     American
    A woman with short, messy hair:     French

    I find it interesting that so many French men and women have hair that looks like they just rolled out of bed, and they haven’t brushed it in a few days.  Not sure why.

    This has not been my experience, but I have visited only in the North of France.  In Rouen and Normandy and Paris the women all look lovely and well-coiffed.

    • #4
  5. Fritz Coolidge
    Fritz
    @Fritz

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Marvelous, Doc, and spot-on. (Loved the “Bastiat” reference.)

    Paris is the only place where I’ve been laughed at for attempting to say my room number in the local language to the desk clerk when requesting my key. (She was lovely, which added to the sting.)

    I’d add two observations.

    Best simple street food in the world: French

    Weirdly upbeat chatty guy carrying a backpack and loving every minute of everything: Australian

    PS I do recall that I thought Parisian women dressed particularly… nicely. A lot of tights and short skirts.

    Thirty years ago my family and I spent four weeks in Paris, and your observation of the nicely dressed Parisian women rings true. My wife and I also noted that couples were often seen in which the woman was dressed to the nines while the man was a total schlub, often wearing a coat not unlike Columbo’s.

    When I mentioned this observation to my business host, I was informed that there are many such men who face a difficult task, to support both his wife and his “cinq a sept“, i.e., his mistress whom he sees in the apartment he provides for her from 5pm to 7pm when he scurries home to dinner. Thus his shabby look. What a country! 

    • #5
  6. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Dr. Bastiat: My wife is fluent in French, and studied here in college.  I asked her how the French ever get anything done, when they spend so much time sitting around, drinking coffee in cafes.  She said, “They don’t get anything done.  Have you seen the French GDP?”

    My daughter spent six months in a study group in Dijon twenty years ago and would have said exactly the same thing.

    While she was on semester abroad, she went to London and Cambridge. She said it was relief to get to England because they are, unlike the French, very time oriented, they know how to form a line, and they smiled and laughed. :)

    She told us what bothered her the most was the mold on the cheese. They kept their cheese at room temperature. She said her host family just scraped it off. Ewe. But, she said, they drank wine and cognac starting with breakfast. She thought that probably killed all the viruses and bacteria. :)

    She also said they demonstrated every weekend. That’s what they do for fun in France. Hold signs and protest. :) :)

    But the one thing that she said she could not get anywhere else in the world was the perfume. She loved the perfume shops.

    Years ago when Claire Berlinski was active on Ricochet while she was living in Paris, she wrote some wonderful posts about Paris. You might enjoy them.

    Brave Old World: On Ruining Paris | Ricochet

    Walking Through Paris on a Summer Evening | Ricochet

    Easter Sunday Photos of Paris | Ricochet    which she wrote at my request. :) :)

    • #6
  7. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    Wine?? You’ve changed.

    Dr. Bastiat: Americans are very clean.

    The first time I went to England I was looking at a magazine at the B&B where we were staying. I read something like, “You know how we’re always making fun of Americans for showering every day?” I was taken aback. I did not know they made fun of us for that!

    • #7
  8. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):
    Wine?? You’ve changed.

    When in Rome…

    • #8
  9. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Just a few days ago, the thought came to mind that I had not seen one of your posts recently. Now I know why. Glad to see that all is well.

    • #9
  10. Chowderhead Coolidge
    Chowderhead
    @Podunk

    People watching can be a lot of fun. When my daughter was at Ft. Hood, and I was working in Dallas we flew there together a few times. We had a people watching game. Every tenth person was a zombie. Wouldn’t you know it, they actually did look like zombies. One time the tenth person came around the corner and he was dragging one leg. It was one of the funniest things we have ever seen. Good times.

    When I was working in Vasto, Italy I learned quickly to get all my work done before lunch. Two bottles of wine with four people meant nothing gets done in the afternoon. This happened every day. Do they take siestas there from 12-2 also?

    I hope the whole Bastiat family enjoys the vacation!

    • #10
  11. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    When We were teens We’d hang out at the airport to people watch. Great fun.

    Sometimes choosing someone, making a bet where They are going, and the person guessing closest wins. People always cooperated, sometimes having great conversations with strangers.

     

    • #11
  12. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Marvelous, Doc, and spot-on. (Loved the “Bastiat” reference.)

    Paris is the only place where I’ve been laughed at for attempting to say my room number in the local language to the desk clerk when requesting my key. (She was lovely, which added to the sting.)

    I’d add two observations.

    Best simple street food in the world: French

    Weirdly upbeat chatty guy carrying a backpack and loving every minute of everything: Australian

    PS I do recall that I thought Parisian women dressed particularly… nicely. A lot of tights and short skirts.

    Agree that the Doc’s observations are accurate, to my experience. Also yours – and even tho their hair is messy French women’s hair looks great, their makeup is light and always just right and they know how to knot their scarves, wherever they put them. All not fair. And – it took courage to go into a lingerie store to buy the first time. No regrets on that store after though. Our son used his schoolboy French with confidence the times he came with use and people (outside of Paris) were gracious. (He’s since improved a lot and uses it for work occasionally. Partner teams are impressed he has actual working French, not survival French.)

    • #12
  13. Chowderhead Coolidge
    Chowderhead
    @Podunk

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    When We were teens We’d hang out at the airport to people watch. Great fun.

    Sometimes choosing someone, making a bet where They are going, and the person guessing closest wins. People always cooperated, sometimes having great conversations with strangers.

     

    $3.15 for an airport Budweiser. Amazing. And you even saved the receipts. We were at DFW. Once I said look, “Dallas is so big it even has a flight to Dallas!”. There was a flight between airports. 

    • #13
  14. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    I will do some more research on China later.

    • #14
  15. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Dr. Bastiat: But anyway, I’ll wander around with them for a while, marveling at the 1,000-year-old buildings which are still standing despite the absence of building codes 1,000 years ago.  But after a while, my wife will plant me in a café, pile some bags on the chair next to me, order me a glass of wine, and tell me to stay put.  Which I do.

    Excellent plan for all concerned.

    Dr. Bastiat: Southern France reminds me of Italy.  Similar culture.  Very relaxing for vacation.  But I can’t imagine living here — nobody ever does anything.  I would lose my mind. 

    When I was a child we lived in Naples, Italy for a year (I was born and raised in southern California). Individual Italians get very inventive at how to get things done, working around the tendency of somebody to be on strike or otherwise refusing to work at any given time. 

    • #15
  16. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Dr. Bastiat:

    Laughing loudly:     American
    Muttering quietly:    French

    This is a big one that I’d forgotten.  Whenever I travel anywhere in the world, I can usually pick out the Americans because they appear to be happy.  Before marriage, I dated a Swedish girl for a few years.  She said when she moved to America, the thing that struck her most was that everyone was smiling, laughing, and outgoing.  Very different from the dour Swedes.  Or from nearly anyone else.  I hope America never loses that.

    I’m not sure if it’s the laughter per se, or the general exuberant facial expressions (which often include laughter). Part of why in the Covid days muzzles (masks) presented so much more difficulty for Americans than for many others. Americans are used to communicating a lot through facial expressions. 

    • #16
  17. AMD Texas Coolidge
    AMD Texas
    @DarinJohnson

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):

    Wine?? You’ve changed.

    Dr. Bastiat: Americans are very clean.

    The first time I went to England I was looking at a magazine at the B&B where we were staying. I read something like, “You know how we’re always making fun of Americans for showering every day?” I was taken aback. I did not know they made fun of us for that!

    Americans are clean and they laugh too much. If that’s what they have to ridicule, I’ll take it.

    • #17
  18. GLDIII Purveyor of Splendid Malpropisms Reagan
    GLDIII Purveyor of Splendid Malpropisms
    @GLDIII

    Chowderhead (View Comment):

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    When We were teens We’d hang out at the airport to people watch. Great fun.

    Sometimes choosing someone, making a bet where They are going, and the person guessing closest wins. People always cooperated, sometimes having great conversations with strangers.

    $3.15 for an airport Budweiser. Amazing. And you even saved the receipts. We were at DFW. Once I said look, “Dallas is so big it even has a flight to Dallas!”. There was a flight between airports.

    Well it was “over” 25 years ago. Also just ignore that somebody chugged 8 beers in 40 minutes at 9 in the morning.

    Edited to help the pedantic.

    • #18
  19. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    I spent two and a half weeks in Paris during my junior year in High School, over Christmas/New Years 1978/1979. Six kids from my high school, a couple from another high school, and a grad student from UWM and his girlfriend as our “chaperones”. So basically a bunch of high school kids running around pretty much unsupervised. Man, that was a great trip!

     

    Anyway, with regard to dress. Obviously this is more than 40 years out of date, but I distinctly remember the group of us commenting at the time that all the men in Paris (by which I mean those between about the ages of 18 and 35) were dressed either like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, or Charles Manson.

     

    The last time I went to Europe (London, Paris, and Normandy) in 2022 I made it a point to avoid white sneakers for footwear. I’m planning to go again in the fall with my younger son, and this time I’m going to avoid blue jeans too.

     

    Women under 4’10”: Middle eastern
    Women 4’10’ – 5’6”: Usually French
    Women 5’6” – 5’10”: Usually American or German
    Women over 6’4”: Bastiat

    I LOL’ed.

    Indeed, I expect his daughters got a lot of attention, and totally confounded the dress shops.

    • #19
  20. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    GLDIII Purveyor of Splendid Ma… (View Comment):

    Chowderhead (View Comment):

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    When We were teens We’d hang out at the airport to people watch. Great fun.

    Sometimes choosing someone, making a bet where They are going, and the person guessing closest wins. People always cooperated, sometimes having great conversations with strangers.

     

    $3.15 for an airport Budweiser. Amazing. And you even saved the receipts. We were at DFW. Once I said look, “Dallas is so big it even has a flight to Dallas!”. There was a flight between airports.

    Well it was 25 years ago.

    Try 34.

    • #20
  21. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    GLDIII Purveyor of Splendid Ma… (View Comment):

    Chowderhead (View Comment):

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    When We were teens We’d hang out at the airport to people watch. Great fun.

    Sometimes choosing someone, making a bet where They are going, and the person guessing closest wins. People always cooperated, sometimes having great conversations with strangers.

    $3.15 for an airport Budweiser. Amazing. And you even saved the receipts. We were at DFW. Once I said look, “Dallas is so big it even has a flight to Dallas!”. There was a flight between airports.

    Well it was 25 years ago. Also just ignore that somebody chugged 8 beers in 40 minutes at 9 in the morning.

    We were 18.

    • #21
  22. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    This post is a real hoot!

    I only visited France one time for only 3/4ths of a day on a layover when my wife and I were on the way to Israel.  We made the best of our time by getting on a train at the Charles DeGaul Airport and headed into downtown Paris.  The biggest thing that struck me on the brief visit was the sheer magnitude of graffiti we saw on the train ride.  It is about a 20 mile ride through urban areas.  I’m not making this up, but for that 20-mile stretch I saw graffiti on every single building that passed by.  And every few miles there would be an enormous garbage heap many meters high.  It was so pervasive that I started trying to look at the buildings behind the ones facing the train tracks, and for two or three buildings deep, most of them had graffiti, too.  They’ve got Harlem New York beat by miles!

    • #22
  23. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Of the articles on web forums, those on the Ricochet Member Feed are among the best. Of those articles, Dr. Bastiat’s are among the best. Of that small group this is among the very best.

    If there were a collection of Ricochet’s finest pieces at the end of the year I would love chancing across this and re-reading it.

    This first time through the joy of reading was attenuated a little. It was like watching a ball game and realizing after five that it’s a perfect game so far and the pitcher is just getting stronger.

    The enjoyment grows with each idea, each paragraph, each sentence. 

    But so does the stress. The composer is a listener, too. Surely he will soon notice what is happening just as the reader does.  “This is pretty good, so far. I must be pretty good, too!” And he stops just listening to the new sonata playing in his head and trying to write it on paper before he forgets it. He starts trying to be a composer, a writer, a pitcher, and trying to create something under his own power.

    That’s what I’d do in his shoes. That’s what I do when I listen to my fingers as they play something new on the piano, and I suddenly notice: “Hey, this is pretty good so far! Let me take the lead here. I think I will try a diminished chord…”

    But no, with this piece the music just kept playing, the strikes and the groundouts and the pop-ups kept flowing and then it was done.  Perfect game.

    • #23
  24. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    Steven Seward (View Comment):
    I’m not making this up, but for that 20-mile stretch I saw graffiti on every single building that passed by

    I was in northern Italy a few years ago and it was the same. I was shocked by the graffiti everywhere.

    • #24
  25. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    I will do some more research on China later.

    I have been to Beijing and the surrounding region 4 times.  The video rings true.  Minorities are mistreated even more. 

    • #25
  26. DMak Member
    DMak
    @DMak

    From my experience, French women always dress nicely, especially when it comes to Parisian women; nothing is quite as revealing as that of American women. Sensible shoes—of course, you need sensible shoes when walking on cobblestones. And subtle makeup—nothing like American women with 25 products on their faces.

    I used to travel a lot through the Middle East and East Asia. I agree that Chinese are the loudest and rudest, while Japanese are the most polite.

    • #26
  27. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    If you’ve nothing better to do, do it with elan, with savior faire, with joie de vivre

    Why do the French have terms for all the things they never seem to be? How do you say “grumped-out dumpster diving troll with a hangover” in French?

    • #27
  28. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Percival (View Comment):

    If you’ve nothing better to do, do it with elan, with savior faire, with joie de vivre

    Why do the French have terms for all the things they never seem to be? How do you say “grumped-out dumpster diving troll with a hangover” in French?

    “Belgian?”

     

    • #28
  29. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Percival (View Comment):

    If you’ve nothing better to do, do it with elan, with savior faire, with joie de vivre

    Why do the French have terms for all the things they never seem to be? How do you say “grumped-out dumpster diving troll with a hangover” in French?

    “Le grumped-out dumpster diving troll with a hangover.”

    • #29
  30. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    DMak (View Comment):
    I used to travel a lot through the Middle East and East Asia. I agree that Chinese are the loudest and rudest, while Japanese are the most polite.

    According to modern genetic tests they are pretty much the same. The significant differences are about 99 percent nurture. 

    • #30
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