It’s the national beverage and there’s no need to choose between shaken or stirred, olives or twists — just deliciously cold bubbly that leaves your palate refreshed to sample some céleri rémoulade and terrine de campagne on freshly baked baguette slices.
Reading Le Monde in the soft morning light and sipping your café au lait, you linger watching people come and go. Listening to sounds of shopkeepers’ sweeping storefront sidewalks, scooters zipping in and out of traffic, taxis honking and fading police car sirens in the distance, you observe small, daily moments — fashionably-dressed female colleagues strolling arm in arm; a savvy, brunette shopper across the street inspecting tonight’s filet de porc rôti; truck drivers unloading crates of Evian next door, an elderly gentleman sporting a tweed jacket and plaid beret walking his menacing miniature dog; and the twenty-something young lovers at the table in front of you, speaking tête à tête, shooting smoldering glances at one another. The ordinary becomes mesmerizing and you forget about rushing from place to place. Unfortunately, you’re still dreaming of Starbucks, wondering how the French can get coffee so wrong.
In the heavily touristed Saint-Germain-des-Prés district in Paris, you skip the restaurant down the street from the Odeon metro with the excessive signage and menu posted in three languages. You resist the urge to grab a table on the uncrowded terrace and opt instead for the warmth and simplicity of La Ferrandaise, a neighborhood bistro two blocks away, packed with native Parisians and a chalkboard menu featuring pot-au-feu or blanquette de veau on the plat du jour.
You’re dressing smart, and always in layers on account of the ever-changing weather.
You’re striking up conversations with people you just met through chance encounters and exchanging contact information over a full-bodied aromatic glass of Côtes du Rhône.
Your passion for food is growing along with your waistline and you look forward to savoring that four course, three-hour dinner with wine. Regardless of the number of steps or length of time it’ll take you to prepare it properly, you’re going to learn how to make it at home.
You discuss upcoming regional elections and polls showing growing support for the far right party without eye-rolling, grimacing, shouting, or fisticuffs. Engaging in spirited dialogue and good-humored discussion on political topics is part of la vie and comes as naturally to the French as talking about the weather.
Billboards plastered with sexually provocative advertisements of women in revealing postures selling clothing, beauty products, and fragrances are no longer shocking. Ardent public displays of affection by couples making out in metros, restaurants, and on the street now makes for good theater.
There’s no social stigma attached to taking the bus or train here. In fact, it seems quite the opposite. Even better, it reminds you to pack light.
And you always bring plenty of coins for the tolls. You focus on town names instead of highway numbers, and you don’t panic if you get a little lost.
Leaving the map and plan for the day in your jacket pocket, you wander off the beaten path in the footsteps of Proust, Baudelaire, Balzac, Monet, Cézanne, and Van Gogh. You’re exploring local bookstores and antique shops, artisan and craft boutiques, and small galleries with vintage prints. You discover backstreets and passages, hidden courtyards, and hunt down site locations of your favorite French films.
Pulling off the road when the unplanned adventure presents itself, you walk through lavender-scented country trails, peruse small town markets for printed tablecloths, and leisurely tour olive oil mills and family-owned wineries. You live in the moment, not looking forward or backward, taking photographs in your mind to imprint the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of France in your memory.