How is it possible that the French can live off of over 500 cheeses, rich foie gras, silky sauces, and the best desserts, yet stay remarkably thin, live longer (and happier), than Americans. Or that the French generally frown on wealth, at least not to discuss or flaunt it, yet support haute couture of the most expensive shops in the world. The French Paradox, of course.
The French Paradox simply means there are things about living in France that are both inspiring and yet, equally frustrating. Frustrating for silly things like line cutting – a fact of life for everyone that will not change. Inspiring because, in spite of these daily annoyances, Parisians can be the most warm and giving people anywhere, if you just show a little appreciation along the way. And while a variety of oxymorons that seem irreconcilable (because they are) exist, this does not stop the French way of living. It just means you need to embrace these apparent contradictions, and hopefully enjoy things that come your way.
Recently I went to buy croissants at Gerard Mulot – one of the best places to buy a croissant in the city for a mere 1.05 Euros — and bought a few for my family, plus a pain au chocolate and a tarte au citron for my son (his favorite). Unfortunately, I only had 10 Euros even and it cost 10.15. I apologized and told the cashier I only had 10 Euros and when I was about to tell him what I would not take he said, “de rien” (it’s nothing), and let me buy everything though I was short a not insubstantial amount of change.
As if good luck was raining down on me, my son bought a Nintendo 3DS game at FNAC,which turns out is incompatible with the American DS. Once opened, normally the store won’t take the game back. However, the cashier felt sorry for us as Nintendo DS games are compatible (the prior version), so gave us a refund, which is simply not normally done.
When we went to Le Grand Vefour for lunch, I had the opportunity to meet Guy Martin and told him how wonderful we thought of his cuisine. He and his staff showered us with usual aplomb of fantastic service and, if that was not enough, gave us a free ravioli with foie gras (which was remarkable), and an extra dessert comprised of rhubarb and green tea. This was in addition to his signature chocolate moelleux tarte with a salty caramel ice cream, plus the pate de fruits, plus chocolate, plus the most fabulous homemade marshmellows anyone will ever eat, plus 4 mini tartes — all after a 5 course meal and a carte of cheeses to finish off before dessert. Guy Martin’s generosity caused the buttons on my pants to burst.
I have too many examples — almost daily experiences — where Parisians will go out of their way to help, and be incredibly generous, if you just show some appreciation, patience, and calmly explain what you need (in French if possible). This is a city full of surprises, but Parisian generosity is not one of them. I am not sure I would even explain it as the French Paradox, as generosity (imbued with a joi de vivre) is simply part of the French DNA.