Living in France has expanded my life—and my thinking. And while, for this American in Paris, there are plenty of causes for eye rolling, like the bureaucracy and constant strikes, there are so many other more positive influences that make this expat life worthwhile. Even some miserable moments have become lessons for better living. So, as we begin this New Year, I thought I’d share what I think are 5 Parisian (and French) habits to adopt for a happier 2018.
#1: Learn the Art of Doing Nothing
How often have you said, “I can’t afford to take a break,” or made yourself work twice as hard because you took an afternoon off the day before, as if downtime is something you must earn, or pay for? In Paris, le flâneur—someone who strolls along or lounges and watches the world go by—is a cherished ideal. Sure, they work hard, but all the more reason to take that break. “Doing nothing” is an important part of a busy life, whether sitting at a cafe or in your garden, because it allows you to take in the world and just be—observe, dream, enjoy the moment. And it’s when we let our bodies rest and our minds relax—no social media!—that we activate alpha brain waves, which boost creativity and minimize depression. Pretty smart, huh?
#2: Tuck Your Phone Away at Mealtime
In a Paris restaurant, you can always tell the locals from the expats. How? The expats have their phone on the table, often facing upward. The French are as social media-obsessed as we are, but meals and time spent with others are sacred. Nothing is more important than family, friends, and food (the “French trinity” as I call it in my memoir). Focusing on each other, without outside interruptions, creates not only quality conversation, but a lasting bond that enriches your life. Another important reason: you will enjoy your food more and eat more slowly, which can aid digestion and could even help you lose weight. Bon appétit!
#3: Embrace your Real Beauty: Confidence
For the ladies, advice from my Parisian girlfriends: More than how you look, it’s how carry yourself that makes you attractive. I’ve tested this theory and found that just a change in my gait and gaze (more direct and present) made me feel more beautiful. Sometimes you gotta fake it ’til you make it, especially if, like me, you don’t feel yourself unless you’re done up. But in Paris, less is more. The over-processed beauty model of the Kardashians or Real Housewives doesn’t fly here. A pair of jeans and Converse, some red lipstick, finger-combed hair, and you’re good to go. Sure it’s done with flair, but it’s not overdone. The rest is all you. It’s liberating to live with a mantra of inside-out beauty.
#4: Carry Your Own Shopping Tote
Paper or plastic? How about neither? In the markets in France you bring your own tote, or caddy if you’re really stocking up (or pay for a reusable bag). Even before all the talk of going green, the French were bagging their own goods. I have a fold-up travel tote I keep in my purse, and for heavier hauls, I use a large reusable carryall that also doubles as my picnic basket and laundry bag when I need it to. Even those of you in the suburbs can get with the program. Keep totes or collapsable crates in your trunk. Save the planet one shopping trip at a time, plus look chic while doing it. Get this classic French string version on Amazon.
#5: Say Hello to Strangers
In Paris, and France, it’s customary to say bonjour—good day—to pretty much everyone. Don’t bother saying anything else unless you’ve opened with hello—to the shop owner, to the taxi or bus driver, to those you pass in your hallway, or on the street. Yes, perfect strangers. There’s a charm to it, a Mayberry small town humanity. If you’re not used to hello-ing everyone, it can feel awkward at first, but you will find out, as I did, that it puts people at ease and connects you, instantly. What is it they say? Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet. Go meet some today. It’s as easy as howdy-do!
Read the story behind the blog with my memoir, My (Part-Time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought Me Home, available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook (recorded by yours truly!). Order here.