CULTURE/smoking around bébé: things Parisians do that stun New Yorkers and vice versa

ny5It’s no secret that, despite Bloombergian laws banning smoking in bars and restaurants, cigarettes are still everywhere in Paris in a way they just aren’t in New York anymore (go to a private party in Paris and prepare to take your jacket to the dry cleaner the next day). Café terraces are often wreathed in smoke. Parisians have a habit of casually flicking their cigarettes over their shoulders and into your café crème…but in a really cool way.ny6

That said, there’s one Parisian sight that elicits a special level of shock from visiting Americans: Fashionable, slim young parents (and they often are quite young, under 30, supported generously by the French government in their parenting) smoking outdoors in the presence of their babies or children. Ask Parisians about this and they’ll think you’re exaggerating. “That’s a myth,” said one (childless) friend. “French parents hide their smoking from their kids.” Another said, “French parents only do that outside in cafés, leaning away from their kids. Or on their balconies.” They miss the point that most yuppie American parents now think it’s a disservice to their health, and by extension, their families, to smoke at all, or even risk the guilt of watching their kids take up smoking in their teens.

ny1New Yorkers
new to Paris are also regularly startled to find that: Parisians do not walk around in gym clothes or sweatpants unless they are actually exercising. ny2

Parisians do not talk to strangers. This can be profoundly disconcerting to a New Yorker who’s used to freely bitching about life’s daily indignities with whoever happens to be in line with them at Duane Reade. If you comment to a Parisian in the métro that the un-air-conditioned car is particularly smelly today, they will give you a frightened look like you are a crazy person and turn away. ny1

Meanwhile, Parisians new to New York are often aghast that:

New Yorkers are so plump. This may come as a surprise to New Yorkers proud that they are among America’s thinnest, but on the whole, New Yorkers are heavier than Parisians. Part of this is a certain pride in body diversity in New York that doesn’t exist in Paris, where a good friend will quickly tell you if you look like you’ve gained five pounds.

New Yorkers carry around their coffee. In Paris, the very point of coffee is that you sit down and take a break. You don’t walk around with a giant vat, fueling yourself throughout the day. Parisians find this amusing and horrifying, as they do the fact that everything in America, even baby strollers, comes equipped with a huge cupholder.

New York parents talk to their kids as though they are their peers. “Jonah, did you think last night’s Arcade Fire show was as good as last year’s?” is not something you will ever hear a Parisian parent say to his or her 6-year-old.

New Yorkers are hyperfriendly up front and then forget about you later (unless they need you). In Paris, people are quite cold at first sight and don’t see the point in making particular efforts with strangers,” explains Anna Polonsky, U.S. director for the French food blog Le Fooding, which has become synonymous in France with global foodie culture.  “However,” she continues, “as soon as you get past that, they’ll immediately invite you home for dinner or take you to their favorite bar for apéro. New Yorkers are the opposite. They’re extremely warm at first and will call you honey, boo, or my dear in less than a second, but it takes years to actually become intimate with them. That cultural gap is very tough for a lot of Frenchies.
ny3 They feel at first like they’re in heaven compared to Paris, only to be let down and find out that they won’t be contacted until they’re worth the interest, or if they have cool things to offer at night.”

And that, in a nutshell lies some of the key differences between New Yorkers and Parisians.  What do you think?

Source: Tim Murphy for New York Magazine

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