"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How does it feel to be back in the U.S.?

Whenever I return to the US for the holidays, my family and friends always ask the question, "So, how does it feel to be back in the U.S.?" My response, is always "it feels great", after-all, I am American and the US will always be first and foremost my home.

These are my impressions or better yet, comparisons of my life in France, primarily in Paris as well as my life in the U.S., primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Lake Tahoe area.   When I first land in the US, my first impression is, we have such wonderful airports, even the ugliest ones are much, much nicer than CDG. I think I've mentioned in several different blogs that CDG airport works hard at being one of the top worst airports in the world.

It is not better or worse when comparing California to France, it's just different. Here's some of the differences I observed upon arriving in the U.S.:

  • Transportation: This is apparent just by driving on the freeways. Freeways are large in order to accommodate big cars, trucks or should I say the "gas-guzzlers". Although there are large American cars in France, for the most part cars tend to be small and efficient, since gas is quadruple the price in France. Automobiles are the primary mode of transportation in the US; hence, you can conceivably be in bumper-to-bumper traffic driving from San Francisco all the way to Lake Tahoe, some 200 plus miles.  In France, traffic is usually concentrated around the cities, because most people would rather use the train system for longer distances since they're extensive, efficient and fast.  Case in point, it can take you up to 8-hours to take a train from San Francisco to Truckee, California a distance of about 164 miles. From Paris to Strasbourg a distance of about 248 miles, it only takes you 2 1/2 hours by train, whereas by car it can take 5-hours. 
  • City transportation: There are similarities between the public transportation system of Paris and San Francisco. Paris has an extensive, efficient public transportation system as does San Francisco. Each city has different modes of public transportation for example, in San Francisco you can take BART (Bay Area Transit) or MUNI (City transportation), and Paris you can take the Metro in Paris and the RER to the suburbs. Parking is very difficult and expensive in both cities, so most tend to take public transportation to and from the city; however, the difference is that in the San Francisco Bay area there are carpool lanes used during peak commute hours, whereas in in the Paris and suburban areas there are no carpool lanes.
  • Restaurants: Both cities (San Francisco and Paris) are gastronomical capitals in their own right. The whole sustainable foods originated from California and the French cuisine inspired by the modern father of French cuisine, Paul Bocuse in France.  Both California and France have excellent wines. California wines tend to be more expensive than French wines. Also, the difference in food is that Americans generally like large portions, because if they can't finish it, they can always take it home (doggie bag).  In France, portions tend to be smaller, but just right, because people do not take left-overs home. In the average restaurants in the US, it is the norm for customers to request substitutions or have choices. For example, if you order a salad typically you will have several choices of what kind of dressing you would like; whereas, in an average restaurant in Paris, you don't have those choices. Note: San Francisco is an "early" city, meaning people tend to eat dinner earlier around 7-8 pm, whereas Parisians tend to eat later 8-10 pm.
  • Ethnic restaurants: Both cities have an abundant amount of ethnic restaurants. The difference is that ethnic food typically perceived as "spicy" such as Mexican is not popular in Paris, since most French do not like "spicy-hot" food. And, most ethnic restaurants that do serve "spicy" foods in Paris tend to be "Frenchified", meaning "de-spiced" whereas in San Francisco "toning it down" can happen, but you can get pretty authentic ethnic cuisine!  One cuisine that is not as popular as it is in Paris is "couscous" or foods from the Maghreb countries, ex-French colonies. Both cities, surprisingly have a lot of Asian style restaurants. The difference is that the Chinese cuisine in Paris is a hybrid of Vietnamese-Chinese since many who left French-Indo China are of Chinese ancestry and have been influenced by Southeast Asian cooking. Whereas in San Francisco, you can get specific ethnic Chinese cuisine. For example, Hunan, Szechuan, or Chiew Chow.
  • Quality of food:  I'm sure this topic is very debatable.  San Francisco gets a lot of tourists; however, San Francisco depends on repeat customers for their survival, they must strive to be good and consistent otherwise they'll go out of business.  According to Frommer's San Francisco has the most number of restaurants per capita of any city in the U.S.  Paris is the most visited city in the world; hence, the average bistros, restaurants or cafes in the tourist areas will have mediocre food at best, since they don't depend on repeat referral.  I personally think it's much easier to find a good average restaurant in San Francisco versus in Paris. In Paris, you have to be in the know.This paradigm changes when you go into the more non-tourist areas of Paris where they do depend on repeat customers, e.g., 15eme and 16eme.  As for the service, I actually like the service in Paris. It's non-intrusive and they're there when you need them, whereas in the U.S. I hate being asked every 5-minutes how my food is? it gets annoying after awhile.  Granted, in the US they have to work for their tips whereas in Paris, it is included in the overall bill.
  • Shopping: As I mentioned in previous blogs, shopping in the US is a sport. It's about abundance and choices. The barometer of the economy depends on how much Americans spend.  Hence, stores tend to over stock and compete for your business. In Paris, people shop for necessity, it is not a sport. Plus apartments are small and cannot accommodate much.  This past "Black Friday" not only did people camp over night for a store to open, but people got trampled and some killed storming stores to be the first to get the sale. If I didn't know any better, it's like tackle football. Sales are regulated in France, it's either in July or January; however, the sales are not viewed as "tackle" football nor is it a sport, but necessity.  
  • Quality of life: Our quality of life on both sides of the pond is very rich and rewarding. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we have wonderful friends on both sides of the pond. In Paris, we have the old world charms, whereas in the San Francisco, we have new world charm, "Yin and Yang". Exploring both cities can be very rewarding and fulfilling. The Lake Tahoe area in the Sierra Nevada is our sanctuary. It is an area of great beauty. It is an area where we can re-charge.
Donner Lake (Sierra Nevada)
 All-in-all, there are a lot of similarities and differences. Sort of a "Yin-Yang" that compliments each other. Again, it's not better or worse, just different. So, when asked the question, "how does it feel to be back in the U.S.? It feels great. However, when I return to Paris I'm asked the same question, and I can also say, "it feels great" as well. I am very fortunate, because I have the best of two-worlds, but then again, for me it's friendships over anything else that matters.

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