France, the country that gave the world champagne and camembert, cinema and haute couture. It's a nation that boasts of exquisite art, remarkable architecture and the most influential cuisine on the planet.
I had spent the better part of six years of my culinary education studying its food and wine, albeit from the outside. This was my opportunity to taste the revered cuisine and all its regional variations at the source, and visit the temples of gastronomy that I 'd been trained to worship.
My first stop was Paris, capital of all things elegant and chic, suave and sophisticated. Just a mention of the name evokes images of grandeur and finesse.
With a social system that guarantees free healthcare and education and provides benefits during unemployment and retirement, the quality of life in France is perhaps better than any other country on earth. Paris with its beautiful public spaces, excellent transportation facilities and easy accessibility offers a whole lot more.
|Atop Cathedral Notre Dame|
Food and wine were still my number one priority but I had a specific mission here. I wanted to experience what it meant to be a Parisian. I was determined to get to the crux of daily life in this city and to not just witness the French art de vivre but also practice it.
I was reasonably successful in this quest and I've decided to share the newfound wisdom with you.
Here they are, my Ten Steps to Living Like a Parisian.
Stay in a Parisian apartment
No hotels. Not even hostels. Find an apartment to rest your head on. My brother's friends Flo and Marine graciously offered me a bed in their cosy home. You may not be so fortunate. Try couchsurfing?
Pick your favorite -eries
Boulangerie, patisserie, charcouterie, creperie, brasserie, epicerie...whatever it is you fancy, find the best among the scores of options in the city and claim your rights to it. Oh, and start your day with a pain au chocolate. It is life changing!
|Incredible pain au chocolat from Laduree|
Walk walk walk
Stroll along the Seine, window shop on Champs Elysees, take in the sights in Le Marais or simply wander around Montmartre. Explore the city on foot. Parisians do it all the time, as should you. I may have overdone this bit during my stay. I walked dozens of kilometers at all times of day and night. Nevertheless, it is in my opinion the best way to experience Paris.
|Near Champs Elysees|
|Strolling through Montmartre|
Eat local but also international
The city boasts some of the best and most expensive restaurants in the world but you can eat really well for a whole lot less. There are some fantastic concepts doing the rounds like French-inspired tapas at L'Avant Comptoir or an entire restaurant dedicated to a single ingredient like the Beef Club. There is also fantastic international cuisine on offer. The Vietnamese food in Paris is drool worthy!
However, throw caution to the wind. Be prepared for slow, inattentive, snooty service in most restaurants. Generally, customer service is France is interpreted to mean 'the customer serves'.
|Foie gras and onion chutney sandwich from Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie|
Learn the lingo
The three magic words are pardon, merci and s'il vous plait. Get them down to a tee. These will get you out the door but it helps to learn some more and go the extra mile.
Find a lazy spot
Whether it's by the edge of the canal, on a chair in Jardin des Tuileries or on the many benches strewn all over the city, take some time out to enjoy the moment. In Paris, it passes by very quickly.
Shop at the Farmer's market
I started my mornings in Paris with visits to the food markets. There are so many that you could visit a different one every day of the week. Whether shopping for fresh produce, cheese, fish or meat, compare prices from different vendors and then buy from the ones that promise the best value. Like any real Parisian would.
|Produce at Marche d'Aligre|
|Fish stall at Marche d'Aligre|
|Transactions at Marche Bastille|
Practice people watching on a sidewalk cafe
As anti-social as it may feel to sit beside your partner facing towards the street, this is a quintessentially Parisian pasttime. Enjoy it while it's still socially acceptable.
Les evenements du moment
There's always something happening in this city that is within your realm of interest. For me, this meant pulling an all-nighter and wading through the streets exploring some incredible art installations for Nuit Blanche. Or attending Fete des Vendanges, the annual grape harvest festival (more of a tradition now than anything else) in Montmartre where Parisians come together to party, eat and drink to their heart's content.
|Fog installation at Nuit Blanche|
Climb the Eiffel Tower
Even die-hard Parisians feel fondly about the tower and getting to the top is a must even for those trying to steer clear of touristy activities. Do it. It's almost worth the two hour wait in line.
|The Eiffel Tower|
It is common knowledge that most 'locals' in this city are not originally from Paris. A real Parisian is perhaps nothing more than a myth. People come to this city from all over France and the rest of the world to make it. Over time, they learn the ways of the city and become one with it. They don't have to be born as Parisians; they get to earn the title. Now that you know how, you can too.
My Quick City Guide to Paris
French tapas at L'Avant Comptoir
Steak frites at Relais d'Entrecote
Bistro fare at Bistrot Paul Bert
Foie gras & onion chutney sandwich from Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie
Expensive lunch at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Produce, dairy, meat and fish at Marche Bastille or Marche d'Aligre
Kitchen equipment at E.Dehillerin
Well, this entire post is a to-do list isn't it?