Street Life

Posted on March 12th, 2012 by

For anyone who got overly excited by this title, sorry, but I have not become a hip French street thug.  Instead, I am referring to the taste of walking around a city, the look of its citizens, and the thrum of its culture.  To get to know a place, you have to walk in the street with its people.

An initial difference Americans might notice while out and about is the sound of lips smacking in the street.  This is not because of all the people eating in the street—French people don’t like to eat on the go—but because of how freely people kiss in public here.  Initially, my American puritanism kicked in, and I thought  “get a room!” whenever I saw this.  But why?  Is there something uncomfortable about displays of intimacy?

You will also note this lack of puritan modesty in the windows of tabac shops where magazines are sold.  The upper-body nudity only hinted at on magazine covers in the United States is fully realized in Europe.  So, does this mean American’s just have a better understanding of where and when modesty is required?  I don’t think so, because there are actually sometimes where the French are more modest.  Churches in France sometimes have signs underlining the importance of appropriate dress, and not having bare legs inside, a warning I am convinced is largely because of American tourists who don’t get it.  So, maybe it’s us who don’t get it.  Or, maybe there’s nothing to get, and these are simply different mindsets.

Aside from the kissing noises, you will also here the sharp tap of fancy shoes as they carry their owners briskly through the city.  There is plenty of leather, and plenty of boots, but also more American designs such as Converse and brightly colored Adidas and Nikes.  Shockingly, sometimes you can see some ankle between their pants and their shoes.  Perhaps this is another manifestation of our puritanical nature, Americans make good and sure the ankle is hidden by wearing pants so large that they threaten to drag on the ground behind us for a few feet.  In France, the difference is that they prefer to walk on their shoes, rather than their pants.

The actual walking done on the shoes is executed quickly.  I most noticed this in Barcelona, where people walked as though they were still in the middle of their siesta.  Those of you who know me are thinking, “but Eric, that’s probably just because you walk faster than some cars.”  True, I have a habit of walking very quickly.  However, in France, I don’t feel out of place for it.  I did in Barcelona.  Thus, according to the rules of math or logic or something, people in France walk fast.

Then there are the scarves.  There really isn’t a demographic that doesn’t wear scarves over here.  I’ve seen them with polo shirts, suits, and dresses.  They are worn by children, men, and women.  One night, I saw some rather frightening looking gentlemen with lots of chains, spiky metal things, and intimidating scowls to match their accessories.  Such characters in the US wouldn’t dream of touching a scarf, but in France, it was a normal part of their outfit.

Finally, there’s the smoke.  Europeans  are trapped in an abusive relationship with cigarettes.  I have now walked through enough smoke to appreciate the subtleties of different quality cigarettes—an appreciation which I can assure you, I don’t appreciate.  It is also in style to roll your own cigarettes, and some people can be seen doing so with their little tobacco pouch and papers.  I once caught myself thinking this looked cool, until I remembered that I have always been, and ever will be militantly opposed to smoking, no matter how hip you convince yourself your being while you poison yourself.

I think I need to walk around more streets in the United States, because, whether or not I like what I find, I feel like I have gotten to know so much about Nantes and its citizens by getting out, getting lost, and getting around in the streets.

 

 

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