I recently got back from a trip to London and Paris from my normal hub of Los Angeles. While both places were great, I found Paris by far the more interesting, which should be no surprise: London is still somewhat similar to Los Angeles, and, as I’d define it, is the “United States with an accent.”
I took the Eurostar from London to Paris (one of a few travel options, but my personal favorite), and right when I got off, I found myself a bit thrown off. New words I couldn’t understand littered the walls, and as I rode their public transport into the heart of Paris, the train broke down and I had that “here’s when it starts” feeling. I was jammed into a train with hundreds of Parisians (who seemingly have a much more frequently used public transport than London’s, which is dense in itself), in a place I didn’t know, and now I had to figure out an alternative route home.
My girlfriend and I walked to our hotel and made it fine – Paris wasn’t so bad after all. The streets are stone-cobbled and the aged buildings are beautiful, jammed into narrow streets lined with history. I can’t find that near the Hollywood sign here in LA.
Paris however is a distinctively different culture – and not solely because of the language barrier. The biggest difference we found came from eating – the streets are lined with people pointing out in their chairs towards the streets, essentially people-watching – and simply sitting there, seemingly for days. People do not move, they simply socialize and converse – for hours.
Undoubtedly, the health benefits of socializing and relaxing are well known, and have been talked about before.
The bigger shock is the negative impact the people make on themselves during the same period – eating big, buttery bread and croissants, chain smoking and drinking into the night. You observe this and then wonder to yourself: How are these people so paradoxically healthy? The U.S. is packed with obese people in the airports, while Parisians wolf down on croissants and stay extremely thin, for the most part.
The Difference Between the U.S. and France
The answers lie in their eating habits. When my girlfriend and I ate our atypical 7PM dinner in a Paris restaurant, we looked around and noticed very few people eating around us; people were just enjoying a drink and a snack, if anything. In Paris, the biggest meal of the day is lunch – the time when we actually need fuel to power us through the day! Some Parisians may eat dinner, but if they do, it’s much later in the day.
It was somewhat shocking to see but also illuminating: why do Americans eat dinner? Mostly for its social purposes. Food is meant to fuel us for activity, not just sit in our belly as we sleep. While Parisians’ chain-smoking might not be healthy, better eating habits from Parisian culture is something we as Americans – or anyone – might just be able to take away.