30 March 2007

Nowhere is the French reverence for all things culinary more apparent than in the canteen of the Sciences Po blood drive. Rather than the typical Tacoma blood bank fare of saltines, prepackaged oatmeal raisin cookies and array of juices, French donors are offered a selection of sandwiches, yogurts and fresh pastries.

The food isn’t the only thing that’s different about donating blood in Paris – for one thing, the required abstention post-tatouage is a mere 4 months, compared to the year-long wait in the U.S., and there’s no minimum required iron level – in fact, they don’t even check.

I tried rather half-heartedly and unsuccessfully to figure out if I was allowed to donate here at the beginning of the school year, but gave up or forgot or was just to lazy to follow through. I’d completely forgotten about it until I checked my Sciences Po email yesterday and discovered that SciPo was hosting a blood drive today.

Still not sure whether I was even eligible to donate in France, I showed up anyway. Since I had an 8am class and was already at school, I was one of the first in the door at 10:30, ready to completely befuddle all of the technicians.

As easily as I can generally communicate in France, there are some things that I just don’t know. My weight in kilograms, for example, or my height in meters. During my interview, I had several technicians gathered around me trying to estimate my height and weight – as they shouted out their guesses, they’d look at me for confirmation, as though hearing the correct numbers would trigger some dormant part of my brain that conforms to the metric system.

It took me a lot of arguing in my American French to convince the médecin that yes, it was possible that I had donated blood maybe 15 times in my life. He kept asking if I was sure, and after thinking about it I realized that it’s probably more like 25 – I’ve been a pretty regular donor since I hit 16 and this new number just completely floored him. À 21 ans? Vingt-cinq fois à 21 ans? he kept exclaiming. Just as I couldn’t figure out why he was so amazed, he couldn’t figure out why I was so nonchalant – until he asked me what the minimum age for donation is stateside. Until a few years ago, French donors weren’t allowed to donate until they were 21 years old. This age limit was lowered to 18 with parental consent, and then finally to 18 without parental consent, so a minimum age of 16 years and 110 pounds was pretty surprising to my poor interviewer.

I had another adventure trying to explain to the médecin that the only surgery I’d ever had was to have my tonsils removed more than a decade ago. I’d been wrongly assuming that the word for tonsil was the same in French – enlèvement des tonsils, enlèvement des tonsils! I kept pointlessly repeating while patting my throat with one hand and miming some kind of tonsil removal with the other. Turns out, “tonsil” is not a word in French, not even close. The correct vocabulary would have been les amygdales, which was probably one of the words the médecin kept saying, but had sounded so far off that I’d disregarded it. The confusion ended with him writing “tonsil” on a piece of paper and telling me that I need to figure out the word for next time.

Once we had the medical history sorted out, it was time for the interview. For the most part, this was exactly the same history I give at Cascade Regional in Tacoma – but even more inclusive, if you can imagine. For example, if you say no, you have not had unprotected sex even one time since 1980 with a man who has had unprotected sex even one time since 1980 with another man, you get another list of questions. Do you have a significant other? Male or female? How long have you been dating? Are you monogamous? Are you sexually active? If so, when is the last time you had sex, and was it with a significant other, or somebody else. I was kind of taken aback by this series – I’m used to the no, no, no to all of the high-risk for HIV diagnostic questions, but not so much to the relationship/sexual profiling ones. They also ask if you’ve ever smoked hash or cannabis – if so, when and in what quantities. I’m not sure what pot has to do with blood quality, but I guess my médecin was satisfied that I probably didn’t have any traces of marijuana in my system today, and I was sent out to be bled.

There were two technicians drawing blood, a man and a woman, and they both seemed very tickled to have an American girl incapacitated on a cot. The man was excited to practice his English, and told me, “Your snow, I mean rain? Snow? Ah yes, boots for rain, are so nice, mademoiselle,” while the woman fussed over me, speaking as slowly as she could, patting my arm, and unzipping and rezipping my sweater whenever she deemed that I might be in need of a temperature adjustment.

I was hoping for some French “I donated” merchandise, but hélas, all I got was a chausson aux pommes, a Mont Blanc yogurt and a compliment on my footwear.

I know parking is an issue in this city, but this guy definitely should have kept looking:

26 March 2007

I think it’s safe to say that it’s spring in Paris. The sun is shining, it’s warm enough to walk to class without a jacket, and every spare patch of grass in the city is filled with smoking sunbathers – no really. They lay on their backs with their pants and shirt hems rolled up, one arm across the eyes to block out the sun while the other hand brings a cigarette up for a drag every few minutes. Only in Paris, right?

With the onset off a new season and the beginning of a long run of the warmer months, it’s definitely time to reassess French fashion. Get ready with a pen and paper because here are my notes for must-have clothing for anyone currently living in the city of light, or wishing they were.

First and most important is the mini trench. We already knew that the trench was French, but as the months get warmer and dryer, the hems get higher, the colors brighter and the fabrics lighter. Styled exactly like a full-length Carmen Sandiego, but cut to fall at the hip, the shoulder and wrist straps, big buttons and tie-waists of the mini-trench are exactly the same as those of it’s cold-weather big sister, just styled for spring. Khaki is the most popular color, but you’ll also see black cotton, darker browns, grays, and an array of bright springy colors like greens and oranges. It’s important to note that chicness is still a way of life in the sweaty grime of summer in the city, so if you want to look Parisian, go with a neutral – khaki, brown, black, gray or navy blue. If you’ve got the cash, buy yours at Comptoir des Cotonniers for around 200 euro. If you’re on a budget, try any of the cookie cutter “Paris Chic” boutiques lining any side street in the city and style yourself for a much more affordable price of 20-30 euro. The middle of the roaders shop at Gap, Esprit, Promod or Zara. My own happens to be blue and gray plaid and was not quite as cheap as 20, but was well under 100 euro.

As predicted by Vogue back in December or January, the chic nail polish for spring is dark brown – just as chic as the Chanel Black Satin rage of the fall and winter, but a bit less harsh for spring. Buy it Chanel if you’re blessed with a disposable income, but the rest of us stock up at Sephora or Monoprix.

As the Laguna Beach style of beachwear for any occasion – cut-off denim miniskirts with or without leggings, flip flops and wife beater-style tank tops – has not, and probably will never catch on here, you’re a lot safer going with a knee-length cotton skirt or dress. Stock up at Zadig & Voltaire, H&M or Antik Batik and pair with tights, leather boots and cardigans for the spring and flat sandals or espadrilles in the summer and you’re sure to capture that easy breezy French girl chic. These pieces are particularly effective if shown off from the back of a moped driven by a frighteningly stylish French boy.

As for shirts, French fashion doesn’t seem to change tremendously. Tee shirts are cut low to show off a nice décolletage and skim the body. I think the idea is to never look like you’re working for your chicness – tight tee shirts or too-complicated tops just look like too much effort and destroy any idea of chic you might have had. Loose and light, but always sexy.

In a repeat of last summer, the cut-off trousers are back – or maybe they just never left. Worn either below the knee in madras style, or cut high like hot pants that you might happen to wear to work (with some thick opaque tights underneath and a seriously conservative shirt, of course!) Buy them anywhere that clothes are sold and wear them with the same attitude as the floaty skirts and dresses. The perfect carelessly chic French outfit? Short trousers, a horizontally striped cotton shirt (think John Paul Gaultier) and ballet flats or sandals.

There are two types of shoes preferred by French feet from March through August. The first being a pair of chic flat sandals. Styled in the exact same shape as the ballet flats that are still roaringly popular among the chic and skinny-panted young women of Paris, but cut as sandals (cut out toes, for example, or with thin ankle straps). Wear these with your skinny pants – it’s still just morphing from winter to spring after all, cropped trouser pants or floaty cotton skirts. As with every style, you can become an haute couture fashion victim just as easily as a boho budgeted one. Starting at 19 euro in the generic boutiques, going up to a thousand euro if that’s how much you’re willing to pay for your footwear.

Espadrilles are the other foot fashion must-have. From what I hear, they’re back every year as a summer sandal you buy once each spring and spend the summer wearing to the ground as you vacation in Italy or Provence. These you really can buy anywhere – for 100 euro in the boutiques on rue Saint Honoré (which may not sound like a lot until you consider what this shoe is – woven hay and a piece of canvas) or for 20 euro in the women’s clothing department of Monoprix. Go for crazy stripes, polka dots, whatever strikes your fancy at the moment, because you’ll just be stocking up again in Spring 2008.

The French are obsessed with Levi’s denim. There are Levi’s boutiques all over the city, where you can clad yourself in 90 euro pants that you might have paid $50 for at Sears in the U.S. (I should know, I spent a summer working there). Whoever you are, whatever your income, at least one pair of Levi’s is going to be a staple of your wardrobe. You either save up and guard them zealously as your special pair of jeans, or you wear them for day-to-day bumming around, paired with a simple button shirt from Prada. Sound ridiculous? Not for the moms who live in the 2ème arondissement.

Women carrying Longchamp purses should be featured on the postcards of Paris, alongside the beret-wearing, baguette holding men that so often grace the racks of souvenir stands. Though it doesn’t seem to have reached international fame, the brand is as much a staple of life in Paris as is owning a scarf for every day of the week. They make regular leather purses as well, but live here for a while and you’ll probably be more familiar with the brightly-colored canvas bags with leather handles. They come in all colors and sizes and if you are a female who lives in the city, no matter your age, you probably have one of these bags. If you’re a mom, you carry a smaller one as an everyday purse. If you’re a student you probably carry both a luggage-sized bag filled with books and graph paper and a smaller one over your shoulder with normal purse contents.

In Paris, there’s no such thing as putting away your scarves for the winter. Maybe the wool varieties are sealed and stored, but pashminas are as common as ever. More popular for warm weather are little wispy scarves, brightly colored and sometimes sparkly, tied in jaunty knots at the neck. Even though it’s a little sunny and bright to sport black and skulls, it seems like every young person in the city (male or female) has one of the sparkly skull scarves that have been popular since I arrived last August.

Really, the most important thing to remember is to stay chic. Take a leaf from Coco Chanel, and stop in front of the mirror on your way out the door each morning to remove one item from your outfit. Clutter isn’t chic, anymore than looking like you stepped out of a Hollister catalogue is – at least not here. Be chic, be effortlessly stylish, never look like you feel the heat, never ever put your scarves into summer hibernation – and please, please, don’t forget the deodorant. The metro is horrible enough when the weather gets warm without being pressed against other sweaty people of already questionable hygiene.

21 March 2007

I love coming home at night to the smell of burned out candles. It’s a smell I’ve always loved – it used to remind me of birthdays, but now it reminds me of my apartment in Paris. The candle smell comes from my neighbors on the first floor (reminder, in France, the first floor is the first floor above ground level) who are a male pair of interior decorators who do quite a bit of entertaining. Every time they have a dinner or party or festivity of any kind, we enter and exit the building by candlelight.

Tonight I got home after the candles had been blown out, and the only reminders of the evening were the still-smoking white candles lining the courtyard and first floor staircase. I was coming home from a movie, trying to make the most of the Printemps du Cinéma promotion that ended today. For whatever reason, the Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Français organizes this three-day period each spring (possibly beginning just last year), during which all movies at all theatres all over France cost only 3.50 per person. Determined to maximize my benefit, I saw a movie all three nights.

Tonight it was Les Témoins, a movie about a group of people in Paris in 1984 who are affected by the “new virus,” or AIDS. It’s been receiving great reviews in the French press, and it really was a good movie. Even better than the movie, was the fact that I realized that I really have no trouble understanding French. For whatever reason, comprehension has always come naturally to me – I’m nowhere near the same level with my writing and speaking, but I feel like I understand fluently. Sciences Po lectures are no problem, and I often find myself translating or repeating for other exchange students. Realizing that I was following the complicated story of how the disease was passed and dealt with by this group of people (not to mention, the complicated ways in which everybody was involved with one another) was just the confirmation I needed.

At one point the girl next to me leaned over to ask “Wait, what excited her?” And I found myself quickly explaining that these two people are married with a baby but maintain an open relationship, which until now, only the wife had taken advantage of. The scene dealt with the husband asking about her sex life and how she’d feel about hearing that he’d gotten some of his own. Turns out, it excited her. The response of my neighbor? “Wow, I did not get that at all.”

Even when I was here on a month-long exchange in high school, I was always introduced by my host family as “Our little American – who will understand everything you say.” It’s frustrating though, being able to understand everything that’s going on around me and feel so limited in expressing myself. I get along fine in day-to-day life, but put me in a discussion about politics and I can nod along without ever being able to express my views as eloquently as I’d like to be able to. I constantly feel like I have to justify myself when speaking to French students – I’m smarter in English, I swear.

In a way, it’s fitting that I am a nanny to an almost three-year old boy learning two languages. I feel like we’re in the same boat, trying to figure out how to express ourselves in the right way that we’ll be understood. We both confuse French and English words sometimes, and both get frustrated when we can’t get our points across. Though Georges tends to start laughing when I say “What? What? I have no idea what you are saying to me Georges,” while I get more flustered and less able to communicate clearly.

Other times though, I communicate too well in French. Today leaving a brutal breakdancing class, I was walking out with another girl, both of us complaining in French about how sore we’d be tomorrow. (If you want an idea of just how sore my wrists and shoulders are going to be tomorrow, check out the following video – we were working on air flares).

After a full hour of supporting our full body weights on our hands, we were walking to the metro together moaning things like, Alors, mes poignets! and Je ne pourrai pas lever les bras demain! (Ah, my wrists! And, I won’t be able to lift my arms tomorrow!) when she apparently caught a glimpse of the label on my REI rain coat and switched to English – “Oh, you’re from America?” I confirmed, and we laughed at ourselves for a minute before continuing to bemoan our worn out bodies. Just before parting ways at the metro, I asked what part of the U.S. she comes from.

As happens in strange countries a good deal more than you’d expect it to, the answer was “Oh, Seattle.” It turns out she’s actually from Vashon Island, a ten-minute ferry ride from my hometown of Tacoma and is in Paris working on her Master (more like general grad school in France). How funny is the world that a Tacoma girl can go to a hip-hop class in the 12ème arrondissement of Paris and learn after three sessions of toprock and six-steps that she’s practicing her freezes next to girl from Vashon? This is why I love this city.

14 March 2007

Usually I spend my days collecting stories and ideas to write about as I walk, run and metro through the city. These are a few little life in Paris anecdotes that I couldn’t quite stretch into full stories on their own.

Autobus, ligne 39
Last Monday, Ella and I had been waiting at the Richelieu-Quatre Septembre bus stop for about 20 minutes before we saw the notice taped to the glass wall of the stop. Thanks to yet another protest, the bus line we take to the Académie for her dance class each Monday would once again be interrupted. From 18h to 20h that evening, there would be no busses running between Richelieu and Gare du Nord.

As it was only 17h20, we were a little confused about why there was no bus. After mulling it over for a few minutes, we decided our best bet was to hike down the few blocks to Palais Royal, where we could catch the bus at an uninterrupted stop, just in case the line had already been disrupted.

After about a block and a half, I looked back to see none other than autobus 39 heading down the street behind us. We stopped and stared – the driver stared back at us for a moment, and then we broke into a run, sprinting toward Palais Royal as fast as we could run with school and dance bags bouncing at our sides. Thanks to the narrow trafficky streets of the Paris centre and an aptly-timed red light, we made it to the bus stop sweaty and panting, but with a few moments to spare.

When the bus pulled up, the driver – young, male, and oh-so-cute – could barely sit up straight he was laughing so hard. Embarrassed, we boarded the bus and I gave him a sheepish and wheezy grin. “Eh,” he said, “ça va?” (Hey, are you okay?). I nodded, and started to follow Ella toward the back of the bus. “J’aurais vous attendu,” (I would have waited for you) he called after me, and when I looked back, he winked.

I think I have a crush. Is it horribly girly and teenyboppy that I hoped we’d have the same driver today? Sadly, “I would have waited” was nowhere to be seen, but I have five more months of rides on autobus 39 before I head home to Washington.

Greasy picnics in the park
When the sun comes out in Paris, so does the smog, the tourists and the picnickers. As there is a severely limited amount of grass that you’re actually allowed to set foot on in this city, there are a few locations that become nearly impassable on nice days like today. One of these is Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge connecting the cour carré of the Louvre to the rive gauche, and a favorite wine and cheese picnic spot in any weather. When it’s really sunny, it’s best to go here with a picnic in mind or not at all, as picking your way around lunchers, musicians and amateur artists is definitely not the most efficient way to cross the river.

Another popular picnic spot is a little patch of courtyard smack between the jardin des Tuileries and the courtyard of the Louvre. Since this is technically not a part of Tuileries, its grass is fair game, and the two medium-sized squares of it fill up early on nice days, with dogs and their owners, sunbathers and picnickers. It’s quite a nice lunching option if you’d like to park yourself on a rare bit of grass and don’t mind the bold peddlers of sunglasses, hats and knock-off Dolce & Gabbana belts.

Being next to the musée du Louvre and a block from the tourism office of Paris, this is one of those weird parts of the city that is frequented by tourists and natives alike. Usually the city is quite segregated, and while tourists might spend a great deal of energy searching for “real Parisians,” real Parisians spend even more energy avoiding them. To pick out the tourists from the authentic Frenchies, you have to know where you are and what you’re looking for.

If you hit up this particular spot during lunch, look for groups of people sitting on the grass with wine, cheese and baguettes – these are 100 percent tourists. The “real Parisians” are the ones crowded around overstuffed greasy bags of MacDonalds takeaway. It’s disturbing, but true. Sure Parisians eat baguette sandwiches and paninis too, but not here. Americans and the like think they’re being chic and French by eating French bread near the Louvre, but what they don’t realize is that the McDo on rue de Rivoli has designated their picnic spot as the unofficial outdoor dining area for the McDonalds that is so beloved to seemingly everyone in France.

Counterfeit euros
Last night after nannying, I made a quick stop at Monoprix for a few groceries. All I needed was milk and olive oil, but as I was shopping before dinner, I also ended up with several varieties of cookies and some disgustingly delicious Chokella cereal.

Monoprix is always filled with people around 21h because it’s the only grocery store around that is open until 22h on weeknights. Waiting in a line that wound through the store, I felt awkward enough with my basket of unhealthiness. The cashier rang up my groceries and as I bagged them I handed her a 50-euro bill (rather than pay with a credit card) to speed up the process so I could get out of the store and home to eat dinner.

The woman manning the register took my bill and started hmmm-ing and muttering to herself. She held it up to the light to inspect the watermarks, and scratched at the center of it with a fingernail. “C’est bizarre, ça,” (that’s weird) she kept saying, and eventually passed it to another checker, who gave it to a manager to inspect in a special machine. Meanwhile, I was standing at the end of the register with my bags of groceries and line that just kept growing behind me, while everyone in the store was craning their necks to see the criminal who was trying to pay with counterfeit money.

All I could think was, how the heck was I going to get my 50 euro back? It’s not my fault if I got fake money out of the ATM! Could I find my receipt and go back to Crédit Lyonnais and complain? Would they believe me? I spent about 10 minutes like this, while everybody waiting in line, glad to have a distraction from boredom, focused their attention on me.

Eventually somebody pronounced my money legitimate, and as the checker handed me my change she grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes – “You understand that we weren’t accusing you – it could happen to anyone,” she assured me in French. I thanked her, grabbed my cookies and ran before they could change their minds.

And lastly...
Did I ever mention that I finally got my carte de séjour?

12 March 2007

It’s been so sunny in Paris lately that I’ve been waking up early. When I got up this morning, a perceptible haze had set in. The sky was bright and there wasn’t a cloud in sight, but to the North and East, the sky was thick and brown.

It’s actually been remarkably warm here the past few weeks – I’d been warned all autumn what a terrible time February would be in the city, but the month passed in blue skies and sunny days. Today it was so warm that I didn’t need a jacket walking to class – a tee shirt and thin cotton cardigan were more than sufficient.

With beautiful days that stretch longer and longer by the week, comes the annual revelation that yes, Paris is a beautiful, but dirty and polluted city. Indeed, the view from the top of the basilisque de Sacre Coeur is a breathtaking panorama of the city, but more often than not shows a rather hazy view, with the outer arondissements fading into nothing.

This is about as good as it gets:

The most polluted street in the city is rue des Saints-Pères – an address for one of the buildings of Sciences Po that I spend a good deal of time in. It’s something actually scientific to do with the height of the buildings and narrowness of the street, the amount of traffic each day and the wind direction, but I can’t imagine that there’s any section of this crowded city that is significantly better or worse in terms of air quality than any other.

According to my French politics teacher, there was an informal study done one summer by a journalist or professor or something, where the man spent an entire day breathing through a snow white handkerchief. He didn’t do anything special, just went through his daily activities – metro, work, lunch, grocery shopping, etc – all with this handkerchief clasped to his face. By the end of the day, the handkerchief was black.

This was a disturbing bit of information, but not at all surprising. My asthma has been worse here than ever before, and where I only ever used to need an inhaler for working out, I’ve taken to carrying mine everywhere.

Maybe I’m just spoiled by the clean air and mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest, but I find myself walking around thinking, “I’ll be okay, I’m only here for a year. How much damage can just one year of secondhand smoke, smog and uncooked meats really do to my health?” Then I pause and think about the fact that there are people who live their whole lives in this city and don’t seem to be worse off for it. The French are generally a pretty healthy people – at least diet-wise. As of yet, there haven’t been any proven health benefits of the country’s love affair with cigarettes.

All health concerns aside, this city just gets gross when it’s hot. The air is humid and oppressive and you end every day sticky with dirt and sweat. The metros are the worst, but even on foot there’s no way to avoid the feeling that your body is somehow covered with little particles of dirt and carbon.

This perception is not contradicted by the fact that there’s garbage everywhere – even floating in the Seine along with the swans and fish that have gone belly-up. I’m not even going to go into the fact that there’s dog poop everywhere – in the streets, on the sidewalks, in the metro, on your shoes…the fact of the matter is that this city is dirty, and the only way to not let it bother you is look up, which isn’t hard to do. I don’t think anybody would prefer looking down at the ripped papers in the gutters to looking up at the beautiful buildings, pilfered Egyptian art, ridiculously spiky churches or the pretty pretty bridges crossing the polluted river.

Pretty as Paris is in the bright beautiful sun, the fact that it’s been so warm already is slightly concerning. If spring arrives midway through February, when and how intensely is summer going to come? If the smoggy warm afternoon of March 12th had me longing for the start of Paris Plage, I have a feeling I’m going to be longing for Antarctica in a few months.

I once saw a list, "You know you're Parisian if..." The first point was "You love Paris," the second, "You hate Paris." I think that's me. You can't possibly live in this city for any significant period of time without simultaneously adoring and despising it. It's dirty, yes. It's polluted, yes. But it's oh-so-pretty.

* France follows the same general daylight savings patterns as the U.S. – “Fall back, Spring forward,” just on a slightly different calendar. While Americans set their clocks ahead last Sunday, we did nothing. In France, we don’t lose our hour until the last Sunday of March, so for two weeks, I’m only 8 hours ahead of Tacoma (instead of the usual 9).

** The highlight of my February was getting to watch the Nina Ricci show through the back opening of the tent in the jardin des Tuileries. Ohhh the magic of fashion week!

02 March 2007

Oh how I love fashion week in Paris. Sunday kicked off the week of prêt-à-porter shows, and as usual, the city has gone even a little nuttier than usual. From the long white tents set up in the jardin des Tuileries, to tourists visiting the Louvre catching an eyeful as the Valentino and Vivianne Westwood shows empty out, to portions of the Centre Pompidou being completely shut down to set up runways for YSL, to celebrity-sightings all over the city.

Today, after dragging myself out of bed for an 8 a.m. class, I arrived at Sciences Po to discover (with the rest of the class) that our professor had cancelled it for the day. At first I was quite bitter about all the sleep I'd needlessly missed, but then I realized that I could now go watch the arrivals at the Chanel show at Grand Palais.

I arrived at about 9:30 a.m. and stationed myself directly across the street from the entrance, to watch international fashionistas flash their coveted black and white passes at the bouncers and slip inside the massive doors of the Palais. As I stood there, chatting with the driver of a fashion journalist with the fortune to have her own pass, and just observing the flow of people, I began to realize that I am definitely not the only chronic stalker of fashion shows.

There are apparently quite a few of us with this habit – we're all in our early twenties, have the show schedules memorized, and spend our free hours during fashion week lurking outside, trying to catch glimpses of models and designers. While happily watching the arrivals, I swapped stories with a girl from Mexico – she'd been around at the backstage entrance and had seen Karl Lagerfield, while I'd seen Anna Wintour arrive.

Yes, probably the highlight of my as yet brief career in fashion week stalking was the moment this morning when I watched the current editor-in-chief of Vogue step out of her hired car, pose for the photographers and strut past the guards. Unfortunately, I seem to have the slowest camera reflexes of all time, and although she was about five feet away from me (facing me, and the photographers) for quite a long moment, I didn't manage to get my camera out of my pocket and turned on until she was a little bobbed blur in the distance. Still though, I saw Anna Wintour!

Here's a much better picture of her from Saturday's Hermès show at Théatre du Chatêlet:

Though Anna Wintour was definitely my biggest thrill, there were a number of other celebrities lurking about. Also on my sighting list were, Lou Doillon, French actress and daughter of Jane Birkin (inspiration for the Hermès Birkin bag), Cécile Cassel, an 18-year old French comedienne, Clemence Poesy, another French actress and Virginie Ledoyen. At the Valentino show on Wednesday in the Carrousel du Louvre I saw Molly Sims.

Molly Sims posing with some thrilled adolescent boys:

Ohhhh I love fashion week in Paris.

01 March 2007

How to spot tourists in Paris (a few simple tips and guidelines):

10) Look for couples – it is my estimation (and I have absolutely no evidence or any way to back this up) that 60-70 percent of the lovey-dovey couples wandering through this city are from out of town. Paris is pretty high on the list of romantic vacation spots for couples and frankly, most Parisians are just too cranky to be seen showing any sort of public affection. If 60 percent of the couples in Paris are not from Paris, 90 percent of the couples kissing on, walking hand-in-hand over or gazing over the railing of a bridge are foreigners too.

These people, for example – there is no chance that they are natives:

9) Look for anyone carrying a Starbucks cup (or any sort of food for that matter) – this is not a country where people eat on the go. In fact, even going into a Starbucks you’re likely to be pegged as a tourist – the one time I bought coffee at the avenue de l’Opéra Starbucks, the barista started speaking English to me before I’d even opened my mouth.

8) While quite a number of authentic French people frequent the Louvre, from families to art students to groups of école maternelle children on field trips, there is a certain route through the museum that anyone who actually lives in this city is going to avoid like the plague. You may know it as the “Louvre lite,” the quick stroll-through that steers the museum-goer around to view certain famous works of art. If you can make it through the onslaught of camera flashes and awkwardly posed photo ops, you’ll be able to tell everyone back at home that you saw not only the Winged Victory, but the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.

7) Keep an eye out for anyone snapping pictures of the inverted pyramide at the Louvre or Saint Sulpice cathedral – these folks are in the city of light to follow in the footsteps of Robert Langdon, and if you’re lucky you may hear them muttering “the priory…Jacques Saunière…Silas…the rose line…” to themselves as they crawl around in the corner of the church or pose cheesily with the pyramide. These are also the few who are willing to pay the 5 euro to take the Da Vinci Code audio tour of the Louvre.

Girls gearing up for the Davinci Code tour:

Tourist posing at Saint Sulpice cathedral, in front of the "Rose Line"

6) Parisians don’t wear backpacks, so this is a dead giveaway. For school, a chic leather or darkly colored canvas bag is the usual choice. French people also don’t wear anything North Face. Columbia sportswear is imported here (I was pretty surprised the first time I spotted it in Go! Sport), but I’ve never encountered an article of North Face anything for sale in Paris. It does seem to be quite a coup though, to come back from a study abroad with a North Face backpack, so it’s easy to be fooled if all you have to base your assumptions on is a bag.

5) Anyone on the Champs Elysées, be it in a restaurant, a shop or walking down the street, is most likely not from around here. It’s a different story at night, when Frenchies and tourists alike don their swankest outfits and line up to try and get past the bouncers at Le Queen or VIP Room, but for the most part, Parisians avoid the hordes of foreigners strolling between place de la Concorde and l’Arc de Triomphe like their lives depend on it.

4.5) Also, of course, anyone participating in a Segway Scooter tour of the city:

4) True Parisians have the metro system down pat – they store their Navigo passes in outside pockets of their purses or jackets and swipe themselves briskly through the metro turnstiles without ever actually pulling out the card. Some who take the metro less often use individual tickets instead of the rechargeable passes or cartes oranges, monthly passes formatted as reusable paper tickets, but even these publicly transported persons are nothing but business as they breeze through the gates with no hesitation. Those too cheap or lazy to buy passes or tickets simply hop the turnstiles. Usually adolescent guys, these freeloaders saunter up to the barriers and, without batting an eye, hoist themselves up and over the structure with nothing but their arms. Any one of these types is probably French, or has at least lived in Paris for a while. Any one else, though – the families nervously studying the giant maps on the walls, people nervously poking their tickets through the machines and stumbling uncertainly through the gates, or the few who are too befuddled by the weight-sensing mats to figure out how to trigger the doors to open and allow them out of the stations – anyone holding up the metro commute for any amount of time is probably an out-of-towner.

3) Although there is a growing number of runners who frequent the quais de Seine and the few large jardins scattered throughout Paris, most of the people seen exercising in the city are either just visiting or are foreign imports. There are gyms and there are those who try to keep in shape, but in the words of a French friend, “the French hate exercise.” Any kind of exercise (except for rollerblading, oddly enough) is pretty detested, but none more than the street run. I never receive stranger looks than when I’m out for a jog. Usually I’m someone who gets stopped a lot to ask for directions by Frenchies and foreigners alike (something I’m perhaps a little too tickled by), I guess a combination of the fact that I don’t look stereotypically American, and that I don’t walk around with a scowl on my face. When I’m running though, I either get “hey sexy” in English, or “Arrrriba!” A jog through the city in stretchy yoga pants and a hooded sweatshirt practically screams “America!”

2) Anybody spotted actually giving money to the hundreds of beggars slumped around the city, on corners, in metro stops or in parks is probably not Parisian. After living here a while, you become so jaded at the number of homeless in the city that the easiest thing to do is ignore the cups they shake at you. It’s so hard to tell who is really in need and what they’re actually going to use the money for – and there are so many of them, that ignorance is the typical choice. After a while you begin to recognize the regulars – the man who kneels on a pillow on St-Germain with a dirty sign that reads “j’ai faim” (I’m hungry), or the woman with the deformed foot who sets up shop underground in the Châtelet metro stop every day. Even glancing at one of these people will set you apart from the hordes of city-dwellers, much less giving one of them a few coins.

How many tourists can you spot in this picture? My guess is that everyone in the street is from somewhere outside of Paris, and most likely outside of France as well.

1) There’s a certain quality possessed by true Parisians, that outsiders, no matter how hard they try, can not emulate. Those endowed with the elusive je ne sais quoi, stand out in a city of camera-clutching tourists by this intangible but very noticeable carriage. You know someone is from the city if they can manage to lean casually against the door of the metro while it careens around corners, expressing only boredom through facial expression. An authentic Parisian strides from place to place “with a purpose,” with the goal to get from point A to point B without being distracted or side-tracked by any of the beautiful sights or interesting people that fill this city. It’s a quality near impossible to describe – hence it’s ambiguous name, the je ne sais quoi (I don’t know), but spend even a few days in this city and you’ll know without a doubt who belongs here and who is merely passing through.