There will always be Paris

I’m in Paris! I feel like a resident of a foreign galaxy who temporarily is back visiting his home planet. It’s all familiar yet at the same time really weird. The sidewalks are unbelievably broad here and there are no masses of motorbikes; girls are blond or brown-haired and have broad hips and smoke cigarettes on the street. Above all, it’s terribly cold. Everywhere is like a broken air-con stuck on “refrigerate.”

Paris has changed a lot since my time here in the early 90s.  Basically the Parisians seem finally to have given in to American tastes. The hotel where I’m staying has no bidet for foreigners to wonder at, and they don’t have those long, sausage-like, pillows that all French hotels used to have.  Also, you can no longer buy Mental in the vending machines in the metro.  Mental was a menthol candy that came in a small tin box (and I used to imagine as an instant cure for depression).  Now the vending machines sell only Snickers bars.

A strange think about Paris is how uniform all buildings are.  I know Baron Haussmann imposed rules on every builder when the city was reconstructed back in the 1860s, but why did they all do what he said?  It would never have worked in Taiwan!  As a result the familiar East/West stereotype is turned upside down: the Europeans seem conformist and the Chinese individualistic. But admittedly, Paris is far, far more beautiful than any city found in the East.

Their conformism doesn’t stop Parisians from being very expressive: people talk more loudly here than in Taiwan; there are noisy street musicians in the subway trains and graffitti everywhere.  I met some of Francois’ students last night and they are very expressive too, and self-confident and beautiful and full of idealism.  They will make the world a better place and they’ll have a good time trying.  I’m glad some Parisian traditions never change.

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