Now that we got most of the baggage out of the way in part 1, let’s talk about Paris. Without hyping it up too much, travelling outside the country was a pretty neat experience overall. After the learning curve has been surmounted, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had. Food, sights to see, things to do — Paris has it all. And from my limited time there, I’d say I prefer how France functions as a country over how we do.
While I don’t necessarily like the crowdedness of it, it’s hard to deny the convenience of the metro system. Yes, the layout of the map would be legally classified as “bananas“, but once you get a feel for it everything suddenly comes within reach. It’s certainly more efficient than everyone having a car; additionally, it keeps the above-ground part of the city’s traffic navigable. At each station you buy these tiny tickets. From my understanding, they last for an hour and would ostensibly replace gas money as a cost-per-transportation fee if we had a similar system over here. The metro is old and in need of some repair, but overall much more efficient than what we’ve got.
Another plus to Paris is how they support what we perceive as lower end jobs. I can’t begin to tell you how much more “dense” the restaurant scene is over there — this is due to the fact that people can viably make a living from working a restaurant job over there, or so it seems. Due to this this support of small business, A good meal is never more than a couple steps away. Restaurants tended to specialize in cooking only a handful of dishes; that being said, it was easy to see the love and craft that went into making the meal. One statement that my one of my hosts, a friend of mine, stuck with me — he said something along the lines of “The more you have on the menu, the less things tend to stand out.”
From an architectural standpoint, Paris is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Most buildings have a Middle Age / Renaissance vibe to them on the outside, while their interiors have been repurposed for modern day use. This weird juxtaposition allows for a utilitarian optimization of space that doesn’t impede on the unique cultural aesthetics of the city. The standout monuments work as the cherry on top, providing each area it’s own flavor.
Last month, people were UPSET when I posted on Facebook saying I enjoyed chilling out at McDonald’s more than the time spent at the Louvre. What they fail to see is the cultural aspect of society that can be derived from visiting a small, but franchised venue such as Mickey D’s. (And yes, I’m digging my heels in even deeper.) Many people like to define their country by its magnum opuses — the Statues of Liberties and Eiffel Towers of the world — I believe that’s an inherently flawed thing to do. That’s not the real United States. That’s not the real Paris. That’s not the real world. Those are simply projections — distractions to keep our gaze off of what’s actually happening right in front of our very eyes. So if you want to see how people function (the part of culture I’m interested in), you hit the streets. If I want to learn about the heart of the US, you wouldn’t find me at the Grand Canyon, rather the local Walmart.
I’d rather be dumb than smart
I’d rather make shit than art
Wouldn’t you rather know about the people and the place they truly inhabit rather than this “highlight reel” tourism we all seemingly buy into? Should I pretend like I’m more interested in these wonders we put so much clout in? To the point that I ignore the thrill found in unravelling this compare and contrast list being forged between what I’m used to and this unfamiliar place before me — Even at the cost of looking foolish? I think this plays into an ego complex where where we want the world to perceive us and our nation by our grandeur rather than for who we actually are. Going even further, I think we find shame in that reality — the reality that America IS Walmart and Starbucks and not Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore. Be honest for a moment: which of those pairs do actual US citizens identify with more?
I thought so.
When I went to Paris, I wanted to see how they live, how they breathe, and how they function in contrast to how we do. I wanted to ride the metro, not the luxury car they had for tourists at the corner. That never even crossed my mind as entertaining. I wanted to walk down the cold and windy streets, not sit in a tour bus and observe the city as if it were a guided tour of a zoo. I didn’t want the polished up room where they swept all of the problematic pieces of their society under the metaphorical rug — I wanted to be in the thick of it. You can’t form a realistic assessment of a person or a place without first experiencing the worst they have to offer. Art is fine and all, but I felt like I learned WAY more about the cultural discrepancies between Paris and the United States from the 30 odd minutes spent examining the world through the lens of the Louise Michel McDonald’s over navigating through a stampede of tourists at the Louvre.
Yes, every piece is impressive on its own, but if you want my honest opinion, I think there might be too much art at the Louvre — nothing has room to breathe. If we treat art as an analogy for my friend’s restaurant statement from earlier, his statement rings particularly true. Nothing really stands out. Even the highly coveted Mona Lisa shares a room with her lesser brothers and sisters, and let me tell you — ol’ girl has been reduced from magnum opus to selfie magnet, rest her oil-based soul. And it’s sad. So instead of writing about the most famous art museum in the world like every other “good” tourist would do, I’m going to give you something real — The inside scoop on the Paris McDonald’s. Why?
1. How dare you.
2. Don’t tell me what to like. This was the highlight of my trip.
Hey, this McDonald’s though…
It’s f***ing RAD!
The McDonald’s I went to was just a regular run-of-the-mill type McDonald’s located in a hole-in-the-wall type of location, yet everything about it was immaculate. There was a sense of cleanliness to it all that made it jarring to associate with the brand out west. Forceful colors and near-futuristic furniture complimented the aesthetics in a way that transcends what I’ve seen for fast food — everything just seemed to “fit”. I dare say that the whole establishment felt “homey”. There was a spiral staircase with split steps that lead to a second floor, but unfortunately it was closed off for whatever reason.
You walk in and have the traditional option of having a person take your order or you can go to this freaking dope looking kiosk. For scientific purposes, I chose the latter. The whole thing honestly felt like something out of the future. While most store kiosks over here have a circa 2004 look and feel due to interface and lag, this felt exactly like navigating through my phone. I’d swipe, look through one section, go back, and repeat the process. The entire process was seamless and as smooth as butter. At some point, I had to order simply to pull myself away from this fascinating piece of tech.
I ended up with a McRoyale meal. At the end, it asks you which “zone” your meal should be delivered to; to my knowledge, these sections were color coded. I sit down in zone 1, eagerly awaiting my meal as I plan for the day ahead of me. Once the meal arrives, it takes a moment for everything to set in. Instead of traditional fries, I was given potato wedges. In addition to ketchup, the wedges came with Pommes Frites sauce and Creamy Deluxe sauce. Traditionally, I’m a fry guy, but the wedges and sauce combo was not to be trifled with. It took a moment, but a long-closed case was now reopened. Fries were no longer a solved thing for me. That sounds dumb, and maybe it is. But it matters to me. The McRoyale ended up being somewhere between a quarter pounder and a Big Mac; and maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed to be just a bit fresher than what we have over here in the states.
While I was eating my meal, I observed. A family comes in and makes an order. They seem pretty excited to be here too. They sit close to the window where they can see ongoings of the outside world. I gaze into the streets and take a moment to watch people pass as they too prep themselves for the day ahead. It’s probably here when I had my first genuinely serene moment in that country. There was something to this momentary reprieve that put me at ease.
In short, Pommes Frites sauce changed the way I think about fries — I can’t say the same about the Louvre and art 😉