France has a fair amount of stereotypes: the country of cheese, snails and romance. The latter in particular seems to be an idea constantly perpetuated in American media and entertainment. But how does reality live up to what we see on TV? I’m personally a bit of a cynic, but still, it’s a question worth exploring.
Let’s start this examination with my most recent trip to Paris. Julia and I took a weekend trip up to this “Capital of Romance” to meet up with my sister on her first visit to Paris (and practically her first visit to France). By day we wandered around the streets, crossed the bridges of the Seine, marveled at the Eiffel Tower, the Musée D’Orsay, Notre Dame de Paris and more, finding the first signs of spring in the budding trees of the Tuileries and Palais Royale gardens.
When evening fell however, we were witness to more than just sparkling monuments. Seeking out a nice sunset view, we made our way to the Champs de Mars with some baguettes and wine. As expected, we were not the only tourists who wanted to see France’s icon lit up at night , even despite the chilly temperatures. A man approached Bridgit and asked her to take some photos of him and his girlfriend. “Take lots,” he instructed. 4 minutes later, she caught up, tears in her eyes. “He just proposed!”
Cynicism: 0 Romance: 1
The next evening, atop Montmartre, we gazed over the Parisian skyline along with hundreds of tour groups, a dozen men trying to sell Eiffel Tower statuettes and bottles of beer, and a very aggressive busker entertaining a large crowd of Swedes with terrible covers of Hallelujah and The Beatles. Midway through his butchering of John Lennon’s Imagine a huge cheer went up from the crowd. Turning around, we could not believe our eyes: beneath the looming domes of the Sacré Cœur, a man on one knee. The busker wished them a happy marriage and many children.
Cynicism: 0 Romance: 2
Sadly, we did not make the hat trick that weekend. There was hope earlier this week when I met my friend Giulia outside my apartment to take a stroll in the sunny, 70° weather. There is a small courtyard behind my apartment with a shortcut passage to the central place. It’s not a very beautiful or remarkable courtyard; save some cool trompe l’œil murals, it’s mostly just trashcans and delivery boxes. Today however, there was a long trail of red and white rose petals with a very stressed looking young man waiting at the end. Wow! What a gesture! we thought. Could this be point 3 for the Romantic France that everyone wants to exist?!
About an hour later, we returned and the petals had disappeared, along with their infatuated bearer. Disappointed to have missed the action and wondering about the result, we opened the door to find the story had not yet apparently ended.
The petals led up and up…..and up to MY apartment. There at the door was a neatly wrapped gift with a card for Audrey. I immediately ran to Audrey’s room and knocked on the door. “Did you know there are all these rose petals in the stair and a box with YOUR NAME on it?!” “Euuuuuhhhhh non??” “Allez! Va voir!”
Giulia and I busied ourselves making tea, trying desperately to hide our interest and excitement in this unfolding mystery romance. A few minutes later, Audrey, with fistfuls of rose petals, marched into the kitchen and promptly dumped them in the trash. “I’ve got to go clean all this up now,” she sighed. She later came back with two champagne flutes. “I don’t really want these. I’m just going to leave them here.” “But Audrey,” I pried, “Do you know who sent them?!” “Yes. I know. But I don’t want it.”