01 April 2007
Planning and Dressing for Paris
On Saturday afternoon, my husband and I hauled out five years of back issues of Paris Notes, bus and metro maps, and a pack of color-coded file cards.
While a pot of beef stew simmered away on the stove, we made lists of the museums, shops and quartiers we want to visit or revisit.
Ever the engineer, my husband even created a database. We have divided our trip into days, and each one will be spent in a different area. We have prioritized what we want to do, labeling each activity “yes” or “maybe, if time.”
We hope this will avoid wear and tear on our feet. Mine have not yet recovered from May 1, 2005, when bus service was limited because of the holiday.
We also hope it will help us be better organized than last time but still provide some spontaneity.
What struck us as we planned is that while 14 days are better than five days, we will still have to pack a lot into a short time.
(That means another trip in the offing.)
In exploring Paris, we eschew the stereotypical and seek instead the unexpected.
Frankly, the stereotypical is rather rare in Paris, at least in my experience. Yes, there are still fashionable women, and old ladies with small dogs and beautiful children and dashing men.
But if you go to France expecting to see a preponderance of men in striped shirts and berets clutching baguettes you may be disappointed.
Which brings me to the subject of clothing. My theory is dress well — fashionably but not necessarily trendy, if you can — and wear subdued colors. For me, that generally means blacks, grays, tans, navies and creams.
As I said, that is my theory. You may have your own.
Despite a plethora ofadvice from travel books and Web sites, you still see people in athletic shoes, logo T-shirts and jogging outfits in Paris.
I saw a woman near Place Maubert wearing a salmon-colored jogging suit with a scarf and gold jewelry.
I nudged my husband.
“American,” I whispered.
As we drew closer, it was clear she and her companions, who were waiting for a taxi of some sort, were from my own Wisconsin.
The next day, while wandering around Ile St. Louis, we saw a tall woman in a short, flared skirt, off-the-shoulder striped T-shirt and a beret. She spoke French with what my husband swore was a Seven Sisters accent.
It was the beret that got me. It was 86 degrees that day.
No one was wearing a beret. No one we saw, and we logged about 10 miles on foot, zigging and zagging through six arrondissements.
Perhaps the woman wanted to be mistaken for French. Perhaps she was subscribing to the theory of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
(Make that Paris.)
Well, who can argue with that?
My point here — and yes, I have one — is that dressing like a caricature is, in my opinion, an insult to the people you are visiting.
I believe we can travel and dress respectfully without assuming a role, without becoming what we are not.
I would hope that if we do this, we would look not like stereotypes of chic French people or badly dressed foreigners, and look instead like citizens of the world.