PARIS vs. NEW YORK

by Isabel

The other day I was walking around in a bookstore and stumbled upon a table display of books dedicated to Paris and New York. The selection focused on connections between the two metropolises. You know the kind of books I am talking about? Pictures of Paris on one side of the page and corresponding pictures of New York on the other. Velib bikes vs. Citibikes. The Saine vs. the Hudson River. The Brooklyn Bridge vs. (you guessed it) Pont Neuf.

Et cetera.

Whatever the creators of these books are smoking should be made illegal again!

Even a blind person can tell you that the two cities have absolutely nothing in common.

Take their overall appearance, for example. In Paris all the buildings are gorgeous, similar in style, and well designed to form perfect aesthetic symbiosis regardless of their age. I admit, there are mistakes here and there. Like the monstrosity, called the tower of Montparnasse. It makes me feel exactly like this guy Dave in the final scene of Space Odyssey right before he turns into a fetus.

In New York, on another hand, every other building makes the tower of Montparnasse look like some sort of architectural miracle. Take for example 57th Street. Is there some sort of virus spreading there? Is someone trying to kill us all? First they got rid of the music store, then Rizzoli (the bookstore), then the Strand, then Lee’s Art Shop … not to speak of the fact that they moved Steinway into a car dealership. What the hell is going on! And if all this wasn’t bad enough, they closed Carnegie Deli in December. Who are these people and why are they doing this to us?

How about the overall atmosphere in the cities? The sidewalk cafes?

In Paris you can sit pretty much anywhere out in the open, enjoying a lovely glass of wine (believe me, you don’t want to drink French coffee, ever!) while looking at beautiful people strolling the streets with their mini poodles. Nobody is going to rush you out and you can stay for as long as you like.

In New York? Even if you are lucky enough to get a table outside, all you’ll want to do is get back inside, that’s how loud, windy, stinky, and obnoxious this city is. If you do brave the elements, you will be in no position to sit around for hours with a glass of wine. You’ll have to order the entire menu and eat it up in less than ten minutes. And if you don’t, you’ll have ten waiters on top of you making sure you are okay.

No waiter in Paris will ever ask you if you are “still working on your food.” Eating there is an experience, a ritual, an extravagance for the senses. In New York, as a friend recently remarked, people are always working. Even when they are simply eating.

But if by any chance you are trying to have a leisurely lunch, don’t even think to look up from your plate. All you will see and hear is craziness: taxi drivers yelling out of their windows and honking like there is no tomorrow. Ambulances with their sirens blaring. People running wild, talking to themselves, while trying to avoid eye contact (the one with the red bag is me).

While the Paris Metro is a magical place for the likes of romantic characters like Amelie, the New York City Subway is the exact replica of the “Last Judgement” by Hieronymous Bosch.

I can’t even begin to talk about it without getting hives all over my body. Have you seen the Times Square subway station the day after New Year’s Eve? Even the giant 26 pound rats wouldn’t set foot there, that’s how disgusting it is. Every single village idiot from all over the world comes to this subway station every December 31 to dispose of his garbage. No wonder my kids were convinced for the longest time that the Twin Towers were destroyed not by terrorists, but by tourists.

And how about the smell of the cities? While everywhere you go in Paris, you encounter the scent of manicured gardens, freshly baked croissants and chocolate, in New York you will be lucky if you can walk for one block without fainting. On garbage collection day, which is pretty much every day, the stench is so bad, that I often find myself walking behind someone smoking a fat joint, so that I can survive my commute.

Paris croissants are made fresh every morning as the labor of love by chefs who spend their entire lives dedicated to making the perfect dough. Our croissants here have the appearance and odor of biological weapons.

Anyway, to make the story short, I was so pissed off at the book display, that I almost made a scene right there and then. Then suddenly my eye was caught by a children’s book with illustrations of how children in Paris look and behave compared to their New York counterparts.

At dinner, I told my son:

“I have a gift for you. Here is a lovely book on manners. I want you to learn about French kids and how they behave.

They are not like you. They always address people who are older and important with the formal “Vous”. They do. They always say “Bonjour Madame” or “Bonjour Monseur” when they walk into a store and “Merci, Madame” or “Merci, Monseur” when they leave.

French children don’t interrupt and they know how to stay quiet during an adult conversation.

They don’t walk around wearing sneakers and sweatpants like you, but rather, have several pairs of patent leather shoes and an appropriate outfit for every occasion.

And finally, they know how to arrange their rooms beautifully, so that they look like a place where you actually would want to live in. Not at all like your room, which reminds me of the aftermath of the bombing of Dresden.”

My son looked at me for a while and then said:

“Mom, I feel really bad for the French kids.”