It was recently "open house" week in my quartier, an annual event during which the extraordinary antiques stores and art galleries in the 6th and 7th arrondissements, south of the River Seine, stay open late, serve wine and welcome window-shoppers. It's a good time to visit, because most of them are so high-toned and museum-like that one is reluctant to go in. I didn't bother to price the 17th century bust of Napoleon at Bailly or the head of a walrus (complete with tusks) from an 1880s arctic expedition at J.C. Guerin and M. Withofs Antiquities, both on the Quai Voltaire. Where in the world would I fit them in my little 5th-floor walk-up? Then, at Catherine Arigoni on the Rue de Beaune, I found exactly what I was looking for: a slinky white 1990 Pierre Cardin ball gown, with short sleeves that looked like wings. Only, I didn't think it would fit either -- and I don't mean in my apartment.
French workers spend less than 1,500 hours a year on the job, compared with American workers' almost 1,800 hours a year in the salt mines, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The retirement age is 60, so the French collect more pension benefits than retirees in other industrialized countries. Work is simply not as all-important to the French as it is to Americans (though that may be changing). In America, one of the first things we ask people we meet is what they do for a living, but it's a little gauche to bring that up here. This is not something I can wrap my head around.
Why don't the wonderful green metal folding chairs in Parisian parks, such as the Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens, get stolen? They aren't chained to the ground and would be excellent additions to anybody's apartment. If set out in an American park, they'd get ripped off right away. One wonders whether the French hold the public good higher than Americans, cherish their community spaces the way we do our backyards.