We were standing in the perpetually long line at Versailles waiting to purchase our tickets, after which we would stand in another long line to get into the famous palace, when I turned to my 17-year-old grandson and asked if he noticed anything odd about the throng of people around us.
He looked around, then noted that there were no fat people.
As we started to discuss this phenomenon, a fat person walked by. We both turned to look, and then laughed, because the fat person was speaking English -- American English.
I’m not talking about fat as in somewhat overweight, a claim that most of us can make, but as in obese, very large, noticeably larger than the norm.
I have nothing against fat people. Some of my best friends are fat, and in places like Disneyland, they don’t even stand out.
But in Paris, they do.
So the question we pondered: Why are there no fat Parisians?
We came to a few unscientific conclusions.
French people smoke a lot. They smoke on the streets, waiting in line, at restaurants and cafes, in hotels. As nonsmokers, we found that bothersome. But we were in their country, so we learned to sit as far from the smokers as possible.
But maybe if they are smoking, they are not eating.
People in Paris walk a lot. Although there are many cars, we saw more walkers around town than in most other cities. Maybe it’s the price of gas.
People in Paris take their time eating, whatever the meal. One can sit at a cafe for hours with nothing more than a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. No one rushes you or drops a check on the table or hints that others may be waiting for the table.
Eating is a process to be enjoyed at leisure. At one restaurant on the Île Saint-Louis, we sat for a good half-hour while I sipped wine and David his Orangina, waiting for the waiter to take our order. He was in no hurry. When we finally did order, we waited more, then ate slowly, then sat and talked as we watched the world pass by.
Contrast that with our usual dining experience at home, where we get our drinks, and if our order isn’t taken in a short time, we complain to the manager. We eat quickly, expect our table to be cleared almost immediately and, after dessert and coffee, want the check.
We are often aware that other diners are waiting for our table, and there’s a guilty feeling about lingering too long.
Then we walk across the courtyard to the movies.
Although I don’t endorse our outrageous gasoline prices, maybe they will encourage us to walk more. And that’s a good thing.
Myra Neben lives in Irvine. For 28 years, she was editor of Leisure World News in Laguna Woods, and for about 10 of those years, she wrote a weekly column for the publication.