Big Daddy Paul’s Guide to Shopping In Paris

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

I am not what you would consider a fashionable person. During the course of a typical year, I am supplied with new clothes twice a year: on my birthday and at Christmas. These clothes arrive by way of my lovely wife, whose fashion sensibilities run a little more sophisticated than “hoodie and flipflops.” Occasionally, at a nice dinner out, I will look presentable, but most of the time when you see me on the street I look like a character out of an Adam Sandler movie.

Every once in a while I feel compelled to augment my array of ill fitting polo shirts and awkward length shorts, causing me to head out looking for the holy grail of men’s fashion: girth obscuring apparel. Yes, my entire approach to fashion is the same as Kirstie Alley when she was pregnant on Cheers that one year. In the United States, I can navigate stores like Ross Dress for Less and Marshalls to satisfactory results. Shopping in Paris is quite a different beast, though. If you ever find yourself similarly situated, I created this handy, dandy guide to surviving the Parisian shopping scene. Enjoy!

Ground Rules:

I find it helpful to have a set of well established principles to guide me when out looking for clothes. With all the potential prats and pitfalls that go along with any shopping trip, if you have no foundation for your search, you might just drown in details. Here are mine:

1. Nothing white. The only people who should wear white clothes are chemists and orthodox Christians on their way to church. The rest of us have life to deal with: coffee stains, kids with grubby fingers, toothpaste mishaps and such. White clothes will usually only be used once or twice before they become a walking announcement of how much you suck at life.

2. Absolutely no denim above the waist. Really, the last time it was acceptable to wear jean-like clothing was the two weeks following the first time you saw, “The Outsiders.” Now, if you wear a denim, you look like a 1940’s mechanic.

3. No used clothes. Many people consider vintage clothing a great way to find unique clothes that are often a fraction the cost of their new counterparts. I don’t. When considering wearing someone else’s clothes, all I can think is, “These are the clothes that someone else wore when they went to the bathroom.” Pass.

Those are my rules. Make your own and then stick to them when you head out.

The first thing you need to do here when buying clothes here is knowing where to shop.  You might think that there a lot of options to choose from in Paris, but really the clothes are pretty much the same at every store here. Really, the only decision you need to make is “What size store do I want to shop at?” For me, the critical consideration is how much I want people to laugh at me. The smaller the store, the more they will laugh. Bitchy shop clerks at large stores have to spread their condescension over a large customer base. At a big enough store, they may never even see you! At a small store, you are often alone, meaning the small gaggle of employees focus their entire attention on you. Try on something ridiculous enough, and the snickers will emulate a pack of hyenas. I generally stick to the larger stores, but when feeling particularly masochistic I will head to a small boutique for a lesson in humility.

Having selected the right store to fit your needs, you will head in and start looking at clothes. Upon entering, clerks greet you and ask if you are looking for anything special. They will turn on you, I promise. All of them. Just preemptively sneer at them and tell them you are looking for clothes for your dog. Anything else will give them the upper hand.

If you are lucky, you won’t find anything that you like and and you will be free to leave to go have lunch. Occasionally, however, something may catch your eye. This is really a shame, because this means you will have to try something on. Find the “Cabine” and select your size for the stuff you want to look at. It’s really hard to find your size here, so with any luck you won’t find anything. For men, the most common size for pants is 28 W x 36 L. WTF? These dimensions suggest that the men of France are as tall as Shaquille O’Neal and have the same waist size as one of his legs. Occasionally I will read the pant sizes backwards and only realize my mistake when I am unable to pull the pants up above my knees. For god sakes, definitely don’t ask a clerk for helping finding a size. You would be better off just bringing in a cricket paddle and asking them to whap you upside the head with it. Find the size yourself or move on.

One of the many cringeworthy moments I have had shopping.

I don’t remember the name of the brand, but if I had to guess, it would be called, “Cringeworthy.”

Even when you think you find things in your size, you really haven’t. This is because fashion designers here lie about sizes. I try on clothes here in the same size that I have been for 20 years and find that I look like Doctor Banner about 3/4 of the way to his transformation to The Hulk. Not good. In the US, I wear clothes size “L.” I have clothes here that say “XXL.” I AM NOT A FUCKING XXL! The sizing here are a pack of lies. To figure out your European size, use the same formula used to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and then rip the tags off to hide your shame.

If, when trying on clothes, the clerk asks if you are OK tell them that you are just shredding up the clothes to rework them into something worth wearing. Do not, leave your cabine and ask how it looks. If you do, the following will occur:

Clerk: Is everything OK in there?

You: Yes.

Clerk: Can be of any assistance?

You: How does this look?

Clerk: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. It looks like a marshmallow man bound in saran wrap!

Having made many, many mistakes while shopping, I found a store where I can happily find clothes that fit. The store is called “C & A,” short for a name that translates to “Short and Fat.” It is the French equivalent of a store somewhere between Target and Home Depot. It is chronically understaffed, making the cabines wonderfully hyenae-free. I can’t say I look particularly good with the clothes I buy there, but my clothes are not white, not denim and have not been previously used by anyone who has gone to the bathroom. For this stay at home dad, this is just fine. Good luck shopping in Paris. Unless you are one of Shaquille O’Neal’s legs, you are going to need it.

Cheese of the Week: Epoisses

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

The cheese education is one of my favorite aspects of living in France. Most of the cheese eaten here are quite difficult to find outside of the country. Here is my latest find:

Epoisses is a cheese made in the Bourgogne region of France. Like all good cheeses, it is stashed away in secret caves to mature, and then rinsed several times a week with alcohol. (In the case of Epoisses, it is rinsed with a mixture of rainwater and marc de Bourgogne, a fancy French way of saying “moonshine.”)

At this point in the review, I would like to just take a step back and go on record as saying that everything in this world, EVERYTHING, should be rinsed several times a week in a mixture of rainwater and moonshine. Can you imagine how much better off everything would be? If you rinsed “The Godfather” with rainwater and moonshine regularly, it would come out looking like “The Godfather II.” Rinse Al Gore with rainwater and moonshine a few times a week, he’d become Barack Obama. Give Obama the same treatment and he’d become JFK. There isn’t anything in this world that wouldn’t benefit from a rainwater/moonshine rinse, so go ahead, start looking for ways to improve your life. You are welcome.

OK, back to the cheese. Epoisses was wildly popular in France in the 1800’s, even becoming Napoleon’s favorite cheese. (Another entry for best band name ever!) However, due to the fact that France most of its cheese mongering men during the World Wars, Epoisses fell out of production. The cheese was revived later in the 1950’s and now has a special place in the French culinary scene. How special of a place? This special:

It has oft been said that Epoisses has the force of Charles le Temeraire and the sensibility of Madame de Sevigne.

HAHAHAHAHA! My goodness, that one gets me every time. If you do not understand the reference, it is really a pity. I am quite the expert in French culture and get the reference perfectly. Really, I do.

epoissesBeing such a hit in France, I was especially looking forward to my first taste. The taste, however, is not the first thing you notice. The first thing you notice upon opening the little box is the shiny, almost laminated orange exterior, the fromage equivalent of John Boehner in the sauna. Then, the smell hits you. The professional tasters out there mention the pungent smell as “earthy” or “meaty.” They can’t use terms like “funk” or “pretty funky” “sweet Jesus, that is really just too much funk.”

I wasn’t put off so much by the smell though, as the taste. I noticed a hint of cat piss in it, which either meant that the cheese was reaching the limits of it’s ripeness or that “Lucky” the neighborhood cat had taken some liberties with the open air market at which I bought this cheese. For the rest: whoa. This cheese is strong. There is a lot going on, so I recommend trying this cheese for the first time like I did, in an empty, unlit house.

Words I would use to describe this cheese: gym locker room, wrestling in the dirt, Greek cab driver.

Words I wouldn’t use to describe this cheese: boring, simple, a hit with children.

Serve Epoisses at room temperature with a pinot noir, a Belgian beer, or some moonshine. If you must serve with white wine, something a little sweeter would be better, as a drier white would take your mouth down a path it will not enjoy.

I Hate Paris in Winter

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

I rather dislike Paris in Winter. There, I said it. Oh, sure, the food is top class, the museums are amazing and Paris fashion week brings out some of the more “interesting” looking creatures in our species. Still, it’s just not enough.

What’s wrong with Paris in Winter, you ask? Just five things. Five big things.

It’s dark. The sun comes out late, leaves early, and, to make it worse, even when it’s “out” it’s not really out. It hides behind clouds all the time so the light is quite filtered. On the “out” scale from Liberace to Aldus Dumbledore, Parisian winter sun is definitely more Dumbledore on the scale. Everything is dim and shadowy and depressing, and I hate it. It’s like everything here is lit the same way as the basement of the New York Public Library.

It’s wet. Parisian winters are damp. We are in the midst of a pretty dry season here, and even so everything is usually just moist enough to be annoying. Imagine a kitten following you and sneezing in your face every minute or so to get a sense of what I am talking about. Sure, it will also rain properly, and once in a while even snow, but mostly the Parisian winter bombards you with tiny, irritating droplets just large enough to be un-ignorable. Generally, people walk around with an agitated look on their face. Wouldn’t you if you were constantly being bombarded by kitten mucus?

Well, at least it's shepherd's pie weather...

Well, at least it’s shepherd’s pie weather…

It’s cold. I am cold in Paris. I wear a hat, gloves and a scarf to leave the house here, and this is quite difficult for a person who doesn’t want to even wear pants when he leaves the house. Are there colder places in the world? Yes. Why anyone would want to live there is beyond me. In terms of preferred climate, I am sticking to places that are pants: optional.

It’s full of vampires. Not to get too young adult fiction on you, but there are a ton of good looking vampires that live in Paris over the winter. Annoyingly, all the vampires here act like they want to have sex with you, but when you get close, they wonder if they are really ready after all. Then, these other vampires get all jealous and think that they should have sex with you first, and then fights break out. In the end, there’s a lot of male grappling, no sex and a lot of longing glances. It’s pretty shitty. Come to think of it, that may explain all of the people who are here for Paris Fashion Week.

There’s terrorism. In case you didn’t know, Paris was the site for a recent terrorist attack. There was quite an unsettling week when we didn’t really know what was going on. At one point, Malcolm’s school was closed due what was termed a “direct threat,” and I thought, “Great. I have to wear pants and now this?” The threat to the school was deemed not credible, and life here is slowly returning to normal. Terrorism is a fact of life in the world we now live in, but reminders are always very scary. Like the smell of a skunk that lingers even after you’ve given your dog a tomato sauce bath, the terrorist-related ugliness persists in spite of the passage of time and the posting of armed guards at your kid’s school. Besides, it’s not as if life back in Oakland, California, USA is free of gun violence. The world is a pretty shitty place when you think of it. Doubly so in winter.

So there. Paris in winter is less good. Maybe that’s why you never see marketing along the lines of “Come to Paris. It’s dark and wet and cold, and if the terrorists don’t get you, the vampires sure will!”


Reflections On A Year in Paris

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

In October, we celebrated our one year anniversary in Paris. Whoa. That went blindingly quick. You know how sometimes, at the end of a party, you are unintelligible, your pants are nowhere to be found and you can’t remember the name of the Germans you are in a hot tub with? That’s the way I feel now. (As you can see, a year here has done nothing to improve my metaphors.)

Leaving our USA lives was quite difficult, mostly because it was such a llllllooooooonnnnnnnngggggggg period of time. Or it was supposed to be a long period of time. The year has flown by, a series of whooshing memories, highlighted by painful quasi-French interactions, travel memories and some really good wine. I feel the need to take stock of things, and will do so now:

I guess I should have translated the word "Bijoux." This picture is less cool if it turns out to mean, "Disposable Chopsticks."

I guess I should have translated the word “Bijoux” before including here. This picture is less cool if it turns out to mean, “Disposable Chopsticks.”

When we first got here, we were understandably interested in “French” things. We wanted to learn all the little differences and soak them up. We delighted in the fact that salad comes after dinner here and that you don’t need to refrigerate your milk or eggs. The French have a slew of official and unofficial holidays with unique ways of celebrating them. We loved the differences! Then, slowly, Paris started to lose its shine. I noticed that Asian rug stores had going-out-of-business sales every month. Episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (nee, Buffy Contre Les Vampires) are always on. When low voter turnout lead to right wing political gains in the last French elections, I had to ask myself, “Is it really all that different here?”

There are also amazing scenes all over this city. I will never tire of just heading out with a camera and capturing some magic.

There are also amazing scenes all over this city. I will never tire of just heading out with a camera and capturing some magic.

Perhaps out of the realization that life in Paris isn’t too dissimilar from life back home, we are starting to revisit things we thought we had to give up while here. I have been reunited with hot sauce (and it feels so good!) We golf. Movie night is a perfectly respectable way to spend an evening, and I spent much of October waking up in the middle of the night to listen to my San Francisco Giants win the World Series. Old habits die hard and we have stopped fighting. If the French can at Burger King, is it wrong that I wear tennis shoes every once in a while? I think not.

The museum scene here is staggering, still. Malcolm is really into World War II right now, having begun reading the Henderson’s Boys books by Robert Muchamore. On our way to the World War II exhibit at the Musee de l’Armee, we detoured. Malcolm wanted to show us stuff he had seen on a field trip to the Musee d’Orsay and we happily obliged. We ended up with a relatively uncrowded viewing of Whistler’s Mother, Von Gogh’s Starry Night, sculptures by Rodin and numerous other masterpieces. Back home, we might detour to stop at the mall or grab something at Starbucks. Here, the unplanned activities involve seeing some of the most famous pieces of art in the history of the world. Like I said, staggering. This is quite the unique opportunity.

The Eiffel Tower is like a dead whale being eaten by a pack of sharks. You wouldn't want to get close (tourists, pickpockets, etc.) but afar: pretty cool.

The Eiffel Tower is like a dead whale being eaten by a pack of sharks. You wouldn’t want to get close (tourists, pickpockets, etc.) but from afar: pretty cool.

The food scene in Paris is radically different than we would have guessed upon arrival. The charming open air markets that dot the landscape here sell factory farmed fruits and vegetables from decidedly un-French places like North Africa and South America. Hamburgers are a hot commodity on menus here. 70-90% of Parisian restaurants are reheating frozen food. Mind you, the onion soup made in centralized kitchens is pretty good, but then again, so is an Awesome Blossom. If you want to find fresh food prepared by real chefs at a restaurant, you have to work much harder than you think. The processed food industry has hit the French food scene and hit it hard.

So, there you have it, the state of our state of mind, if you will. To be sure, France has changed us, but not as much as I might have thought. We have a little over seven months left in our adventure, and nobody knows what we have in store. Actually, now that I come to think of it, the Germans in the hot tub said something about knowing our future. If only I could remember…