When traveling abroad a question arises: to blend in or not to blend in?
Decades ago, tourists were told *never* to wear sneakers in Paris, especially white sneakers. North American travelers were at a disadvantage. In my adoptive culture (the United States) sneakers and shorts are ubiquitous on a vacation.
Not just on a vacation as it turns out.
A favorite comedy of mine “Working Girl” (Mike Nichols, 1988) helped popularize the concept of wearing comfortable shoes (white, high tops at the time) while commuting to the office. Even if ambitious “banlieusarde” (suburbanite) Melanie Griffith dreams of climbing out of the State Island ferry and up the corporate ladder, she is no-nonsense and carries her “escarpins” (stilettos) in a bag until she reaches the office and ditches “les tennis.” Some French movie goers used to scoff at that scene or at least scratched their heads. Ah, ces Américains…
Contrast her down-to-earth approach with Parisian women who during a lengthy public transportation strike in December 1988 could be spotted in the news climbing into army trucks (sent as back-up by the government) wearing high-heeled shoes in the snow. Ah, ces Françaises!
Who’s right, who’s wrong? Should style and appearances top comfort?
As it turns out it doesn’t really matter when visiting (or commuting in) Paris in 2023.
These days “les Tennis” have conquered even the most elegant, conservative members of Parisian and French society. White sneakers, black sneakers, with or without logos, can now be found in most closets.
Such as been the hoopla about this (fairly) new trend on influential social media it’s become almost impossible to distinguish local from foreign “flâneurs” in the French capital (among the young generation especially.) Similar sneakers, similar clothes, similar brands and logos. (Cue in “It’s a Small World” the catchy tune on the famous Disney ride.)
Even shorts, traditionally reserved for the beach and once treated like pariahs in French cities can be spotted on locals in the summer. I guess le Canal Saint Martin or the Seine riverbanks can pass for Saint Tropez or la Promenade des Anglais on a sunny day?
It could be argued that blending in is not as easy as it seems even in 2023.
In search of authentic Parisian life (often reduced to experiences locals can only savor on the weekends or after work) visitors can be spotted enjoying themselves all over Paris, going in and out of museums and exhibits, strolling around in parks, looking up at spectacular façades, a long list of pleasurable moments interrupted by pauses “en terrasse” throughout the day.
“Ah, la vie française!” How pleasant (and magical!) — especially if you are on a vacation with time and (some) money on your hands.
Now wonder recent articles slate Paris as the world’s favorite travel destination once again.
Earlier this month I took a photo in a non-touristy neighborhood and had to stop to capture a scene.
Two tourists were sitting at a table – insisting to be “en terrasse” on a particularly chilly afternoon – a carafe of red wine in front of them. Even if I hadn’t spotted two pairs of brand-new white sneakers (no doubt purchased for the trip) or heard their foreign accents, I would have known they were not locals: Very few French people (in spite of their legendary “joie de vivre”) drink red wine – without food – at a café terrace around 3:00pm in the afternoon.
They may have thought they were blending in…
I saw two people living their version of the Parisian dream and having a good time.
I am grateful to them for making me reflect about French life, real or embellished, and for inspiring a new story.
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