THE FRENCH: porcupines or hedgehogs?

Don’t tell me the French are rude, it’s starting to make me grouchy. The French, mostly, are not porcupines, but hedgehogs curled in on themselves until they feel it’s safe to uncurl.

This leads Americans, mostly, to feel that waiters and shopkeepers are condescending, arrogant, and snooty – just the sort of the thing that rubs out-going Americans, especially those worried they don’t know the secret codes of style and élan, the wrong way.

Yes, I am exempting the occasional long term waiter who feels a Gallic duty to live up to tourists’ expectations of him, but they can usually be surprised into friendliness by a warm smile and gentle inquiry about fruit tarts.

On my recent stay, I LOOKED for rudeness, I searched for it, but I kept stumbling into warmth, and sly humor, and sensitive politely-done care. A street musician playing Bach on the flute was bashfully apologetic that the playing wasn’t perfect. (It was.) An elderly man told me in French I was “so gracious” because I’d moved over to make room for him as we passed. The list is long and graced every moment.

And once the French have checked you out and uncurl, you are cherished for a long time.
I stopped by the restaurant FISH to make reservations for dinner. When I arrived that evening, the table reserved was where I used to sit, in the window with my standard poodle Max. The chalkboard reserving it said, “KING POODLE.” If Max were still living, he would be 18 years old. He hadn’t been to Paris in seven years. Yes, he was an elegant dog who loved window shopping and art galleries, but it was seven years ago.

reservation sign

At YVELINE Antiquities, Niloufar said, “The last time you were here you looked tired, like it was a hard time. We were worried.” Well, it was a hard time, it was a disastrous time, but it also more than two years ago and I’d been in the shop then thirty minutes max.

At Juliette OZOUF, a boutique of luscious clothes in dusty pastels, Vladimir virtually danced at seeing me. Any woman would love his unbridled joy: “Oh, how long are you here? Oh, it is good to see you. How is your dog, your beautiful dog?”

So, let’s say you are going to Paris. Where are a few choice places in my old neighborhood, the 6th arrondissement, that you should visit?

More information on the above:

FISH La Boissonerie (69, rue de Seine) for a delicious, not expensive meal inside a Roman interior, with a fine selection of regional wines. Cozy ambiance, a place to make memories. My favorite neighborhood restaurant. Owned by Drew Harre, as is the wine shop “La Derniere Goutte” nearby.


Juliette OZOUF (20, rue de l’Echaude) for a focused selection of elegantly “loose,” draped clothing in knits, cottons, silks, and linens. The dusty pastels are seductive and perfect for every women looking to up her style creds. In the photo I’m wearing the silk scarf I bought the first day of my return to Paris and that I have worn every day in the five weeks since.

Juliette's shop

YVELYNE Antiquities (4, rue de Furstemberg) on Place de Furstemberg, perhaps the most photographed small court in all of Paris. The owner Anne’s exquisite selection of antique furniture, paintings, lamps, wooden artist’s models and curios is a treasure. But please don’t treat her shop only as an amusement shop for browsing. Enter with your eyes open for possibilities of what “objet” can bring joy to your life.


Also, and equally delightful:

GAGGIO (16, rue Jacob) for a stunning selection of Venetian velvet scarves (I own 8!), purses (own 3), slippers (3 pair), jewelry, jackets, vests, and pillows, and glassware. Pure luxury! Tell Pierre-Michel I sent you.


LADUREE (corner of rue Jacob and rue Bonaparte) for tea, lunch, or brunch inside the prettiest of the tea shoppes of this famous luxury macaron Mecca, with two other tea shops in Paris, plus London. Buy boxes of macarons to take home as reminders and gifts.

LadureeLaduree window

Ultimately describing the French is an elusive task, perhaps better given up from the start. What I know is they make me smile even when a tad abrupt at first, and they make me uncurl, safe to be eccentric, to dance, and be beautiful. Yes, safe to uncurl.

Merci, mes amies.