Happiness in Paris experiment – Part five: living vicariously

Happiness in Paris experiment - Part five: living vicariouslyParis is filled with pleasures both great and small. From the visual to the gastronomic, the ancient to the avant-garde: la joie de vivre is palpable.

But I wondered, does one have to actually partake in the croissant-eating, terrace-sitting and flower-buying to appreciate the pleasure they represent? Indeed, this writer believes the secret to French pleasure lies in the fact that many are vicarious.

“Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures,” said H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Sure, he might have been giving advice to his son heading off to college, but I think it fits Paris to a T. In a country where a surprisingly good carafe of house red brings greater pleasure than a fancy car, I figured that my ‘Happiness in Paris’ experiment would never be complete without including a chapter on pleasure.

Beyond French gastronomic pleasures

Paris - Alison Eastaway - www.MyFrenchLife.org - Happiness in Paris experiment - Part five: living vicariously - baguettesIt is difficult indeed to think of France without immediately thinking of food (or perhaps that’s just me?). Walk the length of any block in Paris and you’ll detect the seductive, warming feels-like-home aroma of fresh-baked baguettes.

If you’re like me, you follow your nose to the source and devour half the thing there and then on the footpath. But what if you didn’t? What if, instead of eating the bread, you simply smelt it then went on with your day? Would you feel cheated?

Our social media habits seem to indicate we wouldn’t. Instagram and Pinterest stand as testament to the fact that ingesting delicious food is not indeed the only way to appreciate it. Artfully posed photographs of pastel-coloured macarons or Michelin-starred entrées evoke an emotional response even though we can’t taste, touch or even smell them.

The art of French suggestion

It’s rare to see a French woman wearing a short/tight/low anything, let alone more than one tight piece of clothing at once. This is said to be because the French find hints of sexuality, the mere possibility of flirtation, more desirable than overt declarations.

Just last month I attended the much-hyped ‘place of pleasures’ Espace Coquin at La Foire de Paris. The restricted space even boasted a security guard. Everyone who emerged just moments later shared our disappointment at the sheer obviousness of it all.

Perhaps French pleasure, then, is much more about possibility than participation.

The pleasure of things not bought in Paris

I love nothing more than browsing Parisian bookstores in the late afternoon. It is both satisfying and agonising at the same time, for no matter how hard I try, I can’t own every book I want to. But the sheer deliciousness of possibility, that’s what I love.

Paris - Alison Eastaway - www.MyFrenchLife.org -Happiness in Paris experiment - Part five: living vicariously

For me, there’s nothing better than that long window of opportunity that comes before any final decisions are to be made. When I can load up my arms with the likes of Molière and Rousseau alongside the latest bar and restaurant guides. The final approach to the cash register is, for me, the lowest point of the outing.

The same theory can be applied to spending an hour in your favourite clothing store (for me, that’s COS, Comptoir des Cotonniers and Kookai) and leaving with nothing.

Are French flowers just for show?

It’s tough to walk the market-lined rue Montergueil in Paris’ second arrondissement without going into sensory overload. First you notice the Kayser boulangerieon the corner with its line snaking out the door, then you’re hit with the heady smell of ripe cheeses at the fromagerie, and finally the rich artist’s palette display at the greengrocers pops against the grey canvas of the cobbled street.

And then there is Les Jardins d’Anais, a modest-sized florist whose flowers brighten rainy mornings, lift spirits of the broken hearted and say thank you to those who welcome us into their homes.

As part of my experiment, I started buying fresh, brightly coloured flowers more or less once a week. I changed their water twice daily, moved them around the apartment throughout the day and squeezed every last drop of joy out of them.

It worked. All I had to do was glance in the direction of the vase to feel my mood improve.

But then one day, as I struggled to decide between the yellow new season roses or a bunch of antique mauve peonies, it occurred to me. I could have both. And the sunshine-infused fuchsia gerberas if I wanted. And the stately orchids, and the baby’s breath. And all without spending a cent.

All I need do was pass in front of the store whenever I liked, and the joy would be there waiting for me.

What do you think? Do you agree that Paris can be enjoyed vicariously? Share your thoughts and experiences with us below- we’d love to hear from you!

Read more on the ‘Happiness in Paris’ experiment:
Part 1: introduction
Part 2: writing in cafés
Part 3: living on French time
Part 4: health and well-being
Part 5: living vicariously (this page)
Part 6: helping others

1. H. Jackman, Life’s Little Instruction Book, Element, 1991.
Image credits
1. Via Unsplash.
2. Baguettes, by Antonio via Flickr.
3. Bookshop in Paris, by Antonio Ruiz Garcia via Flickr.

About the Contributor

Alison Eastaway

“I am Australian-born but Parisienne at heart. I've spent 8 years in Paris, and can usually be found sipping coffee on café terraces or snuggling up with my cat and a book. Follow me on Twitter, or find me on LinkedIn."

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  1. Elise Mellor Jun 19, 2014 at 4:58 PM - Reply

    This is a great article for someone who is low on funds – in Paris or elsewhere! It’s a good thing to remember that you can enjoy life without indulging in ALL of its pleasures.

    • Alison Eastaway Jun 19, 2014 at 11:06 PM - Reply

      Thanks for reading Elise, indeed, some of my favourite ‘cheap Sundays’ have been spent smelling, looking, wandering – all for next to nothing!

      • Elise Mellor Jun 25, 2014 at 12:09 PM - Reply

        Exactament – All my travel has been done on a budget and I never feel like I miss out – the best way to experience a new place is just to wander, get lost, look at what the people are doing, and eat what the true locals eat! Then of course, once in while you splash out on a nice lunch 😉

  2. Jill Craig Jun 19, 2014 at 6:15 PM - Reply

    I completely agree with this article- I feel like Paris, more than many other cities I’ve visited, can still offer an amazing range of activities if you’re low on funds! As a student, I don’t think I’ve missed out at all- merci beaucoup for this article!

    • Alison Eastaway Jun 19, 2014 at 11:06 PM - Reply

      Thanks Jill, it’s funny, I sometimes think those rich enough to be driven all over the city and eat in only Michelin-starred restaurants might actually be the ones missing out! Hmmm… sounds like material for another article!

  3. Chelsey Ibbotson Jun 21, 2014 at 1:25 AM - Reply

    I find what you wrote about the French valuing the art of suggestion really intriguing…I couldn’t help but think, aren’t us girls exactly the same when it comes to romance? A smile from an attractive man, a small compliment or even a pick-up line: even though we don’t necessarily act on these things, they certainly are the little things that brighten our day and enhance our daily pleasure! What do you think?

  4. Julia Greenhalf Sep 2, 2014 at 6:16 PM - Reply

    Ah yes, le lèche-vitrine! I think it’s an experiment that is worth everyone’s while. I know I need to do it more, focusing on the smaller pleasures and to quit that subconscious counting and taking of things for granted.

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