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For the past few days and until the end of the weekend, we’ve moved our base from the City of Lights to the Big Apple. It’s funny how much big cities around the world resemble each other in some ways and yet are so fundamentally different in others. Since my days of living here, the city has evolved. Maybe it’s a result of that old adage that being a tourist in your own city opens your eyes to its beauty. Maybe it’s because things have changed in the five years since I’ve been away becoming madame.

More Parisian type Brasseries like Athenée (named, I suspect, after the lovely Plaza Athenée on Paris’ Place Alma Marceau) and Ruhlmann as well as bakeries Au Pain Quotiden (a popular French franchise) and Bouchon have popped up all over Midtown. One lane of Rockefeller Center is nothing but French stores: Anne Fontaine, Longchamp and L’Occitane en Provence, la Maison du Chocolat, the beauty products store Terre d’Oc, Façonnable, among others. Perhaps the French influence was always as prevalent as it is today. Or perhaps I just never noticed before moving to Paris, my attention less piqued by the cultural similarities and differences between the two countries.

In particular, five truths about NYC struck me on my return to the city.

  1. Where French people walk up escalators, American’s ride up.
  2. Where Paris sidewalks are covered with terraces full of people sunning themselves on a bright week day afternoon, New York streets are designed for efficiency, both pedestrian and vehicular with no room for pleasure-seeking.
  3. Taxis in New York are affordable and abundant; in Paris they are expensive and scarce.
  4. New York cops are kind and helpful. Their Parisian counterparts are austere and unapproachable, indignant if asked for directions. We can imagine them saying “Madame, we aren’t paid to give directions to tourists.”
  5. When I left, very rarely did restaurants include the tip in the bill. Three out of the last four restaurants where I’ve eaten have done so. An obvious change toward the European.

I brought my French husband (not that I have another one out there somewhere) over to New York with me. We decided to combine a little pleasure with my professional reasons for being in the city this week and for a Frenchman that means sampling the gourmet selections the city has to offer. I use the word ‘gourmet’ very lightly here. He wanted to try a pulled pork sandwich at TGI Fridays, mozzarella sticks at Applebee’s, a corn beef sandwich loaded with pickles and mustard at a local diner, and a giant hamburger impossible to fit into a human mouth. During these meals, I couldn’t help but laugh in spite of myself!

At the diner, my Frenchman tried to eat the lettuce bedding that came under our mozzarella sticks; he ate his hamburger with a knife and fork starting a bit of a ripple giggle among our neighboring diners; he asked for mayonnaise for his fries, choked on the spiciness of the BBQ sauce, and he tried unsuccessful to finish his plate truly bringing home to me how enormous our American portions really are. Each time one of these occurred, the waiter asked us where we were from and told me that my English was almost perfect, practically accent free. I smiled and thanked them. Have I already become Parisian enough to be mistaken by my own countrymen?

As for the professional reasons I spoke of earlier, I’m in the City That Never Sleeps to participate in this year’s BEA or North American Book Expo. For four straight days, the world’s players in literary publishing come together at the Javits Center to talk books. It’s been a real treat so far meeting fellow writers and picking up free galley proofs (ARCs) of publishers’ newest offerings. I currently have a pile of nine on my bedside table here in the hotel. If only I had the time to delve in. Tonight we’re off to Broadway’s The Best Man. Looking very forward to it.

My husband has taken a few shots of our time so far, bon visionnage! Et à bientôt de notre retour sur Paris.

One of our readers suggested heading toward the West Village, Greenwich and Soho to get more of a homey feel in the big city. In fact, I’d forgotten how quaint these areas are. Here’s a peek: