Imagine you wake up one Sunday morning in Paris (as you do.) You’ve no plans for the day, but don’t feel like repeating a Saturday morning of sitting at home in your pajamas drinking copious amounts of coffee and laughing your head off at whatever the internet has to offer that day. You’re feeling inspired and are ready to explore a new corner of your oh-so-chic city. But where to go?
TO THE GOOGLE!
…Which consequently tells you that every weekend, and most notoriously on Sundays, Paris offers the world’s largest antiques/knicknacks flea market–Le Marché aux Puces–and that it is a divine place to pass the hours poking around. So you hop the nearest metro to Porte de Clignancourt, climb the stairs back into the sunlight, and begin to follow the signs conveniently placed to direct visitors like yourself. Time to do a little investigation.
As likely as it is to happen in my life here (seriously, I work 12 hours a week, people…free time is unending) that’s not actually how I wound up at the Marché aux Puces of St. Ouen. I’d actually heard of it through various “thing to do in Paris” googling over time, and decided to make a point of getting over there before Christmas (yes, another late post. I’M SORRY OKAY?) in the event that it might hold anything worth purchasing as a gift for someone back home. So, as per usual, grabbed whoever was available and set off.
I was sort of under the impression that it was a genuine flea market with just about everything under the sun available to purchase. While that was not ENTIRELY wrong, it was also not entirely correct. It’s not really ONE market so much as multiple markets, each with a certain specialty (although there is plenty of overlap) in a plethora of closely-placed venues and shops, which can be individually looked up on the official website here. My friend and I sort of only managed to get to the closest side, but we saw a fair amount of impressive things, namely antique furniture, which I think is reasonable to consider the main event at this particular market. And don’t come here thinking to get a steal either–these dealers know what they’re about and have some really, REALLY nice pieces, many of which can be dated to the 17th/18th centuries. Ka-ching!
That being said, the Marché Dauphine had PLENTY to offer in the way of knicknacks that were somewhat more affordable, particularly on the second floor where we found used books, vintage clothing (admittedly less cheap) used cds, and my personal favorite…a photography-themed store/stall that sold vintage photography magazines, reprints (and perhaps originals?) of reaaaally old photos, and beautiful, BEAUTIFUL antique and vintage cameras that I just wanted to pick up and run off with right then and there, despite the fact that I’d have no idea how to use them even should they work. TOTALLY BESIDES THE POINT THOUGH.
Ahem. Anyway, I managed to not be able to stop myself making some purchases there–I bought three tiny old prints that had been cut out and placed on some lovely little cardboard backings (to be honest, I think they were originals) with the printing of the photography company that took them, the dates (oldest one was something like 1861) and on the backs was a bit of information about the photos, printed in English because they were from a company that had operated out of St. Louis and somewhere on the East coast, I believe. I bought myself two photos taken around the turn of the 20th century in Cairo, and one sweet photo of a man and a woman in a driving cart kissing (man’s arm around her), entitled “Always bring a horse you can drive with one hand” which I thought was just charming enough to merit being a tiny gift to my mom. (Horse family, what can I say?)
All in all it was an excellent day of poking about which I plan to repeat in the future to explore the rest of the market (and probably go back to that photography store and purchase more prints. Sue me.)
So, moving on, I realized earlier that I had sort of neglected to write a lot about the small differences in culture and habits or what have you that one finds in Paris…partially because many of them aren’t that huge, partially because I’ve been to Europe before so I didn’t notice them as “odd” this time, and partially just because after a while you adjust and forget things are different. But, thought I’d pop a few in here. So, list time!
1) Good luck EVER finding a water fountain in Paris. Not in gyms, museums, schools…no. They are not a thing. So get out your wallet and lay down those 3-4 euros for a bottle of Evian, I’m afraid.
2) You know how little old ladies shuffle around with those tiny 2-wheeled carts behind them? Those are a thing here, for everyone. Frankly any rolling suitcase can be seen on a daily basis (my assumption is that it’s just because people walk so much and don’t want to carry things) but those bags are particularly popular for doing grocery shopping and whatnot, and NOT just for old ladies. There have been times when I’ve been walking a good ten minutes with over-laden shopping bags and very much seen the sense in it.
3) Being nice to the homeless is a thing. Seriously. I mean don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people here who will just blitz on by like back in the States, but I have seen an unusually high number of people stopping to say a simple “Bonjour!” or even having a brief conversation. Once in a blue moon I’ve even seen passerby give out sandwiches to them. It’s a habit I have intentionally picked up, as to be quite frank I see some of the homeless people who hang around my streets more often than just about anyone else. A friendly greeting exchange and smile might not pull someone out of poverty, but it’s probably nice to be treated like a human being…can’t say that for every country I’ve been to or lived in. I’mma bring this one back to the States, yo.
4) Doctor’s visits in France: Weird combination of public and private healthcare…also weirdly like a house visit (unless you’re going to a hospital, I suppose, which I have not). You go to an office which will undoubtedly be in a normal apartment building occupied by a doctor with a cozy, elegant feel to it–none of that stark walls crap, these places are made to put you at ease and make you feel comfortable. Heck, you might even ring a doorbell as if you’re just dropping in to see a friend. You have your visit, and you pay up front. You are, however, given a sheet to fill out and send into the social security team, who will then reimburse you a fair chunk of whatever it was you paid. An odd system, but the actual visit to the doctor is just delightfully calming. I approve.
5) The baguette stereotype is 100% true.
6) Cyclists obey neither traffic rules for cars nor pedestrians–they pretty much just ALWAYS go unless they’re actually in danger of being hit.
7) More on grocery shopping-you bag your own goods, always (and the cashier WILL practically throw them at you at top speed while simultaneously asking you to pay) and you are generally expected to bring your own bag, although they will always have some there (depending on the store you may be charged like .20 cents for a little plastic one or a euro-sih for one of the reusable sturdy bags).
8) I have seen zero cats on the streets. After Peru and Jordan, this is vastly different. I assume most cats are just house cats, then. Dogs, however, are practically as numerous as people–even the homeless guys I see will have them. This means, unfortunately that A) I am constantly reminded my dog isn’t here and B) the sidewalks are generally pretty covered with various forms of puppy excrement. Lovely. Luckily, they wash the sidewalks frequently around here.
9) That whole “beret” thing is not actually a thing. But lemme tell you, there IS a scarf thing happening here. EVERYONE WEARS ONE ALL THE TIME. Frequently enormous ones. And the girls have like 23094802 different ways to tie them, I swear. (Actually I should do a Parisian fashion post. It would feature boots, various jacket types, and man-purses extraordinaire.)
10) “PUTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIN!” I hear this more than any other word except perhaps “ouaiiis”. Enough said.
And that’s that for today!