…but the picture above is a hint.
You might recognize this statue if you’re a long-time reader, not just because it’s a really, really famous statue, because I’ve often used a photo of it in posts like these.
But the one above isn’t a picture I just found on the Interwebs. I took it myself last week.
Yep. I’ve been in Paris. The photo is of “The Thinker,” on display at the Rodin Museum.
I know there’s been a lot of radio silence lately on this here blog. This trip, and the preparation time that preceded it, might explain some of that silence.
It’s a trip The Wild One, The Director and I have been planning all year, and is by far the biggest trip we’ve ever taken. It wasn’t all for pleasure (though we did enjoy it)–The Wild One went for inspiration and source material for paintings, and Paris is one of the shooting sites for The Director’s next script. (I went to keep everyone out of trouble.) We didn’t just go to see the sights–we went to experience the culture.
Actually, the fact that we went here at all is rather ironic. I was actually in Paris for two days on a ministry trip with a college group over 25 years ago; it was not a good experience, and I swore I’d never be back.
Never promise yourself stuff like that.
Perhaps because Paris has undergone some positive changes over the years, or perhaps because I was able to visit parts of the city I hadn’t seen before, this experience was much more positive. There were things about it (especially knowing the backstory and the political structures behind what I was seeing) that made me very glad to live in America–as broken as the country is right now. But there were other things we experienced about the French culture that I wish we had, or still had, in America. Things like propriety and politeness (formal greetings are still the norm when you talk to a stranger in France), dressing nicely when you step outside the door, and care given to the preparation of a meal. Also, I loved that everything you needed was in walking distance, and everything you wanted to see was a metro ride away. (We didn’t get in a car the entire two weeks we were there.)
We heard and read so much about how Parisians are rude, how they hate Americans, etc., etc. We actually found out that isn’t true, at least in the places where we were. We weren’t mistreated by a single French person the entire time we were there–quite the opposite, in fact. Of course, we also made a point of not coming across as loud, arrogant Americans–we learned just enough French to start a conversation in French, then admit that was all we knew!–at which point the French person almost always (pleasantly) went to English. We discovered that many times, the Americans who say the French are rude don’t realize the offense they are causing by their loudness and sense of entitlement. The French actually think we are the rude ones, and I think they’re right. It’s amazing how far a little bit of humility and respect will go with a French person. In fact, we laughed to ourselves when after a few days in Paris we’d hear some Americans talking loudly in English amongst themselves, and we’d mutter under our breaths, “Stupid Americans,” as though we were Parisians. 🙂
On the other hand, there are other things that aren’t so great. There are lots of huge, beautiful churches in France, but apparently not that many Christians. It’s not that easy to be a Christian in France, or to hold to any other spiritual or religious belief, for that matter. This isn’t something we encountered firsthand, but just in reading and studying the culture. Socialism is big in France; the nation is all about the state, and the state wants to be first place, even above personal religious/spiritual beliefs. I think it’s a lingering reaction to the atrocities that have been committed in Europe in the name of religion, probably going all the way back to the days of the French Revolution, and even as far back as the Crusades. I’m just speculating here, but I don’t think their anti-spiritual stance is so much about being anti-God or anti-Christian as it is about being anti-religion. (As you know, I make a distinct difference between these myself.) In other words, perhaps their spiritual void is fueled not so much by a hatred of God as it is that the religion known to them as Christianity has inoculated them from the real thing. Not that much unlike what we’re seeing in the younger generation of Americans right now. Whatever the reasons, though, it has left a void, an emptiness within the culture that you can feel if you are attuned to it. And that makes me kind of sad.
On the other hand…it’s worth admitting that the non-religious French were still more polite and nice overall than many religious Christians I’ve encountered. Food for thought…