1.03.2011

The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #5 Cultivate Your Mind



Intellect is everything in France. People want to hear what you have to say- and what you have to say will preferably be relevant, interesting and witty.

Living and studying in Paris, I found myself, for the first time in my life, away from all of my favorite television shows, addictive gossip magazines and other mind numbing forms of entertainment. I found myself instead passing my time in museums, reading books, attending theatre and discussing life with my fellow ex-pats. The result felt like a detox for my soul and gave me a shot of culture through my veins that I sorely needed.

My fellow students experienced the same exhilaration as well. We were so busy going places, learning things and experiencing life… we found our new lifestyle affected our conversation. Rather than sitting together and gossiping about celebrities or reality TV shows, we actually had topics of substance to discuss.

I began to realize that our intellectual renaissance wasn’t just due to the fact that we were studying in school. We were students back home in California as well, but back home we had all of the temptations that television, gossip magazines and vapid popular culture had to offer. No, I began to see that it was also France. It certainly helped that Famille Chic didn’t watch TV… and that the gossip magazines were filled with people I didn’t know, but France is really a culture that encourages you to cultivate your mind.

Sure, good skin helps, but generally, being a pretty face is just not enough to get you by. In fact women who aren’t technically classical beauties but who are intellectually stimulating are highly regarded and come off as being more attractive in France than one who is say, not.

And whereas in America, you could easily be called ‘pretentious’ for discussing intellectual or artistic pursuits like philosophy, classical music or poetry, in France it is expected of you to be well versed in the subjects.

I remember many times at Madame Bohemienne’s dinner parties discussing such subjects with her guests. At her parties people were more likely to ask you what book you were reading before they asked you what you do and where you are from.

Back in America I admit to having slipped a little with regards to constantly cultivating my mind… there is so much trashy TV and shallow reading that just lures you in… but I do try to pull in the reigns when I get out of control.

Some tips for cultivating your mind (if nothing else but to be an interesting guest at the next dinner party you attend):

Read a lot. If you find you don’t have much time to read, but have a long commute each day, consider listening to books on tape instead of music. Keep a list in your head of interesting or favorite books you’ve read so the next time someone asks you if you’ve ‘read anything good lately’ you’ll have something to say.

Trade in a few Hollywood Blockbusters for independent and foreign films. Interesting films also make for great discussions at dinner and cocktail parties…

Subscribe to a newspaper.
I know I’ve mentioned this before. I used to scoff at newspapers and instead read my news for free online but my father urged me to subscribe to one- we picked The Financial Times (out of London) and I am never going back. I love having a paper delivered every day- not only does it have the news, but also scores of other thought-provoking articles that I never would have read if I continued to just look online for my news. (Plus reading the news online can lead you down a slippery path. You might start out with the best intentions of reading the headlines on CNN.com, but then somehow get sidetracked and find yourself on Popsugar reading about a teen hearthtrob’s latest breakup and as soon as you know it- an hour has passed and you are no more informed then when you started off.)

Keep au courant with your local museum’s latest art exhibition. I can’t tell you how many times I attended a dinner party in Paris where I was asked if I’d seen the latest exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. Familiarize yourself with the more obscure artists…

Subscribe to a word of the day.
I’ve mentioned this before too- I can’t tell you how much I love this internet feature. The word of the day is on my home page and it is the first thing I see every morning when I open my computer. It expands my vocabulary and also prevents me from saying ‘like’ too much (a terrible vice of mine, growing up in Southern California). Today’s word, for example, is: Estivate: To spend the summer, as at a specific place or in a certain activity. Who knew?

Acquaint yourself with a genre of music you are unfamiliar with. If you like classical music, for example, get specific and familiarize yourself with nocturnes. Or pick up a biography on your favorite composer (mine is Chopin) so that you might better appreciate their work.

Learn another language.
Or if you must watch TV, watch a foreign language channel. I love (can you guess?) TV5 Monde. They have very good documentaries and films all in French. When I do have time to watch TV, this is my channel of choice.

Incidentally I received an Amazon Kindle for Christmas… which I am loving (and, by the way, The Daily Connoisseur is now available on the Kindle for your downloading pleasure... hurrah!). I will give you a more detailed review in the future, but the Kindle is a wonderful resource for information- books, newspapers, magazines and blogs. A portable and stylish tool for cultivating one’s mind…

And finally… Look for a future post on The Daily Connoisseur regarding the merits of less (or no) TV

I would love to know… how do you cultivate your mind?

Won’t you stay tuned for #4?

A detail of the side of Notre Dame is featured... such a beautiful and dramatic building.


My book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris will be published by Simon & Schuster and re-released in the fall of 2012.

23 comments:

Lisa D. said...

I love this series so much! Except now I feel kind of vapid...I'm heading straight to the nearest art museum! Just kidding. :)

I agree with everything you said. It's sometimes difficult to find people to partake in some of these things around here. My friend Tania and I were attending the symphony, plays, independent films, and operas together, but she's moved back to California. I'm hoping to find another friend who'd like to check out some local museums with me -- this Hermitage Museum looks really interesting. It's the cultural thing I'd like to do next. :)

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Sound advice...
I love live theatre...am a season ticket holder to 2 local
theatres...have an art gallery membership...go to the library...read many many books...I work in a library!
BUT I am a TV watcher....
on occasion...
minimalist but yet I do watch...

please try to keep me on the chic side of Paris!

steppingmywaytobliss said...

Fabulous post! We are using our "staycation" this week (which I will be blogging about daily...at least that's the goal) to check out area museums and special exhibits that are going on. We are also big theater buffs but nothing is currently showing in our area--at least not for this week. The only TV we watch are Netflix movies which are frequently peppered with foreign films and documentaries--keeps life interesting. Probably my biggest downfall is the internet. My personal goals are to get back to reading more and refresh my French (relearn it is more accurate). (Wish you could have heard the conversation between 3 late teens, early 20s people today--it was complete drivel and rubbish. I told my husband I wish we could secretly record it and make them listen to it 10, 20 years from now).

Blondie said...

This is a great post! You seem to be reading my mind! I spent the summer in Ohio and didn't have any tv and loved it..now I'm caught back up in the daily awful tv we have to subject ourselves to. I completely relate honey! Kori xoxo

WB said...

Great post! I agree very much with subscribing to a newspaper. When I read online, I either only read what I'm looking for and miss out or read a lot of things that are useless and vapid. (I personally go to Page Six and Gawker. hmm..)

Rebecca said...

Do you have a "word of the day" site to recommend? (I didn't take the time to search your blog more closely for this...) I definitely want to incorporate this into my year.

I am a reader...have gotten out of the habit of doing crosswords puzzles and want to return to that.
This year I want to get out more - getting out into the world rather than settling for the world coming to me via the internet, etc. I've gotten a little lazy that way...

Jennifer said...

excellent post! I agree tv and gossip are so addictive, I always try to reason spending so much time online is educational, but then I lose hours on youtube or pinkisthenewblog.com and wonder why haha, I have so enjoyed reading your blog, you have provided so much wonderful advice, I always look forward to the next post!

tina said...

great post! i read a lot and i enjoy the theatre as well and it's terrible to feel that some people think i'm pretentious if i try to talk about it ://

Rebecca said...

Wonderful post! The suggestions you make are so helpful. I agree wholeheartedly. Read, read, read...

The French Maid said...

Just found your blog today and can't wait to backtrack this evening for more...
I'm your newest follower!
--Lee Ann

Rebekah said...

Great post. I like to cultivate my mind by listening to classical music during the day and, more specifically, opera when I prepare dinner. I visit art museums and read The Economist, classic literature, and noted contemporary authors.

I yearn for the quality of home, dress, food, activities, conversation and general life displayed in movies about pre-WWII England. While these films obviously romanticize the period and almost always overlook the negative aspects of that society, I still scour the lifestyle of the characters I admire and make notes for contemporary application.

Our society is junked up with cheap clothing, fake food, crap news and vapid thrills. It's nice to find others (even if only through the blogasphere) that live their lives by a much higher standard.

Shelley said...

Read non-fiction. Have no TV in the sitting or bed rooms (mine's on a landing). Listen to classical music in front of the fire after dinner..with a book or some knitting. Become more frugal (think about how I spend money). Play around with recipes in the kitchen, esp. those that use up leftovers or involve vegetables - the world's healthiest and cheapest foods.

FloridaBird said...

I spent 10 days in Paris a few years ago and what really struck me was how much I did NOT miss the news. When I returned to the US, I "gave up" newspapers and local TV news. I will sometimes watch the national news (when my husband has it on). I don't miss it at all, and I think I'm a much happier person.

Deborah said...

Your post is perfect timing for me. I'm making a conscientious effort to read the classics, one by one; something I've been meaning to do for years. I'm starting with 'Walden'

Pug1 said...

Fantastic post! I believe Rebekah is spot-on with her comment! CHEERS! Michele

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Lisa D- Thank you :) Having a friend to do these activities with makes them even more fun. I usually would go alone to most things (films, museums, galleries) but now I have my baby to take with me! Would love to hear about your trip to the Hermitage Museum...

Hostess- Haha! I will do my best :) I love that you are a season ticket holder for your theatre and have an art gallery membership. Patronage of the arts is what I am most passionate about... Both of those are great ways to stay connected to your community as well as keep your mind cultivated. I think most people watch TV- I probably watch 4 hours of TV a week now (down a lot from what I used to watch). We all have to keep each other in check every now and then...

Steppingmywaytobliss- A staycation- I love it. I will be sure to check out your blog to read up on your findings. It is very depressing to hear young people talk. And I worry about the next generation with popular culture and all of the crap on television! (Pardon my French). The internet, like you say, is also a minefield for mindnumbing entertainment. It is very hard not to get sucked in. Thanks for stopping by.

Kori- Thank you! Now that I am watching less TV, if suddenly my husband has the TV on for some reason the sound drives me crazy. Living without it for so long makes you really start to detest it. We have a DVR so I record my favorite shows. I will never just sit in front of the TV again and channel surf. I'll watch something I specifically recorded and fast forward through the commercials- this cuts down on TV time significantly.

WB- yes! I didn't realize how much time I wasted reading my news online. I always would end up on TMZ or facebook or some gossip site. Having the news in print is just wonderful. And the weekend edition is so good (when my delivery man remembers to deliver it!)

Rebecca- My word of the day comes from dictionary.com I have it on my google home page so it's the first thing I see in the morning. Today's word is: Prevaricate: to depart from or to evade the truth!

Jennifer- Thank you very much! I agree- the internet can be tricky. It takes so much will power not to go to those addictive gossip sites! xx

Tina- Ugh. Being called pretentious is very unfortunate, but I don't think you are pretentious at all- keep talking about the theatre and you will attract the right type of people. Any one that thinks you are pretentious you wouldn't want to be friends with anyway :)

Rebecca- Thank you! xx

Lee Ann- Merci! And welcome :)

Rebekah- I love your comment and couldn't agree more. Along with being a Francophile I am also an Anglophile so I can relate! I did marry an Englishman after all... I think that is why I loved living with Famille chic so much- they were old fashioned and formal and unapologetic in the ways they cultivated their minds... they were like something out of a old novel. I loved it.

Shelley- I love your list- thank you for sharing it with us. Listening to classical music by the fire after dinner- what a peaceful and relaxing ritual... And I absolutely think cooking is cultivating one's mind. Cooking requires a lot of creativity and concentration. I love to cook, it relaxes me.

Floridabird- How lucky that you were in Paris. The news can be horribly depressing. It would be interesting to find the right balance with being informed and not buying into all of the negativity out there...

Deborah- What a great idea. I love that Oprah picked Great Expectations for her book club selection- it sends the right message- that the classics are still relevant. And so many times we read them when we were in school but we weren't yet capable of truly appreciating them. I hope you enjoy Walden...

Michele- Thank you very much and happy new year! xx

Rose said...

I'm a very lucky girl to live in London and have so much culture on my doorstep- and yet over the last 3 months or so I have been so busy (with things of my own making of course and work so I'm not complaining) that I haven't been to a single exhibition- unusual for me.

January is about being quieter in my social life and catching up on some culture. It actually gives me a real feeling of peace to go to a museum or gallery or concert and just be involved in what is in front of me for that alloted time- to have to turn my phone off and think on that one thing- so I think not only does expand the mind, it gives you some peace- if you find the kind of culture that feeds you.

Happy New Year x

ScentScelf said...

One of the best things about vacationing in Paris was that I was doing just that...which meant lots of museums, walking neighborhoods and observing, visiting gardens and feeding my horticultural bug...okay, and plenty of feeding of the food variety, too. Mmmmm. ;)

I understand Rose's comment...I, too, have plenty available to me just outside my doorstep, but there is something about the business of everyday life that seems to not encourage this kind of cultivation.

But it can be done. Thanks for the reminder. My own newest music is "math rock"...not quite what you might think (it's not a teacher's tool ;) ...right now, it's "in the hopper." But likely to come out in thoughts soon.

Which is a good thing about cultivating, right? The harvest? :)

Happy New Year, D.C. Welcome to the first, but now always, year as a parent.

Me said...

I’ve decided to learn more this year. So, I will listen to a Cosi Fan Tutte cd and watch a live performance in July. Next year, I will chose another opera that will be performing and listen to that cd. So, slowly but surely, I will learn a bit of opera.
Another thing I will do, is read one Catholic and one classic book a month.
I will continue to visit the art gallery. My daughters and I saw the Valentino collection that came here last here and we loved it!
I really enjoy your blog ☺

Pearl said...

This is one of the things I love about Paris myself: I never miss the TV or video games when there because I am always going to a gallery, a museum, a garden, a church, a monument, a walk, a theatre... whatever. And I never feel bored. Here at home in the US I find myself spending too much time watching TV--even Netflix movies--and not going out to take those excursions I so love in Paris. And yes, keeping our minds fresh is so important: I am a professor, and I still never have "intellectual" conversation with colleagues. Sigh.

Trish said...

I live in a somewhat rural area, so books, CDs and the Internet allow me to stay in touch and informed. I have theater, etc within about an hour or two, but weather and time constraints make it difficult to attend. The biggest problem I run into locally is the sense of being thought pretentious-especially if I dare use a 'big' word. (And I teach pre-school, therefore not a lot of adult interaction there lol). So I find an outlet through online communities.

Beth - In My World... said...

Again, love, love, love this post! I agree with everything herein. My love for foreign films is not shared by anyone I know, so it is a wonderful indulgence for myself. Also, as an adult working towards my degree in English, I "have to" read so many wonderful pieces I had no previous knowledge of. I thoroughly agree we should never stop learning.

Genuine Lustre said...

I've been home with my five children for years. Our house is full of books but since I had my last baby ( who is almost two), I feel like I've lost my edge.
Reading news, current events, and googling political figures to jar my memory helps quite a bit. Also, spending time with friends who enjoy the art of conversation rather than staring at sports on tv is a GREAT picker-upper.

 
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