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.