The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #3 Simple Pleasures
Do you remember the film Amélie? At the beginning of the film, the narrator introduces the characters by the simple pleasures that they take part in every day. For Amélie herself it was plunging her hands into the sack of grain at the market, skipping stones at the Canal St. Martin and breaking the top of the crème brulée with her spoon. For her father it was cleaning out his tool box and stripping wallpaper. For her mother, cleaning out her handbag and scrubbing the floor with her slippers were her tiny pleasures. And while Jean Pierre Jeunet’s characters’ likes were slightly eccentric and whimsical, they are a perfect showcase for how the French take pleasure from the simplest things in life.
Lately in our society it seems we suffer from what I call “Real Housewife” syndrome. It takes an awful lot to impress anymore. Parties, houses, cars- everything has to be bigger, better and more expensive. This way of life might be temporarily exciting but unfortunately also leads to a whole slew of other issues- debt, clutter and a strong sense of emptiness are just three maladies that come to mind. While living in Paris, I found French people’s regalement in the simplest of things to be incredibly refreshing.
Like the characters in Amélie, Famille Chic took pleasure out of the seemingly smallest of things. Madame Chic enjoyed listening to the morning radio show as she prepared breakfast (which, by the way, was at 5am every weekday). She took immense pleasure out of getting the strawberries perfectly symmetrical on her tarte aux fraises. She relished the morning phone call to her girlfriend where they discussed the week’s gossip (Madame Chic did not have a cell phone, she would sit in the hall next to their old fashioned telephone when speaking to her friend- it was a ritual). Monsieur Chic loved his pipe, his nightly slice of camembert- the ‘Roi du fromage’. And for vacations? Their summer house in Brittany provided endless pleasure.
Not only were Famille Chic’s pleasures simple, but also repetitive. They somehow found a way to enjoy the repetition of the seemingly mundane things of their daily life. Madame Chic’s attitude could easily have been, “Here I go again, preparing breakfast for the family- every day the same thing!” Or Monsieur Chic could have thought, “Camembert again for the cheese course? Where is the variety?” But they didn’t have negative attitudes towards these small life details and as a result, they got along very harmoniously as a family.
Having a ‘simple pleasures’ mindset can really set you up for a happy life. If you slow down and take pleasure in simple things, you are less likely to overspend- less shopping trips for unnecessary clothes, less pressure for that dream vacation you can’t really afford, or that car that is just out of your budget. It is not to suggest you become complacent with your life but to inherently appreciate the things that you already have. To reject the new materialism we talked about prior in the countdown.
The simple pleasures mindset also helps one cope with the mundane nature of everyday life. Tasks that one normally abhors such as washing the dishes or making the bed can become pleasurable if you choose to make them so. After all, you will have to do these tasks for the rest of your life, why not enjoy them?
And as for repetition… have you heard the phrase ‘variety is the spice of life?’ Well that could be true, but French people really find what they like and stick with it- the camembert for the cheese course every night, comes to mind. Or the champagne cocktail that Madame Bohemienne served before every one of her dinner parties. Famille Chic and Bohemienne didn’t mind repetition when it came to their favorite things. Monsieur Chic was a connoisseur of camembert cheese. Madame Bohemienne had a good thing going with her champagne cocktail (trust me, it was yummy), so why change it?
Talking about taking pleasure in the moment, one of my fondest memories of Madame Bohemienne was when she came home one hot afternoon in spring with a bouquet of flowers in one arm- her other arm outstretched- and proclaimed, “We are the luckiest people in the world to live in Paris!”.
I would love to know… what are your simple pleasures?
A very Parisian courtyard is pictured above
Won't you stay tuned for #2?
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.
The Daily Connoisseur is now available on the Kindle.