This is a collection of photos I’ve taken over the past couple of months. Some of them have small stories or descriptions attached, others are more self explanatory. Most of them come from essentially “normal” days here in Paris, meaning that I never went too far out of my way just to get a photo. Enjoy!
Most of the monuments in these pictures are there because they’re easy to spot on any sort of daily walk. Especially since my apartment and university are centered well in the middle of Paris, it’s easy to only have a five or ten minute detour and run into the things seen here.
Montmartre is the biggest detour from the normal area I tend to be in, but it is completely worth it (clearly).
I wish I’d gotten more pictures with the pink flowers around the city because it was amazing, but they of course disappeared quickly.
Just things along the road
This photo is right near one of my favorite spots to sit outside and have lunch. To the left of this road is the river Seine, and to the right is the main AUP building. About a block down is Apollon, a Greek restaurant that has the best Gyros.
The area I live in has a number of these murals on different electrical boxes and things around. I’m not entirely sure if it’s some sort of commissioned beautification project, or if it’s just graffiti no one has bothered to clean off, but I like them.
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One of the cornerstone experiences of anyone who finds themselves abroad is the experience of offending someone over something you thought nothing of at all. The vast majority of the time, people understand cultural differences are to blame, and everyone can just laugh it off in the end, but speaking for myself, I do everything I can not to make those mistakes again.
But sometimes you can’t help but notice when another culture takes something far more seriously than you ever learned to in your own. From grammar to gruyere, these are the five things I’ve noticed French people take very seriously.
1. The French Language
It’s no secret that European countries tend to be snobs about the language that came from within their boundaries. England is protective of Shakespeare, as is Italy of Machiavelli, and even Russia seems sometimes protective of Dostoyevsky. But the French take it to a whole new level.
Case in point: The Académie Française.
The Académie Française is an organization most recently put in place in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte as an institution to protect and preserve the French language, more specifically the regulation of French grammar, spelling, and literature.
If you’re thinking, “Huh, this sounds kind of like if the Hollywood foreign press went institutionalized,” you would be absolutely right. The Académie is composed of 40 absolute French language snobs who represent a little of the worst and a little of the best there is to offer in the French language. Historically, the Académie has included in its membership writers like Victor Hugo, philosophers like Voltaire, and a number of other lawyers, scientists, politicians, and even senior Roman Catholic clergymen.
And who better to be the head of the Académie than the President of France himself?
The group deals with things as they come, trying to preserve the French language as best as possible while also allowing for it to change and evolve. It recognizes the threat of anglicisms as a real one, and so has in some instances literally invented official words for inventions (one such example being the word ordinateur for computer).
More recently, the Académie held emergency sessions to determine if Covid would be considered masculine or feminine. (They decided it was feminine, so I guess we can all sleep a little more soundly knowing it’s la Covid instead of le Covid.)
2. Separation of Church and State
French separation of church and state, much like that in the US, isn’t perfect at all, and there are plenty of loopholes and overlooked exceptions to the rules. However, compared to what is often seen in the US (for example, “In God We Trust” on the back of much of the currency), it’s significantly different.
Though many French cathedrals and basilicas are technically the property of the state, they are seen as historical sites, rather than places of worship, for the purposes of state funding (obviously it is recognized that these places are still active parts of religion). Additionally, the institutions that run the churches are in no way allowed to be subsidized by the state at all. Similar to the US, churches don’t pay tax, but they also aren’t allowed to run programs that are funded by the state.
The other main way this separation manifests itself is within schools. Students in public schools aren’t allowed to wear religious symbols, and though the law is relatively vague on this, it is generally accepted that this includes pretty much anything distinctively representing a religion. The biggest source of debate for this has surrounded the wearing of hijabs, but students who wear large crosses, headscarves, or yarmulkes could also face being sent home.
3. Bread, Cheese, and Wine
I’ve touched on this briefly before, but there are about a million different rules when it comes to how to eat your bread and cheese, and exactly what kind of wine you should pair it all with.
When it comes to bread, or more specifically baguette, the rules are relatively straightforward. Don’t cut baguette with a knife, set baguette wherever you want (but it had better not be upside down), and the guy who buys it, tries it.
The real ordeal is that these sort of defy the regular rules of table warfare. Typically one should only try to divide bread with a knife, they should keep their bread on the plate, and especially in France where eating in the streets is considered a bit rude, having a big chunk of bread taken out doesn’t seem like it should be okay, but it is.
For cheeses, it gets more complicated. Some of the rules are pretty mainstream – move from mild cheeses to sharper or funkier ones on a cheeseboard so that you don’t get quickly overwhelmed and lose all ability to enjoy a mild cheese.
But when it comes to getting a piece of cheese, you had better cut it right. A round piece of cheese should never be cut in any way other than triangles, because the middle of a wheel of cheese is where it ferments the most, and where it tastes the best. Similarly, if you’re taking a slice from a wedge of cheese, take more from the outside, and make sure not to cut off the “nose” of the cheese. For rectangles and cylinders of cheese, parallel slices are acceptable.
But never is it acceptable to ever spread a cheese on a piece of bread or a cracker like one would nutella or mayo. You will likely be met with a sarcastic and dry comparison of the cheese to butter, and no one really wins.
I really don’t know much about French wines other than that the famous appellations mean that professional sommeliers have tasted the wine and decided that it was worthy of tasting. People like some wines and don’t like others, but if you get one that says “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée,” people at least can’t complain that you didn’t try.
4. The Right to Protest
It’s hard to say exactly where this virtue comes from. In some ways, deep division in France has always existed in many ways, and so it might make sense through that lens that people are reminded of their right to voice their opinion. On the other hand, some say it’s a historical imperative left over from the French revolution, that displeasure should be voiced at all costs. Regardless of the reason, the French know how to protest, and they know how to do it right.
It isn’t at all uncommon to see protestors at Trocadero, nor is it a fluke to see the protesting at République, or at the Notre-Dame, or really anywhere else in Paris. These protests are sometimes composed of only a dozen or so people, and sometimes they take their numbers in the thousands, and they almost always include music, speakers, and even food sometimes.
That’s not to mention the fantastic protest signs that you can see at these things sometimes. French is literally the language of double entendre, so play on words within protest signs is a fantastic tool that I always enjoy laughing at.
One of the first protest signs I saw was a discarded sign in a trash can that read, “Macron, tu descends?” It was later explained to me that the sign was a reference to an ultra-cheesy rap music video from the 90’s called “C’est Ton Destin.” Glorious.
Another I once read translates a little better. It was a protest about pay inequality, and the sign said something to the effect of, “Look at your rolex, see? It’s time for change.”
While in the US we often see dinner as the central meal of the day, for many French families it is actually lunch that is found to be more important, at least during the week. It’s no secret that the French like to take their time with their food, so it isn’t exactly shocking that they take an extended lunch break, but most of the time people really go all out for it.
In many places, school children get out of school for a period of time for lunch, usually a couple of hours. The idea is that the kids can go home with their parents and eat, and then go back to school without missing a beat. (After having eaten lunch at French public school, I can confidently say don’t worry about the kids who don’t go home for lunch. They get taken care of perfectly fine.)
For employees that aren’t able to go home for lunch, most employers are required to either feed their employees a quality lunch, or give them a monthly stipend that is dedicated to having lunch. This practice tends to be more relevant for white collar jobs.
All of this massive importance placed on lunch means that from noon to 2pm, expect for everything to be shut down. You might be able to peek your head into a grocery store, but other than that your only other bet would be a restaurant, where you would buy your lunch. Banks close, offices close, post offices close, everything closes for that two hour window.
The French might be serious about these things (that admittedly sometimes seem ridiculous), but if in doubt, admit you’re a confused foreigner and most people will clear things right up.
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The image of a French person walking through the sunny rows of open-air farmers’ market stands to pick out their fresh groceries for the day is often conjured when we idealize a daily grocery run in Paris. But, much like what is seen in the US, such a trip is usually reserved for the weekend, when people simply have the time to make eight different stops to get the groceries they need. For the rest of the week, regular grocery stores like Monoprix, Franprix, and G20 often are the way everyone tends to get their groceries.
But even though the trip isn’t always as luxurious as it sometimes seems, there are plenty of fantastic things you can find in your average French grocery stores that would top charts in the US. From basic ingredients to premade snacks, here are six French grocery store items I wish were in American grocery stores.
1. French Butter
French butter is the obvious top of this list. Not only is it globally renowned as some of the best butter out there, but it’s one of the amazing base ingredients for all of the delicious pastries and snacks that one finds throughout the boulangeries and patisseries in France. French croissants specifically capitalize on the French butter, as does fresh brioche bread.
There is a particular science to what makes French butter the best in the world, but the essence of it is that French butter has more butterfat. It’s made using methods that are in some instances hundreds of years old, and it shows in the product. On top of that, French butter often has appellation d’origine contrôlée (otherwise known as AOC) status, meaning that it comes from particular regions of France and is often better off for it.
Soda is, and probably always will be, my biggest weakness. Aside from the addicting carbonation, it also tends to be the easiest way for a caffeine addict like me (who doesn’t particularly like coffee or tea) to get their energy fix. But, as anyone who has traveled outside of the US probably knows, soda is a whole different deal abroad.
The traditional example is with Coca-Cola, specifically how much better it tastes with cane sugar than with high-fructose corn syrup, but for me the real winner when you come to France is Orangina. Orangina is an orange soda, but not at all like Fanta or Sunkist. It tastes more like if you mixed orange juice with Sprite, and its utterly amazing. Seriously, the best soda out there in my humble but honest opinion.
You can find Orangina if you look hard enough in the states, but here in France it’s in every grocery store, every restaurant, and every convenience shop you can find. It isn’t heavy like darker sodas, so it’s perfect for the Parisian picnic under the Eiffel Tower or just for wandering around the city with.
Saucisson is the hard, almost salami-like sausage that can be particularly great for charcuterie spreads and as appetizers. These don’t usually come in slices though; they come in entire batons. You can get a baton of saucisson at just about any grocery store, and if you’re only looking for a small bite to eat, you can also get packages of little pencil-sized batons for snacking.
What I particularly like about a French saucisson is that it often takes on a sort of nice greasy and rich salty taste that you don’t see as much of in American summer sausages. They make great afternoon snacks, and are absolutely perfect with some baguette or a piece of cheese. Plus, they obviously have a great shelf life, so you don’t really ever have to worry about them going bad.
Obviously France is extremely well known for its cheese, but most of that comes from the culture of going to the fromagerie to pick up specific kinds of cheese, rather than what you get on your grocery run. Grocery stores aren’t usually the place to go to get wildly complex kinds of cheese or specific varieties from certain parts of the country.
But what grocery stores do carry is often still far superior to what we normally see in the US. Though it depends on the store, most places I’ve seen at least have a few kinds of goat cheese, some fresh pieces of parmesan and balls of mozzarella, and then some soft cheese like camembert, brie, etc. The thing I like to get is called Caprice des Dieux, which literally translates to “A Whim of the Gods.” Though that might be a slight overstatement, it’s a great soft cheese that’s a little bit funky, and perfect for things like grilled cheese, pasta, or just a regular sandwich.
Grocery stores also have most of the average cheeses you can find in the US, like cheddar, gouda, swiss, and most plentifully, emmental (of which you can get in just about any form or quantity you like). But if you’re in France, why go with something too normal?
5. Sliced Brioche
Anyone who’s ever had French toast or grilled cheese with brioche instead of white bread knows what I’m talking about here. Sliced brioche is perfect bread for the quick or spontaneous meal, and because of its richness, I always find myself feeling more full after having a sandwich with brioche than having one made with white bread.
While you can certainly get some brioche tranchée at your local boulangerie, it’s probably going to cost you a little bit more, and because products from bakeries don’t often include preservatives, it won’t last very long either. When you get it from the grocery store, the shelf life is notably longer, and, like I said, you don’t necessarily need it for fancy meals anyways.
You can find brioche in some places in the US, but at least in my experience it’s almost random where you can find it, and it often is significantly more expensive when you eventually do.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a Little Debbie’s oatmeal creme pie as much (if not more than) the next guy. But what you can get in the sweets aisle in the average French grocery store is seriously next level sometimes.
Among these are bags of madeleines and their different varieties, all kinds of biscuits and sweet crackers, and one of my personal favorites, Petites Écoliers, which are sweet butter biscuits with a piece of chocolate on top. Even items from global brands like M&M and Oreo come in different forms, usually on some kind of butter biscuit as well.
The sweet treat I’ve been stuck on recently have been raspberry génoise biscuits, which are essentially a layer of a soft biscuit, a layer of raspberry jam, and a layer of dark chocolate on top. I believe the way I described them to someone was as “eat the whole sleeve and want some more” good.
6. Le Gaulois Chicken Cordon Bleu
Alright, so this one isn’t nearly as luxurious as anything else I’ve mentioned, nor is it something that I’ve heard a single French person even rave about in any capacity. No, the stovetop chicken cordon bleu from Le Gaulois holds a special place for me for two entirely different reasons.
First of all, it’s an absolutely extraordinary dish for university students like myself. It’s cheap, it has everything you need in a meal, and it takes less than ten minutes to prepare it. Plus, only taking one pan, it’s easy cleanup for someone like me, who doesn’t have a dishwasher and isn’t particularly fond of doing dishes in the first place.
Second, though, and the reason I say to get it from Le Gaulois rather than from another brand, is because of the magnets inside. Just like cereal boxes used to have little prizes inside of them, each box for Le Gaulois chicken has a little magnet inside that corresponds to a region in France. Each magnet has the name of the department, its capitol city, and something (usually a product or monument) it is known for.
It isn’t particularly extraordinary chicken, nor is it necessarily worth spending too much time or energy focusing on, but the magnets are good fun and for a cheap meal I’ll gladly take it.
French grocery stores don’t often house particularly fancy or indulgent things, but what they do have often differs greatly from what is available in the US. If you make the trip to France, take the opportunity to stop into a regular grocery store and get some basic groceries that you can’t find in the US. It almost never fails to be worth it.
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Why Our Representatives Don’t Represent the American Population, and What We Can Do to Change That.
The US government is facing a representation problem, or more accurately, is still facing a representation problem. By this I mean that the issues which often feel as though they are said and done — gender, racial, and even sexual equality — are far from being brought to fruition in the ways they are meant to.
Within today’s congress, women are one of the most underrepresented groups despite having had some number of female representatives for over a century now. They make up only about a quarter of the current congress, despite being more than half of the general population. The Hispanic population makes up 18% of the population, but only about 8.6% of congress are Latinx.
The trend continues: 11% of congress is black compared to more than 13% of the population. Asian Americans are almost 6% of the population, but have only a 3.2% representation in congress. There are eleven LGBT members of congress, amounting to about 2%, despite even conservative estimates saying that more than double that identify as LGBT (estimates of the LGBT population notoriously have a difficult time quantifying closeted individuals). 1.1% of the country is Muslim, despite only 0.6% of congress being so.
Regardless of political stature, the virtue of a democracy is that every voice is heard. In an ideal world, this would ultimately result in every subgroup or minority having a proportional representation in congress (for example, there being 51 female senators, rather than 24), but that clearly isn’t happening. This ideal sort of democracy is the entire thing we should strive for not just as a political aim, but because it is morally right.
How It Happens
There are plenty of factors that go into reinforcing a straight white male supermajority. Some of them are historical, and will (in theory) slowly wear off as time goes on. Others are based in subconscious bias that says, for example, that because we have always had men as presidents, they are somehow a more reliable or secure choice (clearly a fallacy in itself).
The more manageable issue, though is the electoral one. The structure of our democratic republic is set up so that each congressman represents about 700,000 people, with each senator of course representing their entire state which vary widely in population. With our vote, we have influence only over the house races in the district we live in — no other.
The issue with this is when minority groups don’t make up a majority within that population. Hispanic people may make up 18% of the population, but if 90% of the Hispanic population lives within fifty house districts, those Hispanic people will never have the power in numbers to elect the 18% they might deserve. LGBT people might make up around 5% of the population, but that is spread out as roughly the same proportion nationwide, meaning they will always have a minority in every single race.
This means that the districts where minorities are more likely to win tend to be those districts that feel represented by the minority. Consider New York’s 14th district, which is made up three quarters by non-white people. A group like that feels highly represented by someone like Hispanic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. From a purely demographic standpoint, she is less likely to win even an equally democrat district that is majority white.
Women are the only group here that have basically the same cut of the population nationwide, but they’re the whole reason a quarter of congress is female in the first place. Women vote at a rate of roughly 4% higher than men, meaning they show up at the polls, but that doesn’t mean they always have a woman to vote for in the first place. Some reports have shown that 70% of congressional races do not include a woman in the race, with only 2% of districts having more than one woman in the election.
One of the main problems upfront is that women and minorities tend to vote for Democrats, and they tend to run as Democrats. What this means in effect is that districts where Democrats don’t win, they are more often represented by white men.
For example, women who run as Democrats tend to win their primary elections, and even tend to win general elections more often than women who run as Republicans, but they also usually win those elections in places that already leaned left to begin with.
It should be made clear that this isn’t to say Republican women don’t win elections — in many cases they most certainly do. In fact, 2020 was heralded as “The Year of the Republican Woman” by many as the amount of congressional Republican women more than doubled, going from 13 to 28 in a single election. In some cases, as was the instance for Stephanie Bice in Oklahoma’s 5th district, Republican women even beat their female Democratic opponent.
Regardless of political party, though, there are social obstacles too. According to polling from 2019, 94% of Americans would vote for a woman for president, with only three-quarters of Americans saying they would vote for a gay/lesbian person for president, and only two-thirds saying they would vote for a Muslim person for president. Obviously the role of president and the role of a member of congress are vastly different, but this just proves the theory that people will choose to not vote for someone based on a single characteristic of that person that has no real-world impact on their ability to govern.
Though updating voting rights is a crucial part of solving much of this problem (e.g., making sure black people really have 13% of the vote), it isn’t a long term fix for anything, and it doesn’t even really solve the initial problem as much as it just makes the solution a little clearer.
There are two parts of the solution to this problem that we can actively partake in.
The first part of the solution is a messaging one: we have to promote the idea that everyone has an equal capacity to govern. Even after significant progress has been made in the realm of civil rights since the original signing of the constitution, stigmas surrounding minorities and women persist that don’t actually prove to be true.
We have to get on board with the idea that just because a lesbian woman might not represent you in identity, that doesn’t reduce their ability to argue for the things you believe in. We might disagree on the details of legal abortion, but we have to tear down the idea that women generally support abortion more than men do (because they don’t). We have to take a broad look at the reasons people might find some candidates unfit for office due to their identity, and ask if that actually has any bearing on their ability to represent you, because it almost always doesn’t.
The second part of the solution is taking an active role in supporting those campaigns for minorities and women that are qualified for their jobs. This doesn’t just mean voting for a representative in your district that represents a minority — in fact, that kind of identity politics isn’t helpful for anyone in the end.
What it really means, rather, is putting money and volunteer time towards candidates who are truly qualified to represent their district, but might not have the demographic math on their side. A middle-eastern woman in Iowa can be completely and entirely qualified for her job in the US House of Representatives, so we have to make sure that we help her win that race with the full knowledge that it’s an uphill battle for her.
(A side note on money in politics: There is often an icky feeling that is related to the often sickening amounts of money put into politics in the US. While in many ways this is certainly valid, donating to campaigns outside of your district is a different form of democracy protected under the first amendment. Your vote is one way to make a difference in your district, but your time and money is how you can make a difference outside of it.)
This also takes the role of working to have those minority candidates on both sides of the ticket. Returning to the example of Stephanie Bice in Oklahoma, she went counter to the probabilities afforded to her. She’s an Iranian-American, Republican woman — from a demographic standpoint, she isn’t likely to win in Oklahoma. Yet after six years in the state legislature she is entirely qualified for the role that she ultimately won as a US Representative.
The point is that often times minorities don’t win races because they aren’t supported on all sides, not because they have some inherent aptitude for loss or because they aren’t qualified. Both sides of the ticket have a responsibility to find and run qualified minority candidates in an effort to even the scales that have been tipped in favor of the white man since the founding of the country.
What We Can Do
The first thing we can do is to make sure we are actively paying attention to our own individual language, our own messaging per se, and verifying that we aren’t contributing to stereotypes that reduce chances for women and minorities. Additionally, correcting others when you hear them contributing to those stereotypes is important to making sure people realize their own subconscious biases. Almost no one actually wants to be racist, sexist, or xenophobic in any way; they just don’t often realize that’s what they’re doing when they make comments they probably shouldn’t make.
As cliché as it might sound, getting involved is the other major thing we can all do. We can’t all do everything or help everyone, but finding a single candidate that you really like as a candidate and who represents an under represented minority group — even if that candidate is out of your district or even out of your state — and donating your time and money to ensuring they get into office is a huge deal. You don’t have to sacrifice your beliefs to help someone who deserves a job they’re running for, you just have to be willing to find that person.
Underrepresentation is a problem, but what is even more problematic are entire swaths of the country being represented by people that don’t relate to their lived experiences. The perfect world that has demographics being represented in congress to the percentage point might never come, but we can each do our part in making sure that the moral arc of history bends towards that justice.
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Within the regular bounds of Paris, there are few places from which a high-rise look is available. The Eiffel Tower is a classic high rise spot to view the city, as is the Montparnasse Tower, but there is one spot that is undeniably a bit more refined, a bit more authentic; that place is Montmartre. The hill is the closest thing there is to a mountain in Paris, so it’s not surprising that it holds one of the best views of the city, but what might be a little more surprising is just how lovely the mountain of the martyr actually is.
The Sacré Coeur
The most famous thing that Montmartre is known for is for the Sacré Coeur Basilica (Sacred Heart in English), a massive cathedral built on the hill in the late 19th century. The cathedral is relatively young, considering the Notre Dame de Paris was built in the 12th century, but it clearly shows in its architecture. The Sacré Coeur is a multi-tiered masterpiece with six domed peaks sticking up out of it. On either side of the three-arched entrance is an equestrian statue, one of Joan of Arc, and the other of King Saint Louis IX.
The Sacré Coeur is a completely unforgettable sight to behold. The cathedral is magnificent both inside and out, and the building itself strikes me as particularly unique. The white brick that is so apparent from the outside is almost shocking to come across, and the gold that floats around the interior decorations is not only gorgeous, but tasteful instead of purely luxurious. The cathedral sticks up over almost everything else in the area, and its presence is known by everyone there in a sort of pleasing and reassuring way.
There is assuredly another aspect of being at this cathedral that makes it so unforgettable, and that’s the view. The entirety of Montmartre is known for the view, but the Sacré Coeur is located in the prime spot to be able to take advantage of it. In front of the cathedral lies two plazas; one directly in front, a wide staircase that goes down a couple of flights, and the second one below. These plazas make excellent stages for street performers of all kinds, be they dancers, singers, or small bands. It also serves as a sort of marketplace for street vendors, who sell little light up statues and keychains to tourists.
This spot, in my opinion, serves as a summary for what Paris is about today. The cathedral emerging overtop everything reminds you the roots from which western culture was born, and that the influence of the church will never truly fade. The plaza in front, however, shows you more of what day to day life is all about in Paris. There is a bit of fun going on, maybe some music or a nice show, but there is also the humble recognition that Paris is a place that attracts lots of tourists, and that in one way or another Paris must profit (thus, the street vendors). The view of the city reminds you that you are taking part in something huge, but then you look at the crowd around you, and feel like you can also be part of a single small moment. It is a profound feeling to just stand and enjoy the view, and is completely unparalleled by anything I’ve ever experienced elsewhere.
Place du Tertre
If you go around the cathedral and take the very natural and attractive roads back to it, you will come across the Place du Tertre. Meaning Plaza of the Hill in English, this little plaza makes you understand the reason people stay in Paris. The plaza is home to bunches of little stands selling crêpes and waffles, gift shops selling berets and scarves, and restaurants that let you sit in the garden and enjoy a nice croque monsieur.
Of course, the plaza would not be what it is if it were merely a collection of gift shops and crêpe stands; what would Paris itself be if not for that? The plaza and the surrounding streets are also home to artists galore. Some want to paint your portrait, some want to paint the scenery, but all of them are there because they are pursuing a legitimate path in art. Some of the greatest painters of all time lived in or around the plaza, with names like Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Renoir being among the tenants of the past.
The plaza is, in a word, lovely. It’s difficult to describe one thing that makes it better than any other plaza in Paris, but that’s just the problem, because there isn’t one thing that makes it better. The smell of fresh croissants wafts just a little bit stronger through the streets, the lights glow just a little bit warmer under the canopies, and the people seem just a little bit happier to be existing at all when being there. There isn’t one massive thing that makes the Place du Tertre such a lovely location; there are a million little things that just remind you of all the good things in the world.
Montmartre is truly one of the best places to visit if you’re in Paris, and even if you have a limited amount of time for it, find the time to go to these two places. You can make it through them both in a couple of hours, but you will come out decades happier. Keep in mind that it is certainly a tourist area, so keep an eye out for pickpockets and you might have to shoo away some very determined painters who have decided you to be the subject of their next painting (of course, assuming you’ll buy it), but it is completely worth it to enjoy yourself with a nice café and a warm crêpe, and just imagine for a moment that there is nothing wrong with the world.
(NOTE: Photos taken by Ben Patterson were taken on the same day at the same time as I was there. Sometimes it pays to have a friend who takes more pictures than you do, and I learned that lesson on this visit to Montmartre.)
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In 2019 I had the opportunity to spend two weeks attending a French high school in Amiens, France. While there, I was able to study how students use social media, and more importantly, how social media plays a role in modern day cultural diffusion. It’s no secret that the internet connects us like never before, but the importance of this responsibility is that we must be able to use the internet properly, to use it as a form of effective and efficient communication. The youth have clearly proven that this is possible, so I decided I wanted to know what made a post effective across cultural barriers.
Social Media Defined
For the sake of my research, I defined social media as the series of online platforms designed to promote the spread of ideas among people with common ideas or interests, usually via text, photos, or videos. Most forms of social media that one thinks of fit this description, but this definition is also broad enough to include platforms like YouTube, which are less often seen as social media. I argue that because anyone is able to post, there is a like and comment system, and there is a subscription system, YouTube is not fundamentally different from Instagram, other than the fact that posts on YouTube are primarily videos. The major exclusion that I made was platforms designed solely for messaging, like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. I did not exclude platforms that had this feature baked into the rest of the features.
My main source of quantitative data for my research was a survey that I had students fill out both in France and at my alma mater high school here in Oklahoma. This survey was provided in the appropriate language, so as to reduce language barrier issues, and it was sent out to as varied of a student body as I could possibly manage to distribute it to. By the end of the project, I received over 130 submissions between American and French students.
I also was fortunate enough to have a second phone that I was able to set up while in France, with a French sim card, and French accounts. The idea behind this was that it would allow not only my geography to appear as entirely French, but also my language of origin, meaning that I would appear more like a French teen than I would an American one when creating social media accounts. The goal of this endeavor was to explore the ways data would be presented to the average French teenager. This provided me mostly qualitative data that shaped my study.
The first real correlation I noticed was the different specific platforms that were widely used among teens. More than 73% of the students surveyed use at least one of the top three most popular social media platforms: Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube.
The interesting thing that these three platforms have in common is that they all three require visual media for a user to post. Other popular social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit do not have this visual requirement, and therefore tend to be less appealing.
I think there is also something to be said about attention span here. While many people in older generations use social media platforms intentionally, the younger generations tend to use them to pass the time. This means that younger users tend to want their information as concisely as possible, and an image tends to be the best way of doing that. When it comes to scrolling through your phone while bored and without intention, speed is the name of the game, and these platforms nail that.
That being said, text is not at all disregarded in these platforms. In fact, without a text element, it is worth questioning if a photo can be social at all. For Instagram and YouTube, there are both descriptions of a post, as well as an interactive comments section. Snapchat takes a different approach, making contact a bit more one on one, only allowing users to reply directly to the person who made a post, instead of commenting on the post for everyone to see. It’s clear that photos or videos alone are insufficient to telling the whole story most of the time, so text is vital for these platforms.
The other important thing I measured was how much cultural influence from the opposite country a post on these platforms would tend to be. Instagram came out as being the most influential to both American and French teens by a massive margin, with 44.6% of American teens saying it was the platform they felt the most French influence in, and 42.9% of French teens saying the reverse.
With such a heavy emphasis on photos, this starts to make sense, but the gap between Instagram and another visual media based platform like YouTube is not explained by the appeal of visual content alone. The difference between Instagram and everything else is that the story you tell within a post is not told through language, but rather by your photo or video content alone. Comments, captions, and chats are language features, but they aren’t the point of the content. The language content in an Instagram post does not take away the spotlight from the photography that is truly telling the story. This emphasis on photos and visual content rather than language-based media means that content can be consumed at a more rapid pace, and more importantly, has very few interactions with the language barrier that so many other social media forms run into.
With the emphasis that can be seen on visual based media, it makes sense that the top two categories in which teens see the most foreign influence, fashion and cinema, are both visual arts.
The thing that strikes me as funny here is that the top two categories fit quite nicely into the clichés each country has of the other. Many Americans think of Paris as the fashion capital of the world, the land of the artists and models, and conversely, many of the French see America as the land of Hollywood and New York City, where all the world’s best films are made.
The third most influential category, however, did throw me for a loop. While it seems somewhat intuitive that the French would be influenced heavily by American music at the massive rate to which it’s produced here, it intrigues me that such a high percentage of Americans see French music as an influential medium. When I started thinking about it, however, it does kind of make sense. Americans heard Louis Armstrong sing, “La Vie En Rose,” a song originally by Edith Piaf, and French influence in the jazz genre is huge. American children sing “Frère Jacques,” and even in the classical selections, we listen to Rochut, Debussy, and Ravel. French music does indeed permeate American music in ways I had never considered before this.
With Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube being the top social media forms, it’s easy to wonder why all of the hundreds of other social media forms haven’t struck the same chord with teenagers as these ones. A major reason of the success of these companies is their quick natured ability. Unlike some generations, teens rarely use social media to converse or discuss topics, but rather to share pieces of their lives with the world, and see what the world is doing with their lives. This means then, that the use of social media to students is not something with a predicted timeline; students use social media when it’s convenient, not when it’s scheduled. This results in the desire for as much info to get across at once, and if a picture is worth a thousand words, the big three social media giants are having people write to their heart’s content. With access to a camera within reach, and a stable internet connection, every teen out there can show the world exactly what they’re thinking without ever typing a word.
Visual based social media is popular among teens, regardless of the nationality, because of its ability to send a message, tell a story, or get a point across at a faster rate. Because of the popularity of this nonverbal and non-textual media, the language barrier no longer needs to be crossed when communicating with someone online. Instead, people can share interests with, follow, like, or otherwise interact with people from across the globe who might not speak the same language, and still communicate effectively without words at all. In addition, because there is no language barrier, French students who might or might not speak any English are much more likely to be heavily influenced by and exposed to American culture. Conversely, Americans are very unlikely to be very influenced by the the French culture, and will experience much less French society online. This can be explained by the vast amount of media produced by the United States as well as the lack of close proximity that the US has to a French-only speaking country, unlike the French, who live in close proximity to the UK.
People from around the world are focusing on the United States, and what we post online will be seen and interpreted to people who don’t always speak English, and it is crucial to recognize just how important our role as Americans is to the spread of ideas worldwide, on the internet and beyond it. We have the responsibility to act online as if someone is watching us, because more often than we realize, they are.
Shropshire, Jacob. “The Impact of the Internet on Cultural Diffusion Among French and American Students.”
Shropshire, Jacob. “The Impact of the Internet on Cultural Diffusion Among French and American Students.” 2019 Franco-American Fellows Research Presentations. 2019 Franco-American Fellows Research Presentations, Oklahoma City.
Even though it was over a year ago, I would like to give a monumental thank you to the Alliance Française of Oklahoma City, as well as L’Acadamie d’Amiens for sponsoring this research trip for myself as well as the 7 other youth researchers that I went with. Thank you to Mrs. Shaw, who put an innumerable amount of hours into organizing this trip for us. Thank you to the Lefebvre family for welcoming me into their home, and to the faculty of Lycée Delambre in Amiens for welcoming all of the fellows into their school. A thank you also goes to Mr. Harney, our chaperone for the trip, for introducing us with dignity to a culture different from our own. Lastly, thank you to the other fellows that were also given the opportunity to go on this trip for making it an experience that I have grown immensely from, and will certainly never forget.
If you have the ability and means, I humbly ask that you support the organizations that made my trip possible. They are fantastic groups who do amazing work for students who deserve captivating cultural immersion. (Links Below)
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