Dinner in Paris
Hi…..I had the pleasure of seeing some friends this week, whom I haven’t seen in about 10 years. They live in a different city, we used to have work involvements together, and they retired very young, and time just slid by without our seeing each other. But like truly great friendships, when our paths crossed during a trip they made to Paris, it was just like old times and we spent the evening catching up about life, what we’ve been doing, our kids. And we had a great evening, and hope to see each other again sooner than in another ten years!! And in the course of the evening, they asked me about my life in Paris, and why is it more fun for me than the time I spend in San Francisco, and why do I like it here. Questions like that always make you take stock, but Paris is an easy city to explain. For one thing, Paris is so incredibly beautiful, there is something beautiful to look at on every corner, and everywhere you look. The Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night, the boats drifting on the river on a warm summer night, the charm of so many neighborhoods, tiny parks and places, the history and the architecture. San Francisco has great natural beauty, the bay, the hills and mountains, and it has its own appealing architecture. And it’s really not fair to compare a small city with a big one. San Francisco has a lot to offer if you’re outdoorsy and athletic, which I’m not. I’m more of an indoor person, or a city person, so all the hikes and walks and sports it offers are kind of wasted on me. And it’s a sleepy town in many ways. If I invite friends to dinner in San Francisco, they like to eat earlier than Europeans, and by 10pm, or earlier, everyone goes home. Europeans eat later, stay at the table forever, having intense discussions, often about politics or other serious subjects, and they stay late (like til 1:30 in the morning on a weekday, or later). And for a night owl like me, I enjoy those long late talky nights with friends. I love my home in San Francisco, and the fact that several of my children live in that city, which draws me back there like a homing pigeon or a mother hen, but I run out of things to do there, other than work. And I work very intensely in San Francisco, most of the time 18 or 20 hour days. In Paris, there is always an exhibit, a gallery I want to see, an auction house I love pawing through, an art or antique fair. In population, Paris is roughly ten times the size of San Francisco, so it’s really not fair to compare them, and people entertain more in France. I get invited to dinner at friends’ homes several times a week in Paris, for relaxed fun evenings among friends. Americans don’t entertain at home as much, and that kind of warm opportunity to spend time with friends is part of the quality of life in Europe, which I enjoy. And having grown up in Europe a lot of the time, gone to French schools all my life, and having had European parents, France is very familiar to me. I tried to explain that to the friends I saw the other night, but it’s always hard to put words to the atmosphere of a city. And then, the following night, I had dinner at good friends’ house, and it was a perfect illustration of everything I had been trying to say the night before.
There were 14 friends gathered for dinner in a casual atmosphere, but everyone made an effort to look nice without going all out (some wore jeans, some wore dresses, nothing fancy, but just a change of clothes at the end of the day). The host cooked our dinner, and their really adorable children (age 3, 6 and 9) helped serve the hors d’oeuvres, and then they quietly went to bed, when we moved to the dinner table, at close to 10pm. French people work til about 7 or 7:30 pm, so dinners start late, but no one seems to hesitate about going out on work nights. The dinner was delicious and the conversation lively. The group was eclectic and very international. There were French, German, Italian, Russian, Japanese and Chinese people at dinner. And French, German, Italian and Japanese were spoken at the dinner table. With countries so close together in Europe, people tend to speak a lot of languages, and the mix of nationalities adds spice to an evening. The age range of the guests was from 26 to 65, which also happens a lot in Europe, you don’t just meet people of one age group socially, people aren’t afraid to invite older or younger guests, and it makes for an interesting mix and different points of view, people just starting out in business or their careers, and those with more experience. There were all kinds of careers, a Japanese TV personality, and a Chinese journalist, two writers, real estate, fashion, the perfume business, and one of the main organizers of the White Dinner I’ve told you about. Everyone had different interests and brought something to the table, so to speak. I had a fascinating conversation with the woman in the perfume business, and learned all kinds of new things about it. We laughed and talked and sat at the table until 1 am, which is pretty typical, and then our hosts hooked up their IPod and we all danced in their living room, which happens every time we go to their house. It was silly and fun, and a really fun evening, and we danced until 2 am (on a Thursday night), and everyone had to go to work the next day, but no one complained, we were having too much fun. And then we all went home after a warm friendly evening, meeting interesting new people, sharing common ideas, and learning about new things. I had a ball, and I think everyone else did too. It’s the kind of evening that makes you smile the next day when you think about it, as you get through a busy or even aggravating work day. Evenings like that are part of the quality of life, where you are not just working or doing business, or struggling with the world. It is wonderful to take time out (even if you’re tired the next day), and just have a great time with friends. And it’s part of why I love Paris, aside from the beauty of the city or the atmosphere there, it’s those special moments with friends, where nothing else seems to matter and no matter how tough your day was, you forget about it for a while and just have a good time. Not every evening is as much fun as that, or just clicks as well, and not everyone in Paris is having friends dance in their living room until 2 am. But even on quieter evenings, the atmosphere is warm, the people are usually interesting, and the conversations are thoughtful and enlightening. It adds joy to my life, which is a very, very nice thing, and for me it’s a great counterpoint to how hard I work most of the time, and a wonderful break, in a solitary profession, where I work alone and am isolated from others while I do. So evenings like the one I just described fuel me for those solitary times at my typewriter, and it is so much fun to spend an evening like that with old and new friends. So I guess that’s part of why I love Paris, and it always makes me feel lucky to be here. It was a wonderful evening.
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This post reminds me of the time I spend with friends. Here in Spain we also love gathering around the table, the time of the day isn’t the main point (lunch, dinner, a cup of tea or coffee,…) as long as we are with people whose company we enjoy.
Last week I had dinner with a group of friends who meet every week to speak in English. We had a great time and from it came another appointment for the following evening to make a tour on foot around Toledo. That was magic!
Thank you very much for this blog. Take care.
Danielle, do French people also spend entire time staring at their iPhones at these evenings, the way they do it here??
You’ve ventured into art, music and fiction. I think it’s time you came out with your own scent. So many celebrities have their own perfume with their name on it. You could call it “Danielle”. I think it would be a big hit. Think about it.
Oh this blog made me feel homesick…. I am Dutch and live in Melbourne Australia. Dinner parties are not quite the same here too. Almost the same as the difference between the Staes and France…. Thank you for your blogs (and of course your books) I enjoy both very much!
Take care and kind regards, Margaretha
Makes perfect sense–Paris is your childhood home. The culture is different from SF and if I spoke several languages like you do, I’d feel the same way. The evening you described sounds divine.
Dear Danielle: I love reading your books–I’m on FIRST SIGHT now–and I’m loving it!Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you just by trying to traverse the six lanes around the Arc de Triomphe? That is some experience. Thank goodness my husband is a very good driver and isn’t easily flustered when driving through Europe. I had my hands to my face many times! LOL Happy AND safe travels for you! Sharon D.
Will you ever have a “Writers’ Seminar”(in Paris)for women who have a dream of writing and publishing a novel?…Barbara Cartland did that one time, and I am sad to say I missed it…I am reading your book “Betrayal” and love it…
Sincerely…Bonnie…(I just returned from Paris where we took our 16 year old granddaughter on a
fantastic tour to: London & Paris & Venice & Rome.
She is a lucky girl)…
I just discovered your blog and this post about Paris reminded me how much I liked ‘Legacy’.It was such a compelling story especially the character of Wachiwi.I enjoyed it greatly.Thank you..