Sunday, September 28, 2014

10 reasons Seattle is better than Paris

Seattle Body Art 

The Emerald City vs. the City of Light. They have a lot of things in common these two, and not always good ones. Under *areas for improvement,* I could list their notoriously unpredictable, and depressing weather; traffic; parking; or the cost of living (as anyone trying to invest in real estate in King County, WA, or in downtown Paris can attest.) 

A lot is said, and written about Paris every day, in the social media, or in the press. Seattle may be a popular city, but many don't know much about it outside of the United States. Because I have lived and worked in Paris and Seattle for a long time, I thought it'd be fun to compare them (as much as one can compare cities with populations of 2.2 million and 650,000+)

The results are in: Seattle wins. Here are 10 reasons why Seattle is better than Paris.

#1: Seattle is a natural beauty. 

Paris may have world-renowned architecture, gardens, and urban landscape, it can't rival Seattle's outdoor life and majestic scenery. Everywhere you look, there are mountains, and water. From Mount Rainier (an ancient volcano,) to the Cascades or the Olympic mountain ranges; from the Puget Sound (an inlet of the Pacific Ocean,) to fresh water lakes, Lake Union, or Lake Washington, Seattle is the tree-hugger and outdoorsy type's paradise. Montmartre is a hill, not a mountain, and can you reach the slopes from Paris in less than 45 minutes? Mais non

Mount Rainier, the beloved local peak 
The Puget Sound 

# 2 Commuting is a lot more pleasant in Seattle than in Paris



# 3: Seattle watches better

Parisians, people-watching is not a sport! In Seattle, watching sports has been elevated to an art form. From kid sports (a major weekend activity,) to college or professional teams, Seahawks, Mariners or Sounders; on TV or at the local state-of-the art stadiums, Seattleites' favorite pastime is watching sports. 

Seahawks fans have a name "The 12th Man"

# 4: Had Hemingway known about Seattle's coffee culture, he would have never emigrated to Paris' Left Bank

This is the land of Starbucks. Need I say more? Here, coffee making takes time, creativity and craft. Baristas are smarter than software engineers. They have to, to understand local customers' challenging orders. "Can I get a 3-shot, non-caffeinated, half and half, non-fat, small moka latte, without the chocolate... but put some whip on top?" -- After such an order, you hope most people remember to say "please."

The original Starbucks store at Pike Place Market
The perfect café Latte (a local favorite)

# 5: Forget macarons, pains au chocolat and tarte Tatin: Seattle does sweets better!

Molly Moon's all organic, all local, all "green" ice cream has longer lines than the Ile St Louis' Berthillon. That's proof, right?


Forget fancy French pastries when you visit the Puyallup Fair - don't bother pronouncing it, just follow your GPS there - and sample a Funnel cake!

Yum. No doggie bag necessary, I am sure!

# 6: Seattle rules at salmon breeding/protecting/catching/cooking

Ever tried fishing in the Seine river? All you will catch is an old Louboutin shoe, the occasional [ugly tourist] corpse, and millions of silly little keys left behind by visitors after they hooked their love locks to Parisian bridges.

Well... In Seattle, you catch the most fabulous salmon. King Salmon, Sockeye, Coho, the list never ends. Salmon is on every menu in the Emerald City (except in coffee shops, because they have figured out that salmon lattes do not taste as good as pumpkin lattes.) Seattleites love salmon so much they built a fish ladder where local kids and their parents can watch the brave fish struggling against the current on their way in and out of town. 

Budding environmentalists wishing salmon "Bon Voyage" at the Fish Ladder 

Flying salmon (it does exist, in Seattle) is a big attraction at Pike Place Market!

#7: Forget Paris-Plages. Seattle has a real sand beach!

The first settlers landed in West Seattle, on Alki Beach. The rumour has it it was pouring down that day. Not to worry. They were a tough bunch. Today, only locals, tourists, and pirates, visit the beach. If only the Puget Sound was not so darn cold, we could almost swim there!

Alki Beach
Pirates landing on Alki Beach during SeaFair. Arrrgghhh!

#8: Parisians are too uptight. Seattleites are more relaxed.

It is not known who introduced flannel to Seattle. Doomed artist Kurt Cobain? Vampire covens tucked away on the Olympic Peninsula? No matter. Seattleites fight the constant dampness with fleece, and weatherproof clothing brands such as The North Face or Columbia. Forget Paris' les Galeries Lafayette or le Bon Marché! Locals shop at R.E.I., major purveyor of everything Northwest. 

REI: Temple of Northwest Style

#9: Paris dwells too much on the past. Seattle looks ahead.

Old Bridges. Gallo-Roman ruins. Time to dust things off, Paris: Urban planning in Seattle includes flexibility, and a willingness to move with the times. Out with the old, in with the new! Heck, after a devastating fire in the 19th century, the original city of Seattle had to be raised up by a couple of floors once it was discovered the city had been built on tidelands, and toilets often backed up at high tide! Not to worry. As explained in the fascinating Seattle Underground tour, the whole city was rebuilt, and elevated. It's amazing to visit Seattle's underground passageways today and realize those old tunnels, and windows, were once at street level! 

Seattle's Underground Tour: A must-see local attraction

Today, the urban-planning tradition à la Seattle endures. People are getting tired of this eye-sore known as the Alaskan Viaduct? Let's tear it down and reclaim Seattle's waterfront. The 520 bridge is unsafe? Let's raise funds and build a new bridge. 

Seattle's answer to Paris' la Tour Montparnasse: The Alaskan viaduct
The soon-to-be replaced 520 Evergreen Bridge
(Would you look at the gorgeous weather?)


#10: Seattleites are quirkier

They are a liberal bunch. They are pretty accepting of other people's quirky ways (unless said other people are conservatives.) They will do anything to save the planet. They are strangely attached to a bunch of interesting characters and places...

Paris thinks Love Locks are a problem:


Paris is lucky not to have to deal with Seattle's Gum Wall:


Somewhere in Seattle, there is giant troll, tucked away under a bridge. He is friendly and often poses for photos. (I personally believe he is just hiding from the rain, and like most Seattleites, hates using an umbrella.) 


In the same neighborhood, one can see a giant space rocket that points at the sky but never really goes anywhere. And a giant statue of Lenin, that is allegedly for sale, but nobody except Bill Gates could afford it, and besides, everyone has too much fun hanging out with old Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov.

Lenin and his friends

Well, in case you are not convinced yet that Seattle is better than Paris, consider this: Paris has the Eiffel Tower, but Seattle has the Space Needle. Even if they were both built to celebrate World Fairs, Elvis Presley only visited one of them and even shot a movie there. 

That's Elvis, and the Space Needle! 

In fact, some say Elvis has never left the building.

A bientôt.

Photo credits: 
Wikipedia Commons, unless otherwise noted 
-- French Girl in Seattle

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fromage is cheese in French

It's all Rick Steves' fault. Or should I say: It all happened thanks to Rick Steves?

On Saturday morning, I headed to Edmonds, WA, where I had reservations for a two-hour talk by Rick. Edmonds is his hometown, and the world headquarters of fast growing Rick Steves Europe. Rick has always lived and worked there. That's something incroyable for someone like me; who lived all over France with my family before I finally emigrated to the United States twenty years ago. 

Rick, of course, spends a good part of the year traveling. So, who could refuse a free, two-hour presentation (complete with a slide show,) where he shares his latest European travels? I - and the many people crammed in the old Edmonds theater, most of them "Rickniks" - were not disappointed. The two hours turned into almost three as Rick took us through Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, the UK, Switzerland, Germany, Eastern Europe, and more. It was almost like being there. 

One thing led to another, and by the time I left early afternoon, Rick's many photos of glorious European food specialties, restaurants and outdoor street markets, had made me ravenous. I headed home, and almost immediately, spotted a fancy supermarket on the side of the road. I decided that, in order to keep with the European theme, I was going to have a special celebration that evening. I left the store with a big paper bag full of goodies. My wallet, of course, felt a lot lighter. Have you noticed how expensive European - and French - food specialties are, in the United States? I decided I would have a special dinner, the same one I enjoyed with my girlfriends while working in Paris. That dinner, bien sûr, involved cheese and wine. Why waste time with superfluous stuff? Just go to the essentials!

It's no secret the French love their fromage. Cheese is an integral part of French life; the French culture; and even the French language.

President Charles de Gaulle famously expressed his frustration with the French by declaring: 

"Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a 246 variétés de fromage?"
(How can you govern a country with 246 varieties of cheese?"

Credit: Unknown

Le Général had a point. 

In daily life, when confronted with someone prone to exaggeration, and who has a tendency to make things sound worse than they are, a Frenchman might say: 

"Pas la peine d'en faire tout un fromage!
("No need to make cheese out of butter!" - a time-consuming process) 

Credit: Unknown

Another Frenchman might confide that he managed to convince someone to agree with him "entre la poire et le fromage;" (between pear and cheese,) referring to the relaxing time at the end of the French meal, when the cheese course is served and a pause is made before enjoying dessert. 

Credit: Moya

It turned out I had pear, and fromage for my celebration, and even an unexpected dessert. The only thing I could not find was my beloved baguette. Call me a French snob, but I'd rather do without bread than bite into that bland, colorless, chewy, baguette ersatz sold in many American supermarkets and even some local *French* bakeries. I figured if Parisians could survive four years of German Occupation without basic necessities, I can survive a few dinners without baguette. When in Rome... expats show flexibility.

The fun part was unpacking les victuailles (the good stuff.) Then, I picked my accessories carefully. Presentation matters. I give you, les amis, the recipe for a delicious and utterly enjoyable French cheese dinner... 

First, one needs a beautiful plateau à fromage, cheeseboard, or cheese tray. 

Let's not forget cheese knives, les couteaux à fromage, ideally one for les pâtes dures (hard cheese,) and one for les pâtes molles, (soft cheese.)  

Then, some pretty cheese plates, les assiettes à fromage. Mine were a gift from my mother-in-law. They were made in Paris many years ago, and the brand is Porcelaine d'Auteuil. French China at its finest. 


We need un bon vin. Sorry to disappoint you, but this French Girl doesn't know much about wine. I do, however, know French wines I really like. Le Cahors is one of them. 

My cheese selection for the petite party? Voilà, complete with cheese markers (I found them in Napa Valley, CA during my birthday celebration last spring and have been dying to use them...) 

A nice mixture of pâtes dures, pâtes molles, and pâtes persillées. Du Roquefort, of course, which I had to prepare the way my grandfather always did, a process involving salted French butter (Thank you, Albertson's for selling the excellent Beurre Président at such an affordable price!) 

Ready for the Roquefort-A-la-Georges-Cauquil-Senior? Here it is: 

Prepare equal parts of softened butter and Roquefort cheese, like so...

Combine cheese and butter to make a paste. Spread on baguette, or if stranded in [American] suburbia, on crackers. Enjoy!

Miam. Salted butter and cheese: How bad can that be?

What about dessert, some of you might ask? Well, it turns out I received one of my beloved care packages from France yesterday (I have wonderful parents!) I decided les fraises Tagada might have clashed with Monsieur Roquefort and his friends. Les Rocher Suchard, on the other hand, were the perfect match!

My friends will forgive me. I did not call them to share this feast. They know there will be other opportunities to enjoy a Dîner vin-fromage chez moi... Bon appétit, French Girl in Seattle !

A bientôt.

Thank you to Rick Steves, 
for sharing so much information and knowledge with such enthusiasm; 
for inspiring so many great trips and dreams; 
You have been my favorite link to Europe for almost twenty years.

All photos by French Girl in Seattle, unless otherwise noted.
Please do not use, reprint, or Pin without permission

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Revue de Presse (Press Review)

Like everyone in France keeps reminding me, c'est la rentrée. Summer is all but over. Time to head back to school, to work, to life as we know it. In the care package I received from my parents yesterday, I found an issue of Elle magazine: La Rentrée is also the time of the Fall fashion review. Jackpot. 

"Unexpected Rentrée:" Elle France loves mixing cultures, and languages.

France is changing, slowly but surely. That ad in Elle magazine announces two weeks of special sales at several malls around Paris. (Every good francophile knows that les Soldes -sales - are government-regulated in France; they only happen twice a year, and never in the Fall.)

Why don't I share some of my observations? You may find these tips useful when you put together your Fall wardrobe. 

First, Travel and Leisure. I bought it because of the cover (see above) and the promise of some scoops about Paris...

There weren't that many scoops, but the article is a good read. I learned where I could find French cuisine classics for example - but was a bit surprised that T&L editors do not know how to spell Boeuf bourguignon (a common mistake in international publications, mostly annoying to French natives.) Repeat after me, kids: Boeuf is male. The adjective that follows is, therefore, masculine. Bourguignon (not bourguignonne.) Voilà. Facile, non?

There was a shout out to several Parisian Star Pâtisseries. Among them, Sébastien Gaudard, in So-Pi (South Pigalle, in case you were wondering...) 

I can still taste the éclair au café I picked up chez Monsieur Gaudard this summer and later enjoyed in the peaceful garden of the Musée de la Vie Romantique... Absolute perfection.

(Photo French Girl in Seattle) 

Travel and Leisure gave me a wonderful idea for a Christmas gift (unless I decide not to wait and order the book next week.) 

But the French Elle magazine was waiting, and I started flipping the pages, grateful to my parents who probably spent the cost of thirty fancy pastries chez Sébastien Gaudard, to ship that monster of an issue to the United States.

Last week, I shared an article about Parisian women with the French Girl in Seattle Facebook community. Hadley Freeman, the author, ticked off by the constant stream of books and articles on the theme "French-women-do-it-better," wrote an entertaining piece and - scoop! - revealed the secret to being a Parisian woman:

1. Move to Paris
2. Speak French

Nicely tried, Hadley. But in my humble opinion, Parisian women wannabes need more insights into the lives of real French women. 

Case in point: For years,  French women, urban French women in particular - looking at you, les Parisiennes! - have been described as ethereal creatures, always impeccably dressed, who never part with their elegant escarpins (pumps,) even on snow-covered sidewalks. Bien sûr, over the years, the rule has relaxed a bit: Fashion gurus like Inès de la Fressange have shared their love for cute, colorful, more relaxed footwear. Converse-clad women of all ages are a common sight on Parisian sidewalks. Well. Wait until you see what French women are going to wear this fall. Let's just say this news is going to delight suburban moms everywhere. You know how they always tell you white, clunky sneakers are a big "no-no" in Paris (and major French cities?) Well... They still are. 

But take heart, you may actually be able to visit France with the sneakers you wear to run errands around the mall. Illustration.

(These photos probably caused Coco Chanel to roll in her grave this month.)

The Chanel sneaker: The most "Pop" shoe of the week, according to Elle
And only 850 Euros

Picture this scene: A horrified Mademoiselle decides to return from the Dead to ask Karl Lagerfeld, her successor, what he has been smoking lately. 
Karl weasels his way out of his well-deserved punishment and produces the following photo. No fewer than nine designers and brands came up with *new* handbag models clearly inspired by the iconic Chanel 2-55. Enraged, Coco forgives Karl - for now - and focuses instead on suing the whole lot. No one messes with Coco. Not even Karl

Chanel-inspired hands-free bags

Karl could argue that la maison Chanel is not the only brand featuring sneakers in their Fall collection. He would be right. 

Escarpin (I think,) by Dior

You have been warned, Parisian women wannabes. Would you like to know more? Pas de problème. This French Girl did all the research for you. 

This Fall, French women will wear a lot of grey. Grey is the color of Parisian skies nine months of the year, so we should get many different shades of that lovely color (pun intended.) 

There will be print too, on everything. This outfit was clearly inspired by Angelina Jolie's wedding gown. Did her kids draw these too? 

You will need a beautiful handbag. All French women have one (or two, or three.) This season, stay away from the Longchamp Le Pliage nylon bag. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has one in their closet. Instead, discover the new Longchamp Le Pliage Leather Heritage collection. Pourquoi pas? (even Coco might approve.) 

Finally, if your budget is limited, you could always invest in this cute t-shirt. It would accessorize très bien with those bright red sneakers you already wear every day. Le Chic à la Française. It says what it is. And nobody will question that you've got it, if it is written on a T-shirt, right?

Fortunately, as Elle magazine reminds us in this informative and colorful issue, it's always a good idea to know your classics... A woman can't go wrong when following trend-setters such as Lauren Bacall, or B.B. (Brigitte Bardot,) who turns 80 this month. Joyeux anniversaire, Brigitte !

And even if France, and French women are changing, it is good to know some myths are alive and well, and still embraced by many: designers, advertising agencies, and the general public. Long live la Mode, (Fashion.) It will keep us all talking. 

A bientôt.

All photos unless otherwise noted,
by Travel and Leisure, September 2014, 
Elle Magazine Special Mode, August 29, 2014.

Further reading: the French woman

If you really, really want to know what makes a French woman so... French, read this  story I wrote last year. Let me know what you think!