I just got back from another trip to Paris and outer France, and had a few random observations.
- The view from the states is that Europe is on edge due to the fear of terrorism, but in the various neighborhoods I visited, I saw no evidence of concern. Parisian cafe’s are as bustling as ever, and the parks are filled with locals enjoying the outdoors. Maybe it is boiling under the surface, but by my eye, Paris is as vibrant and friendly as ever. I know Paris has a reputation (“Paris would be great, except for all the Parisians.”) – but I can’t say I buy into that. Have always enjoyed the atmosphere.
- The public market culture in Europe still surprises me. Throughout Europe, in all the towns (include Paris), there are days where markets appear in the public square where people do their shopping:No big box stores, every morning the Boulangeries are full of locals buying bread, every town seems to have a butcher to buy meat, and when the market comes to town the townspeople come out. It seems an anachronism in this day and age, but the model appears to be working. However, more towns are seeing more supermarket style stores in them, and the crowds in there seem younger, so maybe this style of retail will give way to the central supermarket. I think that would be a shame.
- Cigarette smoking is still very prevalent. In the US< many states have banned smoking in bars, restaurants, and in public places. It has really seemed to cut down on it. In Paris, you can only smoke outside - however that takes away from the enjoyment of sitting in an outdoor cafe, where you periodically get buffeted by waves of smoke. Its also concerning that the vast number of smokers were under 30, so its a problem that appears to be getting worse. I hope the take America's lead on that - I never thought America would make progress in that area.
- As always, I try to pay attention to see if the small storefront culture of Europe is healthy. In previous posts I have mentioned my concern that online shopping may kill the local shops here. I was pleasantly surprised how few empty storefronts there were in Paris. I can’t say the shops were full of people, but at least there weren’t many empty retail spots for rent. Also didn’t see a lot of UPS or FedEx style delivery vans doing retail deliveries. So in the heart of Paris, the retail apocalypse seen in many areas of the US does not seem to appear here.
- Traffic is worse than ever. From my youth I remember hearing that Europe was not as much of a car-centric culture as America, but now I don’t believe it. Even in as big a city of Paris, it seems like more city dwellers own cars then in America. Maybe because Paris is so sprawling and did not grow around interstate arterials, it is a quagmire of cars. Also, because the retail environment here is built around small shops and local produce, delivery trucks further clog the roadways in the inner city. I can see why many European cities are looking at different ways to restrict inner city traffic, it currently is kind of a mess.
- I happened to be in France in the first days of the GDPR – the European data protection regulation. As a software developer, this is been annoying to have to be involved with all the privacy changes – but as an internet user, I think its a step in the right direction. Every site I went to in Europe asked in in clear and consistent language what level of tracking I wanted on the site. If I opted out of all, some sites would show me all the ad networks it had to contact to get my data un-tracked. It also got me thinking when I opted out – what benefits are there to being tracked? OK, the argument would be contextual based ads, but the current ad algorithms are pretty poor at providing useful ads. At any rate, before my trip to Europe, I may have had the opinion that the GDPR is a waste of time – but after seeing it in use, I think it will raise the visibility to all internet users of all the tracking that is going on.
It’s always refreshing to spend some time outside of the US to get a different perspective on the world. It is easy to live in the bubble of our daily lives and not see issues other countries have and how other cultures solve problems, so I recommend to anybody occasional travel – to a foreign country or even a distant state, to re-invigorate the mind.