Paris Versus New York
Arriving back in the U.S. is always a culture shock.
This one began in line at passport control at JFK with a rude, unhappy New Yorker who barked at me for what reason I still don’t know — to which I smiled broadly recognizing the cultural clash. It always takes a while before I settle into the harsh and different world.
I brought Erica a small gift of a new book out on the bookstore shelves called Paris versus New York: a Tally of Two Cities by Vahram Muratyan, which cleverly outlines the dichotomies of the two cities in great graphics and titles. We laughed and awed and wandered through it agreeing with most all of the author’s observations. It points out the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly and the juxtaposition of both cities.
Starbucks becomes my office in New York. In the mornings it is my habit to go to the one at the Christopher Street subway station while my daughter sleeps in late. In typical American fashion, the tables are lined up along a back wall that has an electrical plug every few feet and the WiFi is free. It’s the office for many others, too, as a result.
While lots of the cafés in Paris offer free WiFi, many will suspend the service during peak dining periods so that their customers won’t overstay their welcomes by taking up a table over just a cup of coffee. One Sunday afternoon in Paris the server at the café I frequent the most actually told me I wasn’t welcome to stay and work on the computer regardless of the fact I was ordering a meal. This is now the LAST café on the street to get my business. Clearly, this is one of those dichotomies Muratyan could have illustrated.
While pounding away on this Nouvellettre®, in walked the daughter of a college buddy of mine with whom we had a rendez-vous later in the day — totally coincidental! Imagine our surprise to find each other there “par hazard” and we agreed that Starbucks can sometimes feel like the center of the universe (in spite of its bad coffee).
With each visit to the Big Apple comes a visit to certain stores that exemplify American consumerism. “Bed Bath & Beyond” on 6th Avenue (between 18th and 19th Streets) is high on our list of ‘must visits.’ Each time we’re there, the “Beyond” goes further “beyond” than the last time. It’s almost impossible to maneuver the large carts down the aisles they are so packed with merchandise. Every gadget in the world seems to be on their shelves and now they have expanded into packaged food items and cosmetics. It’s one-stop shopping to the Nth degree. Wal-mart, Target, K-Mart…watch out — you have a serious competitor.
We chuckle as we compare the American ‘super market’ system of loading your cart and checking out at the cash register compared to…let’s say…the “BHV” where a salesperson gives you a ticket for the item you want to purchase, you then go to one of the cash registers located on every floor, pay for the item and then return to the department where it awaits your collecting it. No doubt, we know who sells more goods per square foot (or meter).
When we spotted an item on sale at “BB&B” $20 more than at “Home Depot,” we were not only ABLE to ASK if they could match the price, they DID, without blinking an eye. My daughter remarked, “This is what I like about the good ol’ American viewpoint on customer service — they consider the ‘customer,’ not just the ‘sale.'” And of course, we must agree. Still, there’s an awful lot of ‘stuff’ that people don’t need, but buy, that ends up filling their big houses and later the garbage dumps.
Before heading to China Town for the traditional Jewish Christmas dinner, we stopped at the new boutique of Jay Kos, a young men’s wear designer for whom my daughter provides photography and Web marketing services. Kos is a much talked-about eccentric New York trend-setting icon who marries food and fashion in the most “haute de gamme” way. His new store on Mott Street at Houston (number 293) is part diner with a green glass and stainless steel kitchen at which Kos is known to ‘whip something up’ for a customer…that currently has stacks of beaver-skin fedoras in many colors on the shelves in place of spices.
The shop is not really of men’s wear — more, it’s a cornucopia of ‘wearable art’ than clothing for clothing’s sake with price tags that are not for the faint of heart. The Jay Kos super soft chamois gloves arranged in a circle on the green glass counter — $595 per pair. The violet suede baseball jacket — $5,500. Pick a fedora — $350. And that’s just the beginning. What Kos does with exotic leathers such as snakeskin, alligator and ostrich to fashion tight pants and sexy jackets is what my daughter says “makes a woman want to be a man”…just to be able to wear his beautiful creations.
Joe’s Shanghai in China Town is where we headed for dinner. There was a 20-minute wait and the restaurant of 130 (maximum seating) was packed with…just Jews and Chinese. It was almost a joke — there were so many people who could have been relatives ordering up dumplings and any other specialty on Christmas Eve. They don’t waste a single seat, so we shared a table for five with three young people who had come from New Jersey just for the treat, one of whom was headed for a year in Israel the next day. They asked us what movie we’d be going to see (another tradition for Jews on Christmas). “Midnight in Paris,” of course!…on our TV at home…the DVD newly ordered and received thanks to Amazon.com. For more information about Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant, visit Joe’s Shanghai Restaurants.
New York is the deadest I’ve ever seen it — a ghost town sort of like Paris is on August 15th. There are few cars and taxis on the streets and the normal roar of the city has been cut by two-thirds, at least. The small boutiques on Christmas Eve were void of shoppers, while the ‘big boys’ such as Best Buy were attracting all that were left to purchase those last few gifts. It’s a pleasure, New York City at a whisper.
Christmas Day we slept late, heard not a sound from the street as usual, then trekked by subway to Brooklyn. This is where my sister’s daughter entertained friends by serving course after course of gourmet goodies, all whipped up on her own in her and her husband’s loft-like three-story home/building.
Today we will attend a service for the passing of Erica’s young 30 year-old cousin. It’s one of those dichotomies of pain and pleasure — the pain of the loss shared with others to become the pleasure of our memories.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
(with Erica Simone at Joes’ Shanghai)
P.S. If Get ready for 2012. Plan on attending Parler Paris Après Midi on Tuesday, January 10th from 3 to 5 p.m. when Julie Vetter speaks about “Inbound Marketing and the Laws of Attraction.” Visit Parler Paris Après Midi for more information…
And come for King Cake and conversation at the Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group on Saturday, January 14th — when we’ll celebrate the New Year over Galette des Rois with Vin Chaud. It’s an opportunity to make new friends, practice speaking French and English and get to know the members, plus get 12 sessions for the price of 10, 24 sessions for the price of 20 when you sign up that day! Your first time is free. Visit Parler Parlor for more information.