why americans are fat and parisians aren’t

Today I will address one of the most infamous paradoxes in Parisian culture: the superskinny French woman.

France, in a single superlative, is the gustatory capital of the world. Paris reflects this fact with an endless supply of cafés, restaurants, bistros, patisseries, brasseries, charcuteries, you name it. If there’s a Starbucks on every corner in Manhattan, there’s a place to eat on every block in Paris– more if the block is longer than 100 feet. I’m impressed at how so many of them can stay in business when they’re competing with three or four similar places across the street.

Despite this constant deluge of food, the body types of most Parisian women can be loosely classified into three categories: thin but voluptuous, thin, and skinny as a Japanese rock star. What the hell?

You see tons of very thin, good-looking yuppies on the streets of New York as well, but there the stick-thin population is offset by a close-to-equal number of older or overweight New Yorkers. (And Paris has a larger number of better-looking metrosexual guys in general.) The only other place where I’ve seen such a high skinny-to-fat ratio is in Japan, but that’s only because the people who *are* fat in Japan never leave their house. (See hikikomori.)

So are Parisians just naturally thin? Is it because each Métro station has a dizzying amount of stairs? Is it really because of the wine and the sex?

There’s definitely something in their diet that contributes to this, as I haven’t seen a single gym since I got here (though my host mother swears she goes to one once a week), and the walking alone couldn’t possibly make up for all the calories.

The culture, though, is probably where it’s at. Media pressure to be skinny aside, French people rarely eat unless they’re sitting down. When they do eat, the meal can take two hours, even at home. This allows for some discussion (and, most of the time, appreciation and savoring) of the food. You can always spot a tourist when they have a cheeseburger or something similarly substantial in hand and proceed to consume it while walking or while they’re on the Métro. (Btw, don’t ever eat on the Métro unless you’re hypoglycemic or dehydrated and about to pass out.)

Sure, there are ice cream vendors and crepe stands, but unless you’re under the age of twenty, avoid walking while eating them. This is also from a practical standpoint: food is messy. Parisians are fashion-conscious. You don’t want to walk around all day with an ice cream stain on your shirt.

Speaking of ice cream, be sure to try out a few new flavors if you’re ever in Paris. (Just don’t be like me and try them at the 5-euro ice cream stand at the entrance of the Jardin du Luxembourg.) They’ve got vanilla and chocolate, all right, but also things like chestnut cream, lychee cream, ginger, lavender, and rose. Yes, rose. I’ll give you an ice cream/sorbet report soon, since the weather is rapidly going from biting cold to hot and humid. Just like New York!


1 Response to “why americans are fat and parisians aren’t”

  1. 1 living on twenty euros this week « transitory residence Trackback on May 2, 2007 at 11:22 am

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This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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