What the French can do very well is breakfast. I’m not so sure they can get the coffee right though. My weekend in Paris was an interesting contrast to Rome. Of course, I’m biased: I adore Italy and the Italians, despite the fact that I would say the following:

  • the people of Rome have ‘tude – that is Attitude. Note the capital A. It’s like they finished building the Colosseum, decided to have a cappuccino or two and are still on their coffee break. The attitude is – we built these fantastic historical monuments; gave the world Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire; dazzled the ancient world with inventions such as aqueducts and bridges that are still functioning – now piss off, leave us alone, we can rest on our laurels. No wonder they founded the Roman Empire!
  • the Italians need to learn more English. This must be the only country in Europe where I regularly come across people who cannot utter ONE WORD in English. Even the north of Portugal can do better! The French I came across in Paris this last weekend were pretty well fluent in Anglais. Last time I looked, Italian is not the diplomatic language nor is it the most widely-spoken language in the world. English is now the world language, like it or not.
  • the Italians need to give up on the smoking. Especially the women. I’ve never seen such a bunch of people who can smoke so much. It’s not a great look to see an attractive, stylishly-dressed woman whizzing by on a Vespa with a fag hanging out her mouth. Obviously, the smoking can cause cancer message has not reached Italy or the Italians are ignoring it. Yep, I did see some French ladies puffing away but nowhere near as much as the Italians.
  • I’m 50/50 on what I’m about to say – I do think the Italian women dress stylishly but it’s on the borderline of street-prostitute look sometimes. Italy is a macho society. No doubt about it. I’m well-used to Italian men barging towards a shop door without stepping back to let me in. I’m also used to seeing Italian men openly ogle a woman. The latter behaviour would end up in a heated cat fight in Australia or New Zealand I’d suggest. And I’ve been told that Italian women dress to please the men. If that’s the case, then don’t ask me – as one Italian woman did at work – why women here may not get promoted. Ah, that would be because you dress for work with your boobs hanging out of a tight, low cut top and teetering around the office in sky-high heels that purposely make your bottom wriggle a’la Marilyn Monroe! How do you expect to be taken seriously in the business world?

Back to the French. My observations over the weekend lead me to conclude that the French do the following very well.

  • they can whip up a tasty baguette or croissant for breakfast and plonk it on a well-dressed table. I enjoyed a red and white-checked table cloth; a lace table cloth; butter presented in gorgeous swirls; coffee served up in a silver pot accompanied by a small jug of hot milk; jam spooned into little crystal dishes – all in the space of 48 hours. In Italy, you usually stand at the counter of a cafe to have your morning cappuccino and cornetto or ciambella. I do have to say the Italians absolutely win hands down when it comes to coffee – I only had one decent coffee in Paris and a cappuccino I had was just plain awful.
  • the French women can dress equally as well as the Italian ladies. They possibly have the edge because they dress with understated, effortless elegance. A pearl necklace complements a simple pair of linen pants and a beautifully tailored jacket. A sparkling pair of Swarovski crystal earrings highlight a chic hairdo. Now that I think about it, the Italian women possibly overdo the bright accessories whereas the French women keep it simple. I’m laughing now because I remember my grandmother’s advice: get dressed in the morning, then get rid of two or three items you’ve festooned yourself with. My grandmother was of French descent with her maiden-name being Gallichan.
  • The French are quieter. I know this is cultural but the thing about Rome is that it’s chaotic and loud. I never really hear Italians talking quietly. It’s all about the dramatic hand-gestures and the musicality of the Italian language with a few Mama mias thrown in for good measure; it’s about the crazy Italian drivers who honk their horns because they’re annoyed that a pedestrian dares to gingerly cross the road in the face of speeding cars. For me, this is all part of the attraction and vibrancy of Rome. But I have to admit a weekend in Paris was far quieter and a welcome change of pace. The French aren’t as loud or as in-your-face as the Italians.

So which country do I prefer? Italy, no doubt about it. Of course, the weekend in Paris was amazing because I haven’t been there since 2000 but it lacks the colour and energy of Rome somehow. But the French still have that savoirfaire about them.

When it comes to breakfast and baguettes – the French know what they are doing!