“So why do you condemn another believer[a]? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” – Romans 14:1o
Recently I hopped onto was dragged onto a plane totally excited completely panic-stricken for a flight across the pond the frigid, shark-infested Atlantic Ocean to see Paris for the first time. Although anxious, I knew all would be well with my kids my sleeping pills within arms reach and my husband my jumbo bag of chocolate-covered pretzels by my side.
Twelve hours in coach, two metro rides, three flights of stairs, one taxicab, and a day later, voila, we were all checked into the Crowne Plaza in the eleventh district of the City of Light. After a brief four-hour snooze we found our second wind, along with our first quintessential Parisian outdoor cafe just steps from our hotel. Ooh-la-liking this place already…
Imagining Paris since I was a little girl, I’m delighted to say that my beloved Madeline books did not disappoint. From the light (it really is the loveliest shade of pink), to the sights (truly extraordinary), to the food (utterly fabulous), to the people (unexpectedly friendly), C’est magnifique. But as we dashed in and out of a café on that very first day, naturally swift American-style, I left with some lingering questions. What’s with all of those seats so close together? Why is every chair facing outward, toward the street? How come the bill takes so darn long?
A few days and a half-dozen cafes later, I began to get answers to my questions, learning a little more about the way another culture is doing food, and a lot more about the way I’m doing life.
What’s with all these seats so close together?
I’m an American- we know about personal space. If possible, don’t sit by me. Not in a movie theatre. Not on a park bench. Don’t take the treadmill next to me at the gym. And for goodness sake, give me the most secluded table in a restaurant. But in Paris, I was regularly elbow-to-elbow with complete strangers and, shockingly, it didn’t kill me; it didn’t even hurt. I didn’t catch a cold or measles or cooties from anyone. People were pleasant and respectful. They were comfortable with letting others join them, content to simply let others be. I want to live like the French eat… more open, more accepting, more inviting to the people in my path.
Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you. Romans 15:7
Why is every chair facing outward, toward the street?
Why aren’t we all seated around tables like normal people? What’s there to look at? My family took a thousand pictures along the Seine River, under the Eiffel Tower, and from atop the Arc de Triomphe, but when we stopped for a meal we thought the sights were on pause. It seems, however, that the French are able to spot beauty in everyday life: the sidewalk, the buildings, the people, the conversation, the commotion happening all around them. They’ve discovered that the plain and ordinary is worthy of a stop to enjoy the view. I want to live like they eat…I want to see the splendor in the seemingly mundane. Life is too short to let anything slip by unnoticed.
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad (Ecclesiastes 8:15)
How come the bill takes so long?
No, thank you, I don’t want a starter. No dessert for me. Nope, not another latte, thanks. Just the bill, please. Merci. And make it quick. But in France, that’s simply not the way it’s done. The French stick around. No one rushes, they aren’t in a hurry. The waitress doesn’t get annoyed for taking up too much time in her station. No one gets testy about ordering more food, more coffee, or not ordering anything at all. Just sitting. Just enjoying. Just living. I want to live like they eat… I want to spend more time being still. I want to take more moments to be quiet. I want to be intentional about just being.
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
Our last day in Paris, we enjoyed our favorite meal. We sat cozily next to strangers, in tight quarters. We enjoyed the splendor of a regular day. We stayed and we sat, refusing to dash to our next locale, we felt the joy in just being still. Bon appetite.
♡ Kathryn O’Brien is author of children’s picture books and writes for Proverbs 31 Woman.
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