Valentine’s Day in Paris

Vanessa Weller

Here’s a little belated Valentine’s Day wisdom from France. Paris in February is certainly warmer than Wisconsin. That is to say, the winter winds in the City of Lights, don’t seem to bother the locals who keep each other warm snuggling in the park, near a fountain, on a train, in the Louvre..
The euphemistic name “City of Love” that non-Parisians lend to the city lacks a certain quality of genuineness that I feel must be augmented. A more precise nickname for Paris is “Make-out Point.”
Ah, young love on the most “romantic” day of the year in the most “romantic” city in the world. Or old love … or all walks of life . doing a little tongue tango while waiting for the Metro.
The French are not shy when it comes to public displays of affection. Maybe they just can’t help themselves.
I find it admirable to be unself-conscious of sharing a tender moment in public. Sometimes. Parisians like demonstrating their love for one another. Even couples of a certain age make most American teenagers look prudish.
I think this as I walk along the Seine and notice a couple who sees nothing in the world but one another’s eyes. I walk three meters and notice another couple. And then another. Maybe this is overkill.
I pass a boulangerie with chocolate-covered strawberries in the display window. Heart-shaped brioches á emporter. You can win your beloved’s heart with a pastry, or just eat it yourself when you get out the door.
In this way, France has surprised me. I didn’t expect so much commercialism for Valentine’s Day. Following all stereotypes, I figured the French didn’t need to set aside a special day for love — at least that they would turn up their noses at the thought of supporting a free-market economy. How silly, when globalization is slowly making everywhere the same.
Sure, it’s cynical to say this. I hate to admit it, but the world seems to be on the verge of turning into one big mall. All the big cities in Europe have started to look the same with the advent of chain stores. The Pantheon has its own McDonald’s. Napoleon’s tomb sports its own Starbucks.
But despite all the heart-shaped brioche and Arc de Triomphe H&M, there’s a certain cynicism — a tongue-in-cheek, self-aware aspect in the French psyche about Valentine’s Day that I find commendable.
An example of this is my host father’s justification, “My wife puts up with me the other 364 days. I might as well get her flowers,” which mirrors my own father’s disgruntled approach to the holiday. In that way, Valentine’s Day in France shares with the U.S. a method of celebration.
But then again, it doesn’t. Just because it’s sold in stores doesn’t mean people buy it. The holiday seems more personal here. There are no boxes of 50 pre-cut cards with Snoopy on the front to hand out to everyone in class. But then again, there’s that brioche.
Romance ultimately can’t be measured in brioche. Or kisses in the park. Perhaps it’s more the sensations of the season that are getting to me. Probably just the store displays, however. The French really know how to advertise.