Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stimulating Conversation

As a whole, the French tend to be a fairly philosophical people. Long ago, once the traditional past time of drinking wine in the afternoon was replaced with drinking coffee, there was apparently a national awakening of sorts. Take away a mild sedative, replace it with a stimulant and- voila!- The Enlightenment! Coffee has now been an integral part of French culture for nearly 350 years. Having spent a great deal of time indulging in some of the world's best coffees, and having spent significant time in many of the country's best cafes, however, I have to believe there's more to The Enlightenment than a hot, new beverage.

Whenever you see someone alone in public here, they are almost always reading (vs. listening to their iPod or talking on the phone). Whether they are in a cafe, on the metro, or a park bench, they nearly always have their noses in something interesting. It is something I've observed frequently, but only after I recently saw a homeless man dig the daily paper out of the trash and begin to read, was I struck by how fundamental it must be to the French people.

The French seem to have a voracious appetite for reading. The news stands on nearly every corner carry all 14 French daily newspapers, along with the eight weekly French newspapers, and more than 325 French magazines. In addition, note that many of the magazines here-- Elle, Vogue, etc., are weekly publications (instead of monthlies or- gasp!- quarterlies). It's an unbelievable amount of reading material-- and we haven't even broached the subject of French literature!

With so much information floating around, it isn't difficult to see why the French seem so well-versed on a wide variety of topics-- including American politics and international affairs, topics that sometimes seem out-of-reach to the average American.

Whether The Englightenment was caused by a literal "sobering up" of the French people or if the amount of reading material was suddenly prevalent enough for the average man to begin pulling knowledge from a variety of disciplines, I sometimes think our world is very much in need of The Enlightenment- Part 2. Anyone for a couple hours on the Internet and a dose of Red Bull?