Robyn Openshaw
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what’s up with the Parisiens?

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Aug 25, 2008

From our condo in  Paris, I ran my daily five miles down a busy street, in the morning as some of the commuters were out going to the shops or heading to the subway.


I noticed the most disconcerting thing.   Parisiens do not smile.   They make eye contact approximately 70% of the time (it’s boring, running is, so I actually count these statistics), about the same as in other big cities anywhere in the world.   But despite the same curiosity about who is passing them that people all over the world have, and a similar eye-contact rate, they do not smile!


Here in Utah, I run along the canal, and everyone says hello and smiles to everyone else, even if we don’t know each other.   I decided to do a little experiment, and smile at everyone I ran past to see what happened.


Well, not much happened.   No one smiled back.   So I changed my polite, public smile to the one I reserve for when I see one of my favorite people, really enthusiastic.   (I told my brothers this, and one of them said I was probably scaring people.)   What I mostly got was a look of surprise, but a return smile?   Still very rare.


So I challenged myself.   (I’m telling you, I’ll do almost anything to make running more interesting.)   I decided that each morning, I would not return to the condo until I’d gotten 10 people to return my smile.   That doesn’t sound like many, and I smiled at probably 200 in the effort . . . but that first day, I still had to run almost an extra full mile to get the 10th one!


Men returned my smile 4:1 over women, which I assume is because they don’t want to be rude to someone of the opposite gender.   Also.   You can always count on nuns to smile–love to see someone in a habit coming down the sidewalk.


After a few days, I had an interesting experience.   I went out for my run and didn’t really care about my return-smile statistics.   I felt a lot of joy and completely genuine positive feelings for the people I ran past, having sort of embraced Paris after spending almost a week there.   And I smiled at everyone who passed, but without really caring whether I met my quota or not.   And guess what—even though I was out earlier that morning, with fewer people on the street, my return smiles count tripled!   Thirty people smiled back, and I didn’t have to run an extra mile!


What is the moral of this story?   Anyone?


[This isn’t the moral of the story, but I honestly wonder if with all that white bread the Parisiens eat, constipation is causing all the frowning.   Those poor people have frown lines before their time!   They don’t just not smile–they FROWN!   Being constipated will drain your battery faster than anything.   And white bread, or what I call “glue,” is the fastest route to that particular malady.   I didn’t eat any of it in Paris because I wanted ALL my energy for climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower.   And walking all over the beautiful city, and that amazing 200+ acre chateau in Versailles, built by Louis XIV built by 45,000 workers who had to clear a swamp.   Oh, and grinning at total strangers!]   Photos below are of us halfway up the Eiffel Tower and in front of the chateau at Versailles.

Posted in: Exercise, Mind/Body Connection

8 thoughts on “what’s up with the Parisiens?”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The moral of the story? What you give is what you get?

    You went out running with joy and a positive feeling for the people where before you were judging them for not smiling?

    If we are full of joy and positive feelings can we change the world?

  2. Anonymous says:


    No men followed you home? Our Master TaeKwonDo is French/American. We have heard some of the culture from time to time in the studio. One thing about the culture we’ve heard recently is that if you even make eye contact with a man, he’ll follow you home, because it suggests something more! Perhaps they didn’t bother because the constipation doesn’t allow them to run (lol!)?

  3. http:// says:

    Ha, they’d have to run fast to follow me home. I thought I made a running breakthrough in Paris, because I was running 8.5 minute miles and wasn’t even tired at the end. But now that I’m back to 4200 feet above sea level, I’m back to my usual unimpressive speed. I’m sure they just figured I was the usual overfriendly American!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Robyn, Do you have family over there or did you just go not knowing anyone/ We are planning something, we want to see Europe bad but we can’t decide how to do it. Organized tour, a cruise or what. I’d love to just go and wander but am too scared.

  5. http:// says:

    My parents are in a town near Venice. We flew into Milan, rented a van, saw Milan for the day. Drove to Florence and stayed two nights. Drove to my parents’ in Padova, stayed four nights and visited Venice, Lake Garda and the Italian Alps, Trieste, and went into Slovenia and Croatia for the day (taking my parents’ GPS but not my parents with us, no troubles at all). Definitely rent a GPS if you drive in Italy, because it’s nuts.

    Then we left my parents behind and took a hop flight (EasyJet) to Barcelona. Four days in a four-star hotel, using public transportation and a LOT of walking. Amazing city.

    Then we took a hop flight to Paris for a week, in a time-share condo, using the subway and walking. I took the chunnel train into London for 36 hours by myself at the end of that week.

    I was scared, too. (My husband and I went with NO hotels arranged in advance, 17 years ago, but we had no kids at the time.) But it was pretty fun besides getting lost a few times–in the car in Florence, on foot in Barcelona, etc.

    Cruises are totally stress free. This wasn’t! But still a great trip. Oh, and I got Frommer’s Europe to decide what to do in each city and get a lot of good tips. I thought the book was MUCH more helpful 17 years ago than it is now, so maybe look at other travel books.

    There were virtually no Americans in Europe, with the dollar so weak. When we were there 17 years ago, the place was packed with Americans.

  6. I made a mental note that well over 10 people smiled at me on my run yesterday! Maybe it’s because I run through a park & the people there are enjoying a leisurely walk, rather than rushing to work 🙂

  7. Anonymous says:

    You have a wonderful looking family. Im sure you hear this all the time.

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