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Experiencing life like a local-or not

Slow work day, and I found this article.
https://www.dmarge.com/2021/02/social-media-mistake-paris.html

It focuses on a Parisian faux pas of Instagramming your life while you’re supposed to be enjoying it; (ironically the quote and photo the article is based on is from Instagram). But what struck me was this quote;

"Café life is when you just take the time to love a little instead of rushing from place to place. It is when you can afford to wait 15-20 minutes to have your order taken for a simple coffee and another 15-20 minutes to have it brought to you."

Is a 20 minute wait uniquely Parisian or annoyingly Parisian? Is it really like this or just a romantic stereotype with more fiction than fact? I dream of a time when I’ll be spending 30 days in some of the world’s great cities and making an attempt at living kind-of-like a local. But I’m wound so tight at the best of times that I think my head would explode if I had to wait 20 minutes for someone to take my order and another 20 just to get it; those ants in my pants aren’t getting any younger.

I’m probably a walking contradiction though. While I have no desire to experience a Parisian coffee break, I’d probably jump at the chance to experience 3 hours in a London Pub watching a soccer game like a local. (Does anyone watch Ted Lasso? I’d love to hang out with those goofy Richmond fans in their pub).

I’m curious when it comes to local culture norms, do you try to embrace them and live like a local, or do you politely accept them until you can make your escape?

Posted by
21671 posts

Wow -- this will generate some responses. But as you point out, it is you and how you react to situations. If wound that tight I don't know how easing up would work. We are the type since retirement that you would have to work pretty damn hard to make us unhappy. O'sure there are things we don't like but we tolerate it fairly easily. Your coffee example would not bother us --- provided --- we didn't have a deadline. But if we did, we would set those requirements up front before sitting down. And we have been in situation where serve was extremely slow but we were in no hurry to go anywhere and enjoyed the time observing what was happening around us. And even after 55 years of marriage, we still enjoy talking with each other.

Both of us are first born and generally viewed as Type A personalities. When the boys were home, both working, things ran a lot different. Now just the two of us we learned to roll with uncertainty and enjoy what comes our way.

...when it comes to local culture norms, do you try to embrace them and live like a local... I think this business of trying to live like a local is over rated and over done. However, we absolutely try our best to adhere to local norms and culture. That is part of the reason we are there. For us that is part of the enjoyment. BUT ---- for us we tend to travel slowly with a min of pre-planning so we can absorb the unexpected fairly easily. Marcia frequently says we have never had a bad trip. I agree but a couple were so so but we adjusted. And some of the unexpected things have been the most memorable.

I don't think we would travel well with you.

Posted by
3226 posts

I think you left out the important part of the quote- "...The time it takes to fully enjoy the simple pleasure of another person’s company, a fresh newspaper or a good book,"

It's not about the time it takes to order and then receive. It's about what you do with that time. It's about living in the moment, not counting the seconds until you rush off to your next check on your to do list. It's about slowing down, occasionally, and relaxing.

And of course that timing is not typical. But it also isn't the rushed order at a Starbucks counter followed by a quick guzzle and off you go. You have to hand it to the Europeans- they know how to relax and simply enjoy the moment. Something many North Americans feel they can only do when it fits into their busy schedule.

We've found, as we age, and as we travel more, that this relaxed approach has become much more appealing, and is something we try to continue at home. Frank said it much better than I, and I completely agree with him.

Posted by
767 posts

It's annoyingly Parisian, IMO.

That was something I really didn't enjoy about Paris. We found ourselves picking up stuff from bakeries or street carts a lot of the time, because we did not want to have to spend hours every time we had a meal or a coffee break.

I understand that to truly experience life like a Parisian, it is necessary to slow down and savour the moments. But I'm not a Parisian; I'm a tourist. As a tourist, my time is limited and precious. If I had weeks instead of days to spend, I might feel differently, but spending long periods of time eating and/or drinking is not of interest to me. I don't need to pretend to be a local when I'm not.

I remember our first dinner in Paris (we had arrived late the evening before), we found a marvellous little place on the left bank. The atmosphere was charming and the food delicious. But we were ready to return to our apartment and fall into bed long before the meal was over. We were almost falling asleep in our plates.

I think it's different when a meal or a coffee is a break from your routine, vs when it is a necessary stop in between doing the things you really want to do.

Edited to add that I also think it's different when it is an occasional treat vs when you need to do this for every (or nearly every) meal and coffee break, which can be the case when one is travelling.

Posted by
6858 posts

But I’m wound so tight at the best of times that I think my head would
explode if I had to wait 20 minutes for someone to take my order and
another 20 just to get it

Wait...I thought you've been to Europe before (not necessarily Paris)? Waiting a long time for an order to get fulfilled can happen anywhere in Europe, especially if you're a solo diner (you can get ignored for a loooooong time unless you say something). The most important part though is after you get the coffee (or whatever). If you can't sit still, savor it, and chill out and just people watch without "being on the clock", then no, you won't be able to "live like a local". This is particularly an issue at dinnertime, where the table is yours for however long you want it, and dinners typically aren't rushed. I didn't see anybody running around like they do in NYC during work hours (although even they seem to know how to relax afterward for lengthy periods). If you think Europe's bad, other regions (Central, South America, Caribean, etc.) also have a slowed down sense of time and punctuality.

Posted by
64 posts

This article is very timely as I am leaving for Paris in 2 hours (first time visiting). Other than a couple of museum visits, I don't have much planned, and mostly just plan on doing leisurely walks. So I do plan on "living like a local" as much as possible for the next 10 days!

Posted by
21671 posts

CJean, we would travel with you. I read the article after posting my first response. The article is light weight but ----“I am 50 years old, so I grew up without social media and phones… Probably sums it better than anything. We don't take many pictures any more. At one time I use to carry fairly expensive camera set up and shot hundreds of pictures. Now I carry a small PS digital camera and may take 50 pictures the whole trip. But they are terrific pictures. Recently we in London and hit a pub three nights in a row. Walked in the third night, the waitress said, O' how nice to see." And brought us two beers without ordering by the time we had settled at the table. Kind of enjoyed that. That is our travel style and we are happy with it. Personally it is all attitude and personality. No right or wrong. We might even enjoy going to McDonald's in London ------ maybe not.

Posted by
10996 posts

It's the difference between seeing a place and experiencing a place.

Some tourists have a long list of things they want to see and consider wasting time in a restaurant or cafe is inhibiting their sightseeing. Think of the old saying "you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy." Their way of doing things on vacation should be just like home.

Other tourists want to experience a place. They have things to see but they also realize that that adapting to local customs is part of the travel experience. If locals eat dinner at 8, they will eat dinner at 8. If locals take a long time to eat, they will take a long time to eat. If locals stop and sit with a cup of coffee rather than insisting on a to-go cup, that's what they do.

Personally, I prefer traveling in what the article calls "Cafe Life." And that's everywhere I go.....not just Paris.

Neither way is wrong, it's what's important to you.

What's really strange is people watching a fictional show on television and thinking it is real.

Posted by
767 posts

Frank II, I think this is an unfair characterization: "Think of the old saying 'you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy. Their way of doing things on vacation should be just like home."

People have different interests. Some people love savouring food and wine and coffee. Not everyone is particularly interested in those experiences. That doesn't mean we are the kind of travellers who go to other places and expect or want them to be just like at home. Not at all.

In my case, I can't drink wine, and I'm not particularly fond of coffee. I like good food, and I like to try different types of food wherever I go, but I'm not one to want to linger over it, especially since I don't have wine or coffee. I'd rather be doing something else. But that something else would be something very different than what I could do at home. That's why I'm traveling.

When I was young, my family took a trip with another family who only wanted to eat at places where they could get steaks, burgers, and french fries. We were appalled. We wanted to eat the local dishes, and I'm still that sort of traveler. I simply don't want to spend 2-3 hours three times a day doing that.

Posted by
1645 posts

I think I do both. We have discovered that trying to eat in a meal in a predetermined length of time while in Europe does not make for a very satisfying experience. So when we don’t have the time or patience, we don’t have a sit down meal. We do take out, but from a stand, or cook for ourselves. I appreciate the slow meal experience but not every night. I am not a coffee drinker but if I were, I would have no problem with what you describe if my intention was simply to sit for awhile. And if my intention was to be somewhere at a certain time in a more caffeinated state, I would have my caffeine some other way.

Posted by
327 posts

Okay Logroño is not Paris, but here is my story:

I am a local, and there is a cafe in on of the main squares that is quite popular. We used to go their often, and if it was full we could wait 10-15mins have our order taken, and maybe 10 minutes to get the drinks. This isn't a problem. One day however we sat down and had our order taken rather quickly. And then nothing. We waited for quite a while. Again if had been busy, we could understand, but it wasn't. Worse the waitress seemed to be ignoring us. When it became obvious that we weren't going to get served, we left. Haven't been back.

Posted by
1851 posts

I've been in cafes in France and Spain, especially on weekday mornings, where I was the one holding up the locals and wasting their time as they expected to down their tiny coffee, gulp their toast, shoot the breeze, and get on with their day, while I wanted to survey the situation and conduct informational interviews and sample a little of this and a little of that.

I especially recall the frustration of a barista when I ordered a thick hot chocolate because he would have to clean out the machine before he could continue making espresso shots lickety-split for the locals streaming in on their way to work.

So, it's not just that I want to experience life like a local, it's that I want to do it like a local who has time and money to burn.
Because I'm on vacation, with time and money to burn.
Both parts of that are key -- vacation time is not like regular-life time, and having extra time and money is not like being on the clock.

[Note that I'm taking some artistic license with 'shoot the breeze' rather than 'smoke a cig' to avoid some of the typical unpleasantries]

Posted by
1059 posts

I will bet Rick Steves wishes he never used the phrase, "live like a local". Highly over used and impossible to do, unless you actually now live there. I think it is more like, "experience the city like a local". This would be going to cafes and restaurants that are loaded with locals and not "out of towners". Enjoy the local parks and beaches. Use public transportation, etc. One year we were at the Eiffel Tower celebrating Bastille Day with easily a couple hundred thousand people. Did I feel like a local, no. But, it was a blast watching the real locals celebrating.

Many people enjoy the lifestyle of Europeans and try to mimic their styles. Some people are not interested because they are tourists and want to be tourists and do touristy things. Others try to combine the two. Whatever the choice, its all good. These are fun discussions. But, for people who are new travelers just tuning in, don't feel guilty because you have a different style of travel than another.

You're a local at home. Everywhere else...you are just a visitor.

Posted by
179 posts

We like to experience local cuisine. Some of our best experiences have been dining in local establishments and asking locals to help us chose our meals. We do that when we have time and want to relax. As others have said, that is not always possible, so we do picnics and take out.

The key for us is to adjust our expectations to the situation. In Rome we had breakfast in a small cafe; coffee and a pastry. We paid after eating. I observed locals paying and then picking up their drink and pastry. With gestures and a little language I found out that they were locals and did not want to wait. The way we did it was proper for those not in a hurry. On the third day, we were recognized and our order was being prepared as we walked in to the cafe! That experience, to me, is a local experience.

Travel in a manner that suits you; it is your trip.

Posted by
737 posts

I will bet Rick Steves wishes he never used the phrase, "live like a local".

My bet is that he loves it, it's a fantastic marketing line. Some tour companies aim to show tourists the sights and shops of a country while making everything else about the experience as close to what they were used to back home as they can. RS is telling you that you'll eat what locals eat and when they eat it, you'll stay in hotels close to main sights but those hotels may not have all the amenities you'd get back home. And so on.

My only gripe is that some people take it too literally. You're not a local, not by any means, you just haven't distanced yourself as much as others may. There is so much implicit knowledge of how things are done in other cultures that we don't have by not growing up in them. Then there is the knowledge and experience of the area. From the restaurant owner that shows you to your favorite table because you've been going there for years, quickly picking up a few things at the store because you know where they are, having opinions on the best place to get a drink because you've tried them all and also know which ones you're likely to run into some friends at.

Posted by
13367 posts

It's interesting that a great deal of this 'live like a local' thread centers on cafes, restaurants and food! I'm sure most locals have to spend the majority of their days doing what we all do when we're not traveling? Stuff like going to work, running errands, paying bills, cleaning house, cooking, doing laundry, helping kids with homework, catching up with friends and family...

I guess unless I'm having to do most of those things abroad - and doing them daily - i'm not really experiencing what it's like to be a local at all?

Posted by
6544 posts

I dont believe Rick Steves ever said "live like a local". Someone pin that down if he did. What I believe he says is "travel like a (temporary) local". That is, stay in small Euro-style hotels, use public transport, mom and pop restaurants serving local food, etc. I think he pretty much knows that being a tourist is not close to a normal "local" life.

Part of being a tourist is that your time is limited so time "wasted" waiting is annoying. Maybe that's why American-Style fast food is popular in Europe with locals too. I've had that experience where I felt I wouldn't get my coffee before all the server's buddies were served, or every local who was seated after us was waited on before us. That's not good business custom from an American perspective (you might get no tip), but perfectly rational from their perspective. So yes, you either accept it, and stay, or move on (which we did). You dont have to embrace it, just recognize that it is a difference and American culture is not the universal norm.

Posted by
769 posts

I am a man traveling alone. So far in Europe I have been buying most of my food from grocery stores or markets. To me the only excuse I can think of for eating in a restaurant is if I was with my family or acquaintances and we didn't have another place to sit and talk and eat. I would rather eat whatever i can buy that is ready to eat, on a bench or other out of the way place. Then after 15 or 20 minutes I can find a place to brush my teeth and then i am on my way to wherever else I wish to see or whatever I have tickes for. I wouldn't want to spend hours of my trip sitting in restaurants. Wouldn't even 3 hours a day in restaurants = 39 hours for a 13 day trip? Anyway I speculate that most locals don't eat most meals in restaurants. Maybe I am acting like a local by accident, the way I buy food and supplies from stores and markets, a little at a time.

Posted by
6272 posts

Tourist or not when I’m vacationing I slow down. I’m appreciate my travel because of it. Do I plan things? Yes. Do I meander? Yes.

For me flexibility is the key.

I’m also an early riser so I see things occurring that countless other tourists don’t. Street market vendors setting up, gondoliers cleaning their gondolas, park lawns being mowed, streets being swept, garbage being dumped…. Things that are universal… Love the early hours, besides all of the above, I appreciate seeing dogs being walked, joggers, horse riders and watching sunrise.

Although the American accent gives my nationality away I do blend in when eating cicchetti, ( I stand at the bar) or ordering a pint in a pub. I’ll stand on a crowded underground train, always cover my head and remove my shoes when entering a mosque.

In short I respect the social and cultural norms of the parts of the world I’m visiting. Not a practicing Catholic but was baptized in the faith and I enjoy visiting Cathedrals and churches so part of my packing list is a scarf.

Some of my best travel surprises have been in churches. Getting to watch a baptism is a small church in an Italian hill town, choir rehearsals in Cork and London….and years ago discovering I could buy Christmas Cards to support various charities in the vestibule of St James of Piccadilly. I have also learned to read church bulletin boards. How else would I have heard about Eel Pie Islands Artists Open House? Or enjoy attending a care boot sale in a church’s parking lot? Boot being the name of what we refer to as the trunk of a motor vehicle.

Do I think I’m a local anywhere but where I live? Nope. Do I know I’m making the effort? Yes.

It’s a privilege to be able to travel and see the world. Years ago when I worked at a state college in Nebraska I chaperoned 5 students who were going to attend a conference being held in San Antonio Texas. Of the 5 only 1 of the students had flown and none had seen an ocean nor left the state.

A favorite remembrance of that trip was the half day visit the Gulf of Mexico. Another moment was watching as we walked along a San Antonio canal. A student stopped, stared and embraced a palm tree.

As a California native who grew up an hour south of San Francisco, 30 minutes over blood alley
( Hwy 17) to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Cruz and three hours from Yosemite I failed to realize what I had that others did not. Kind of like when in my 20’s when I took my first job in a small Washington town .
“ What do you mean there’s no Bank of America?
Why do they call it Bank of America then?”

Ah youth and naivety!

Posted by
10996 posts

I’m curious when it comes to local culture norms, do you try to embrace them and live like a local, or do you politely accept them until you can make your escape?

Not only do I embrace them, I try to figure out a way to bring them home. Notice that the people who live in the countries where they slow down are much less stressed and "wound up."

I remember talking to someone in Stockholm and was told that few office workers eat lunch at their desk or stay late at work. When I asked why, the person said: "Because there's always tomorrow."

My brother points out that none of the European countries are as productive as we are in the US. True, but they seem a lot happier.

Posted by
4598 posts

I remember talking to someone in Stockholm and was told that few office workers eat lunch at their desk or stay late at work. When I asked why, the person said: "Because there's always tomorrow."

Things are changing. My wife now works for a global pharmaceutical company and previously for a large insurance company. She's worked with colleagues throughout Europe, the US and South America and particularly now where there is a lot of working from home and meetings are being conducted by video conference she has commented on how hard everyone works and people are trying to fit lunch in when they can and it's certainly not at a restaurant or cafe. In a global world where business is being conducted across continents the days of leisurely hour+ lunches away from your desk are becoming more scarce.

Posted by
3926 posts

I would (and have) gone crazy when I've been waiting for the cheque to come (esp in Italy) because I want to get going - there's only so much time for sightseeing.

On the flip side, I still think back on our 2nd visit to Cinque Terre, when we sat in a restaurant in Corniglia, watching the sun set over the sea, and ended up talking with a New Zealander for over 2 hours - I think it was pushing 11pm when we finally left - and the fact that we didn't feel pressured to leave was wonderful.

I'd really like to do a passeggiata...

Posted by
2213 posts

I don't think we would travel well with you.

No, not many would. We have a couple of friends that have been dropping hints that they'd like to come with us on one of European adventures. We are honest with them and describe our travel style and suggest we may go there as friends but we may not come back that way. It's interesting when I think about it, the three couples that my wife and I are closest with all have completely different travel styles and while we get along great for an evening or even a weekend, we all know we want completely different things on a vacation.

Maybe it's hereditary. My kids-young adults now, can still sleep until noon, but when they vacationed with us as teenagers, they had no problem popping out of bed at 7 to be ready to go at 8. My Mom too. About 5 years ago after both my kids had graduated high school we did a trip to Disney World as a final family vacation financed by the Bank of Mom and Dad. We brought my Mom, and despite being 85 years old, she was intent on keeping up and not missing anything. As it turns out, we almost broke her and we eventually split into groups at different paces. I slowed my Mom's pace down but we still remained active but found quieter, shadier things to do to keep us busy. She loved it and insists that I'm taking her back there for her 100th birthday.

Posted by
2697 posts

I am a bit of a contradiction. I’m an early riser who likes to get going but I LOVE the long cafe times I experience in much of Europe. I’m more than happy to sit for a few hours for a meal. If I’m in a rush I just don’t do table service in Europe. That’s where fast food/street food/picnics come in. And I do enjoy the quick espresso at a stand up bar in Italy. But for meals or defined breaks? Take your time, enjoy the experience. I do try to find restaurants with nice patios or pretty interiors, and I’m fine paying a bit more for my coffee if it comes with a table on a nice square. It’s to the point that after coming home I find myself getting a little annoyed at American style service! So that’s one norm I’ve fully embraced.

Others I am respectful of and sometimes appreciate but just can’t quite live it. Dinner at 11PM feels very unnatural to me, even if I am in Spain. Also, I find it hard to adjust to things closing at what I consider unusual times. For example I was in Vienna on Whit Monday, had just checked in and couldn’t find a grocery store open, much to my confusion.

Posted by
2213 posts

Many people enjoy the lifestyle of Europeans and try to mimic their
styles. Some people are not interested because they are tourists and
want to be tourists and do touristy things. Others try to combine the
two.

I’m also an early riser so I see things occurring that countless other
tourists don’t. Street market vendors setting up, gondoliers cleaning
their gondolas, park lawns being mowed, streets being swept, garbage
being dumped…. Things that are universal… Love the early hours,
besides all of the above, I appreciate seeing dogs being walked,
joggers, horse riders and watching sunrise.

I can relate to these comments by Threadwear and Claudia. I’d consider myself more of an observer than a mimicer. Parisian coffee break for me? No. But 3 hours in a London sports pub? Yes. Not sure though how much I’d actually interact with the locals and try to be part of the group, I’d just find a good seat and enjoy the experience. Like Claudia, I’m up and out the door early to wander. Venice at 7am watching people rush to work, Dubrovnik watching the main pedestrian street packed with gridlocked traffic as deliveries are being made to prepare for the tourists who will start to arrive a couple of hours later, Piste, Mexico watching the moms taking their uniformed kids to school followed by a trail of dogs hoping someone drops their lunch box.

I'm not really interested in being there and acting like them. I prefer observing and enjoying not only the differences but also the similarities of home, just in a different setting.

Posted by
1327 posts

Whenever I hear the term "live like a local", I'm reminded of the time we rented a villa in Spain with my sister's family. I walked into the kitchen to find my brother-in-law laying on the floor with his head under the sink, fixing the plumbing. I don't think we always think of what home life involves!

As far as spending a long time over a drink or a meal, we've evolved. When we first started traveling, DH would harass me to speed up, get going "we've got to keep moving and see more!". But now we both enjoy the experience of slow meals. I find we connect more when we're away, and have the best conversations over lengthy meals in Europe, much more so than at home.

We also will often pay a lot for a drink on a memorable square. Those are some of the best memories, watching the sea of people go by and relaxing. Funny how we remember those times more than some sight we ticked off our "to-do" list.

Posted by
941 posts

LOVE Ted Lasso - we can join you at the Richmond Pub but hate soccer so we might not stay the whole 3 hours with you. BUT in France I'd sit for 4 hours to watch the TDF!

When I see "live like a local" I think wait ... does that mean I have to work while I'm on vacation? No thanks :)

We take our opportunities to learn local things - like how to shop at a grocery store or how not to wait for the check t be delivered to the table after a meal or how to ask for tap water. Helps me feel like I'm fitting in somehow.

Posted by
13431 posts

I learn how to thank the employee that fluffs the sofa pillows on the roof top terrace and how to say thank you to the concerige when he gets a driver for me. Makes me feel more local and less Russian.

Posted by
7458 posts

It's not about the time it takes to order and then receive. It's about what you do with that time. It's about living in the moment, not counting the seconds until you rush off to your next check on your to do list. It's about slowing down, occasionally, and relaxing.

Well said, CJean.

Posted by
5345 posts

Absorb the culture, art, history and customs of places you visit, but don't try to be a native.

I remember over thirty years ago living in Germany, where you could change money or cash a cashier's check rather quickly, since Germany is efficient.

I was reminded of Spain, where going into a bank to cash a traveler's check took 45 minutes because of the inefficient process and slow moving employees. That 45 minutes didn't fondly remind me of the great things that I loved about Spain.

Posted by
6544 posts

I recall reading a novel set in Italy, in which an Italian host chastises his American guests who were complaining about the way things work there. He said something like: "you Americans come for the food and the art, but you want it with all the comfort and familiarity of home."

When I travel abroad I dont expect everything to be the same as home, and yes, I accept it as part of the experience, even if I don't like it. Heck, thats true in some places in the US as well. But no, I'm not going to eat dinner at 11 PM.

Posted by
2213 posts

The first time it ever occurred to me that if might be fun to live like a local was 1998 when I went to New York for the first time. While there I had images of the TV show Seinfeld in my mind and thinking every day would be like that; finding a local diner, days filled with nothing. I still would like to spend a month there, but my desire at the time was more romanticism of the way I was seeing it from outside sources and then as a tourist. That's what inspired my question with a Paris coffee break as an example, the fact and fiction that inspire our lists.