Duke Diary Dispatch: Do as Parisians do, and learn to 'Flâner'

In France, Duke student Isabella Helton is learning how to slow down

People relaxing in a garden in Paris

“Flâner” doesn’t have an English translation, but it can roughly be understood as the act of wandering or strolling while being fully engaged in the present moment, without any thought of the past or the future. In the past week, I’ve been trying to embrace this French habitude and have really succeeded in succumbing to flânerie.

Over the weekend, I waited an hour in line for a cafe a friend was hoping to visit, and spent an hour-and-a-half chatting over a chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) and a tarte fraise (strawberry tart). On Sunday, I spent the afternoon exploring the Marais (a young and bustling quartier in Paris) and stumbled upon an enormous vintage market where I searched the racks for an hour or so, and then savored a delicious Nutella crêpe as an afternoon snack. Yesterday, after class, I zig-zagged through the bustling rues of the second arrondissement, where I discovered dozens of Japanese restaurants I’m anxious to try and petite markets selling a variety of Korean and Japanese food and cooking supplies. When my feet got a bit tired, I took a rest at a matcha cafe, and observed the people who passed me by from a table facing the cobblestone rue.

Normally, I would never allow more than an hour or two to pass while doing nothing that fits my definition of a productive activity. Here, I’m learning to embrace a different pace of living that prioritizes time away from work and worry each day. I could tell you about the tours of the Paris Opera and of the Musée d’Orsay— which were both fantastic—, but I’m hoping to give you a glimpse of this strange side of French culture that compelled the barista at the last cafe I sat down in to ask me to leave when I pulled out my laptop (laptops in most cafes here are strictly forbidden!!). In any case, I hope both you and I can learn something from this French perspective and I look forward to our next visit. The next pistachio macaron I eat will be for you!