Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fat in France

La vie en rose - Edith Piaf
I love to travel, and I do it as often as I can on a student’s budget. I find traveling exciting, fun, sometimes relaxing, and I think it broadens the mind. Which is why I think it’s heartbreaking when I see many fatties say they’re afraid to travel; that they’re putting it off until they’re thinner; or that they’ve just put it out of their minds altogether. With this in mind I am starting a new post series on the blog, telling you all about my Fat Travels™.

My first tale is of a three day weekend in Paris. The trip was a gift to me, and my brother and his fiancée, from our parents at Christmas. This was my first time in Paris, and I have to say that if you’ve never been there, you really should put it on the list! I’ve never been to a city quite like Paris. Everywhere I went was so beautiful! The buildings, which were mostly very well preserved, all had these beautiful decorations. There were artistic statues everywhere. And … well, you know those paintings you’ve seen? With the cobblestone streets, the narrow passages, and the sidewalk restaurants? Yeah, it was like that. Keep in mind that I’d never been to Paris before, so I spent a lot of my time doing very tourist-y things in very tourist-y areas, but it was still like that for me. Plus, there were croissants, and delicious red wine, and escargot with lots of garlic (which I ate), and frog legs (which I didn’t).

Since this is the first post in this new series I’m starting with the airport. I travel from Oslo Lufthavn Gardermoen, and we were there an hour before departure. Some people can’t stand the thought of not being at the airport without oceans of time before departure, but one hour is really all you need at Gardermoen. If you’re travelling internationally from the U.S. it’s my experience that you need to be at the airport two hours before departure. Anywhere else, and an hour and a half should do. I’ve never been stopped at customs, I do, however, get stopped at security almost every time I travel, and since I’ve decided writing about being stopped at security adds color to my narrative you’ll probably be reading a lot of stopped-at-security stories. This time it was at Charles De Gaulle in Paris. I’d managed to forget that I had three containers of different liquids in my handbag, and so didn’t remove them from my bag and put them in the little plastic bags you’re supposed to use. The woman who checked my bag, after I’d sent it through the screening, calmly and aloofly put it on a little area to go through it, and completely ignored my embarrassment and apologies as she pulled out one item after the other, put them in a little plastic bag, and gave it all back to me.
I love airports! This is a place, where, once you’ve checked in and gotten through security, you’re completely free of things you “should” do. - Okay, so that’s not 100% true all the time, and if you’re traveling for business I guess I can see working at the airport, but if you’re traveling for pleasure and you still have to work at the airport, I’m officially declaring you too busy! Anyway, airports, yes … nothing to do but look forward to the nice trip you’re going to have, or to going home, and maybe shop in the overpriced stores, or eat or drink overpriced food or drink. And there’s no use being annoyed by the prices, because one restaurant is just as expensive as the next. And nobody looks strangely at you if you’re drinking wine at twelve o’ clock, because you’re on holiday. Everything is so bright and clean in airports. Even the people look better, because they’re happy, and because some of us still think it’s appropriate to dress up a little to fly. Can you tell I like airports?

I don’t have the same relationship with actually being on the plane as I have with being in airports, but that isn’t to say I mind it at all. Since this is my first time writing about traveling while fat there are some things I should mention again. A lot of you are worried about not fitting into the seats, so here are some handy hints that I’ve picked up along the way: Firstly there’s Seatguru, I don’t use this site much myself, but I know a lot of fatties love it more than they love donuts (which, as we know, all fatties love more than life itself). Secondly, some general rules: Do not choose seats in the first row, or by the emergency exits. Those seats usually have the trays stored in the armrests, giving your bottom half less space to expand under the armrests if you need it. Do try to choose aisle seats. Here you have the opportunity to utilize some of the aisle space for your arms and shoulders, and you also avoid having both hips pressed against the people sitting next to you. Some people swear by the window seats, since theoretically you should be able to lift the armrests and give yourself more space there. However, in my experience these armrests are locked in the down position more often than not (remember here that I fly mostly in Europe). In fact, on a couple of the planes I've been on recently, none of the armrests would go all the way up, so it was more comfortable to keep them down. You might need a seat belt extender to be able to fasten the seat belt. I personally have never needed one, so I don’t have any experience with this, but I am told (mostly by Americans) that they are readily available on all flights if you ask a flight attendant. If you would prefer not to have to ask a flight attendant for it, you can purchase one (this is just one of the places they're sold) for yourself and bring it with you. I personally was 5’6”, weighed 269lbs, and measured 51-44-54 when I went to Paris. Saying I fit comfortably in the seat would have been a lie, but I did fit. Whether we fit into the seat or not, a lot of us worry about being told by the flight crew that we need to purchase a second seat. I have some tips on this issue as well, although my only qualification for giving them is really that I’ve never been asked to buy a second seat myself. Firstly, and let’s just get it out of the way, it helps if you’re traveling with someone slender. Then you have someone whose space you can “encroach” on without them being bothered by it. Don’t let this stop you from traveling solo though! I certainly have. My second tip is to dress well; you don’t have to pull out your pearls, but definitely no tracksuits (really, no matter how comfortable they are). Most of you should be able to just picture how you dress in everyday life, and take it up a small notch. My third tip is don’t draw attention to yourself. I’m not saying you can’t ask questions if you have them, or that you should try to avoid the flight attendants, but maybe don’t have a picnic on the floor in front of the boarding counter, or decide to entertain your fellow travelers by singing aloud a joke version of the national anthem while seated in the boarding area. As fatties we don’t actually blend in, but what I’m trying to say here is don’t force them into having to make a decision on the subject. On a related note, the first post I ever wrote on this blog was titled Why charging fat passengers double is a horrible idea, and if you haven’t read it I would love for you to check it out!

Having covered the part wherein I actually traveled, I've finally arrived at Paris itself. People in Paris mostly look the way I’ve come to expect people in Western Europe to look; lots of them are slender and lots of them are chubby, and a few of them are fat. Apart from this normalcy, being fat in Paris is an interesting experience. The city officials, you see, seem to have had people of a certain size in mind when they equipped the public spaces, and the tourist-y ones, but the private individuals don’t seem to have followed the same thought patterns. The spaces owned by individuals are no bigger than they have to be, the tables are small, and so are the chairs (though the chairs mostly don’t have armrests). I mentioned the cobblestone streets. If your movement is impaired this may not sound so great to you, but the good thing is that all the sidewalks I saw accompanying the streets were made to be flat, and more or less smooth.
We spent about half a day on one of the sightseeing buses. These are equipped with the typical two plastic seats with slightly upturned edges on both sides of an aisle. The upturned edges might unfortunately cause discomfort for some super fats, but I did notice that my death fat arse was quite comfortable. Another interesting example of Parisian city officials having had fat people in mind, are some chairs that we found placed around a fountain by Musée du Louvre.
Wide chair. Narrow chair.
Fat person. Slender person.

I had a single room where we stayed at Hotel Europe Saint Severin***. The bed was a queen sized double bed, so that was a nice surprise. Also the room wasn’t so cramped I barely had room to stand, which I’ve come to expect from single rooms, so that was another nice surprise. The bedroom itself wasn’t much to write home about, but the bathroom was recently renovated, and so clean it was gleaming. As I just mentioned I’ve come to expect single rooms to be cramped, and this was true of the bathroom here. Space saving had yielded the result that the toilet was placed in a little niche. My deathfat form didn’t have a lot of room, but it was alright. However, if you are a super fat it might be problematic, so either bring some equipment along, or book a double room.

As I’ve mentioned on here once before, it’s considered impolite to stare in Norway. This doesn’t mean we don’t look; just that it’s considered very rude to be caught in a stare, so you automatically limit the time you look at someone so it isn’t long enough to be called a stare, and if someone should see you looking at them you look away immediately. There are rude people everywhere of course, and, having traveled quite a bit, I have of course been to countries where they don’t have the same cultural view on staring. Despite this, I have experienced very little negative attention of this kind. So little, in fact, that I believed that I was just exceptionally unobservant in cases like these. It is still a fact that I spend a lot of time in my head, and that I just don’t really care if people look at me or not, so I’m not saying I don’t still believe I miss a lot, but Paris taught me I do notice some things. And this is the thing about Paris that isn’t so great.
As you now know, I hail from a country where you feel embarrassed if you’re caught staring, so when on Friday I noticed a white, middle aged man slowly looking me over, starting with my shoes and working his way up, I expected him to look quickly away when he reached my face and realized I had seen him. I was wearing sunglasses, so maybe he didn’t realize I was looking him in the eye, but I was facing him straight on. Anyway, I looked at him, and he continued to look at me, after a few seconds I raised an eyebrow, he stared a second longer, and then looked away.
We stayed in the Latin Quarter in Paris, which is this really great part of the city teeming with life, little shops, lots of places to eat and drink, and on top of this is about as central as you can get in a city as big as Paris. According to Wikipedia the Latin Quarter is “Known for its student life, lively atmosphere and bistros […]”. The student life and lively atmosphere was in full effect as we were walking around Saturday night, looking for a place to get a drink. Drunken people your own age do always constitute a fat person risk. Will the reduction in inhibitions cause people to say or do things they wouldn’t normally do? Then of course there’s the fact that a lot of the people who go out drinking are single and looking (or taken and looking), and are therefore paying more attention to their own and other peoples looks than they normally might. And yeah, I was stared at. It’s hard to know how much of that was because I’m a woman who might be available, how much was because of the outfit I was wearing (which, if I do say so myself, was fetching, and also quite green), and how much was because I’m fat. I did notice that, just as we came into their line of vision, a group of young men suddenly got very loud (in French, which I don’t speak), shouting something to each other, this while I was having that feeling you have when you’re aware of being watched. Later a woman quite blatantly turned to stare at me while I was standing outside a bar talking to my companions, apparently prompted by the man who was sitting across from her.
The last, and worst, case of the stares I was on the receiving end of while I was in Paris was at Charles De Gaulle Airport. I had to walk by a table where three people, who looked like a father and his daughter and son, were sitting, three times. Now, I was wearing some noisy heels. I was also wearing capri pants, showing my ankles, which had, for reasons known and unknown, swollen til they were wider than my feet. That being said, wow, did the dad stare at me, mostly, it seemed, in the direction of my feet. I saw him staring the first time I went by the table. I saw him looking and looking the second time I went by the table. The third time I had to walk past the table, I looked towards them as soon as I was in the line of sight, and, sure enough, there was the daughter staring at me. I looked into her face the whole time I was walking past them, but she just kept staring. Finally, just after I’d passed the table, I turned around, and, finding them all looking at me, smiled widely (okay, maybe a little manically) and waved energetically.
For someone who isn't used to getting this type of attention, this was a lot in one weekend. Saturday night was an uncomfortable experience, but apart from that the rudeness of it all was really what bothered me the most. I was much more affected, for example, by the guy who felt it necessary to comment on my tits as I was walking home from work one night, right here in Oslo. One thing all these experiences have taught me though, is that my chosen tactic until now, staring right back at the people who stare, isn't actually doing its job in making me feel the way I want to feel after something like this, meaning that I'll have to try to think of another way to go before the next time.

I love having clothes not everybody else has, so I always put aside a little money in my budget for shopping when I go abroad. My shopping process has changed since becoming a fatty; now I research which shops sell clothes in my size before I go, and write down/print out where to find them for my trip. Paris may be Fashion Heaven for slender people, but this is not true for the fat ones, so there was really only one store I wanted to visit when I was there, namely Jean Marc Philippe. I’d admired their clothes for a long time, but with the added costs for shipping, Norwegian sales taxes, and customs fees, I just can’t afford them. In Paris no such costs are added of course, and I even got them tax free. This was good, because as it turns out I love that brand! Every time I put on a new item I marveled at how good the fabrics felt, and then I looked in the mirror, and, a lot of the time, got to marvel at how good I looked in the same fabrics. If I had to say one bad thing about the place, it would have to be that a lot of emphasis is being put on the clothes being flattering (i.e. making you appear less fat), so if you're into crop tops and booty shorts this might not be your ideal place. Putting that aside, I just can't recommend this brand enough! Really, I'm practically drooling as I sit here dreaming about going back. (Just so you know, they’re having a sale right now, I’m not saying anything I’m just saying. Take another 20% off with the code JMPDOUBLEVIP.)

The rudeness of Parisians towards anyone who doesn’t speak French is legendary of course. Mostly I didn’t find this to be true at all. There is, however, an exception, and it is the cab drivers. One might expect these people to speak some English, as they must spend large parts of their day carting around tourists, but one would be wrong. This isn’t actually rude, of course, just strange. However, when you can show the cab driver the address of the place you’re going, on a piece of paper you’ve brought with you, and she still doesn’t understand, I tend to believe she doesn’t want to understand. And when a cab driver takes you straight to the place you wanted to go, without any hesitation, after never actually confirming that he understood you when you tried to explain where you wanted to go, yeah that doesn’t look so friendly either.
When I visit a new country I always learn these five words:

Hello – Bonjour (good evening – bonsoir, good night - bonne nuit)
Yes – Oui
No – Non
Thanks – Merci
Goodbye – Au revoir

They won’t help you with the cab drivers, but with anyone else it’s a nice gesture.

So in conclusion: Go to Paris if you can scrounge up the money! Three days was great, if it’s your first time I think five days would be even better. It’s called the worlds most romantic city, but whether you go alone, with friends, with family, or with one or more romantic partners, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have a good time. And don’t be afraid to be fat in France! I was, and I’d go back tomorrow if you asked me! If you have any questions, feel free to ask! Au revoir, mes amis!


Brenda Jean said...

Should I -ever- have a chance I'll be so glad I read this post!

Veronica said...

Thanks! That's really nice to hear!

suzie wong said...

Hi, what a thought provoking post, I too have been "stared" at in Paris, and I am a UK small 16, a US 12? And to be honest it makes you feel like crap, and after all you have Paid to be treated this way! Ridiculous, I think too that you can be as ugly as sin, have really bad teeth and hair and smell as long as you are thin! But I loved your positivity and you are so lovely.

Christi Kassity said...

I am going to Paris for the first time in just over 2 weeks and I am so, so glad I read this post. I feel like I was reading an email from a friend telling me not to worry. Thank you so much!