Every other morning I lace up my runners, head out to the Bois de Vincennes, a massive city park just around the corner from my apartment, and begin my morning run. In September, when I first arrived in Paris, these runs were fun, because the weather was beautiful and the park would look like the photo on the left. However, now that December is almost upon us, my morning runs have become decidedly less fun, because when it’s still dark at 8AM when the alarm goes off, and the air inside my apartment is very much on the brisk side, all I want to do is snuggle back under the warm covers and sleep for a couple more hours. However, several not insignificant running races loom on the horizon, and so with images of crossing those finish lines dancing in my head, I usually manage to drag myself out of bed in order to do my usual loops around Lac Daumesnil.
This task is made easier because I love the Bois de Vincennes. It’s beautiful, full of trails, and you never know what you’re going to see. If it’s a weekend and the weather is nice, the park will be packed with people, including running groups, yoga classes, cyclists, and whole families out for a weekend stroll. Swans, ducks, and peacocks roam free while children and dogs gleefully chase them, and the park’s maintenance staff traverse the grounds on horseback. Today, I even saw a group of young adults all dressed to the nines in costumes that would not look out of place on the set of Game of Thrones, warranting more than a few double takes from passersby and my fellow runners. All of this makes for some pretty entertaining people watching, and when you’re only halfway through a 15 km run, you’ll take any distraction you can get. There is, however, one thing that I always see in the Bois de Vincennes, and when you’re huffing and puffing your way past, it’s the last thing you want to see. I’m talking of course, about the people who come to the park to sit on one of its benches and stuff their faces with junk food.
You see, I’ve discovered a curious thing about the French. They are very proud of their culinary reputation and the quality of their food, and French cuisine is often considered to be some of the best in the world. There are literally hundreds of places in Paris to find exquisite gourmet food of every variety, and this city is brimming with restaurants, specialty shops, and outdoor markets that would satisfy even the most discerning of foodies. And yet, despite this predilection for the finer things in life, it would appear that Parisians love their junk food. Quick, Belgium’s answer to McDonald’s, has locations everywhere in Paris and they are always packed, while McDonald’s itself is also wildly popular. France is the most profitable country outside of the United States for McDonald’s, with sales reaching 4.46 billion Euros in 2013. Not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of French cuisine.
Which brings me back to my increasingly cold morning runs. It just so happens that the last main intersection before you reach the park features both a Quick and a McDonald’s, and from my experience, people love to get their food to go in order to enjoy it while taking in the beauty that is the Bois de Vincennes. I’ve lost track of how many people I have run by who are sitting on park benches and munching down on Big Macs or Long Bacons. I thought the cold weather would eventually deter people from this practice, but just last week, on a particularly windy and wet day, I ran by a man who was hunched sideways over a bench, wolfing down a Big Mac while the wind and rain battered and soaked his jacket. At that particular moment, I felt sad for both of us. So while the French may profess to have higher standards when it comes to their food, I now know that they enjoy a McDonald’s cheeseburger just as much as the rest of us, and while I certainly won’t begrudge them for this, I do wish they would stop doing it in front of me when I’m trying to work off last night’s baguette.