Surfing, Skateboarding, Music, Photography, Travel, Culture and general antics of the youth on the run.

How to Live in French With Chas Smith

Chas Smith writes about France Photographed by Kai Neville
NXT /

“France, and the whole of Europe have a great culture and an amazing history…” Johnny Depp once wisely said. “…Most important thing, though, is that the people there know how to live! In America they’ve forgotten all about it. I’m afraid that the American culture is a disaster.” And how amazingly wrong he is about the second part. This is precisely the sort of sentiment that makes Americans appear to be disasters. This fawning over cultures deemed more “sophistique,” more “chic” than our own. No, America is fantastic. Or, “God shed his grace on thee,” to quote the nineteenth century lyricist Katharine Lee Bates. But about the first part, Johnny Depp is spot on.

France, in particular, has a great culture. One that every young surf hipster should explore with gusto. There are fine restaurants, fine pieces of art, a fine minority culture that burns cars in the street. There is even fine surf that bends into the southwestern most coast. It is an earthly paradise, in a way, and Johnny Depp was good and right to see it as such. But let us examine him again. He once stood at the height of French glory as long time partner of Saint-Maur-des-Fosses beauty Vanessa Paradis. They were a striking couple, sashaying up and down the Champs Elysees, jabbering in the language of love. But because Johnny Depp had no self respect, the relationship with his French goddess ended and now he is engaged to be married to Amber Heard of Austin, Texas. Love France, dear youth. But love thyself more. And follow these simple instructions:

Attitude: Unlike Johnny Depp, though, the greatest way to explore France is with a hefty amount of “As-an-American-I-am-better-than-you.” The French, you see, may design handbags and trousers worth killing for but they haven’t figured out how to make a hot breakfast served before 11 in the morning. They haven’t figured out how to offer service with a smile. They haven’t figured out how to offer service. And so, as an American, you should waltz through Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, Hossegor with such dismissive grandeur that the French have a hard time knowing how to handle your disdain. Internally, love. Externally, despise. This formula will get you to the tip of the Eiffel Tower and back, baby.

Bed: There are almost too many places to rest in France. There is the Grand Hotel Du Palais Royal in Paris and also the Hotel Amour, which means hotel love but is not a brothel. There is the Hotel Le Negresco in Nice. There is the Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc near Cannes. Fantastic hotels are everywhere, quite frankly. So everywhere that it is hard to go wrong. But wrong you can indeed go. Don’t stay in a Formula 1 hotel. The chain, ubiquitous, throughout France and, if I recall, Spain, is boxy and horrible. Don’t stay in hostels. Ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever everever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever. Hostels are hell. Hostels are where bad liberal ideas take root and rot the soul. Hostels are for venereal disease and dreadlocks. Don’t. Don’t stay in your car. A Formula 1 hotel is better than your car, all hot and bothered. Your car is better than a hostel. Don’t ever stay in one.

Drive: Though Germany is known for Porsche and Italy is known for Ferrari, when in France you must make it a point to drive French. That means Citroen or Peugeot or Renault. And I am going to be very honest with you here, honey. French cars are shit. There is a reason they don’t win sexy international races. But breaking down in the French countryside whilst behind the wheel of French “engineering” will feel so much more authentic. Plus, if you are in the middle of the countryside, breaking down will be the best thing that ever happened. Sancerre is a region that produces maybe the finest white wine anywhere on earth. Leave your hunk of junk behind and sip a chilled glass and let your worries dissipate. Also, drive much. The French, and all Europeans for that matter, think they live in a world that is undriveable. They mistakenly believe their cities are, like, eons away from other cities, which is utter nonsense. A drive from Paris to Hossegor will take you a mere six hours. That’s like driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Paris to Cannes will take you eight. Again, nothing! Like San Diego to San Francisco. Drive everywhere. Breakdown in Sancerre.

Shop: Hello, Paris? Yves Saint Laurent is here and so is Louis Vuitton and so is Balmain and so is everything else you have ever wanted. You don’t want? Shame. Either get lost or learn to lust after French fashion. I would argue that it is better than Italian and I would be correct. Yes, Paris has what you need. It has the flashy labels as well as small, up and coming designers who haunt the back alleys and make extraordinary frocks while shooting heroin. The French like to layer and they like to use horizontal stripes and even the beret can be used to great effect (if you are a little girl or Craig Anderson). Small coastal towns like Hossegor don’t unless what you need is a Volcom t-shirt.

Dine: Anywhere that serves mussels. They are called “moules” here and served in a white wine broth. Originally from Belgium, the dish has been usurped and reconstituted and I’m sure is very much better in French hands. Eat it with frites, or fries. Eat everything with frites. Eat everything full stop. There is no such thing as a bad meal in the land that invented the word cuisine. Even McDonalds is fantastic. Just ask Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction.

Drink: Rose. Never cocktails. The French know many things about the fine life but they know fuck all about cocktails. They don’t even know, as far as I can tell, that cocktails have alcohol in them. But why dwell on the negative when the rose is so fine?

Dance: At the Crazy Horse. Sure it is a tourist trap but part of having a winning “as-an-American-I-am-better-than-you” attitude is reconstituting tourist traps like the French have moules. It is cute. The girls get naked. You will have fun. But you should really let them do the dancing. Save your best moves for the waves.

Surfing: Yes.

Die: On Jimmy Morrison’s grave. It is right in the middle of Paris, in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and as cliché as dying on his grave might be, your friends will go crazy with it on Instagram. Give them this one, final gift. Or as the French call it, “Est-ce qu’on t’as déjà dit que tu ressembles vachement à Gérard Depardieu…

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