Words That Don’t Translate: Flâner (French)

By Brittany Wong

  • Photo of a family rowing along the Lac Inférieur in Bois de Boulogne
A family rowing along the Lac Inférieur in Bois de Boulogne

Pictured is a family rowing along the Lac Inférieur in Bois de Boulogne, one of the best of more than 400 parks and gardens throughout Paris. Although there are countless monuments and museums to see, I think one of the best aspects of the city is the abundance of green spaces. Originally a royal hunting ground before reinvention under Napoleon III in the 1850s, Bois de Boulogne remains one of Parisians’ favorite spots for a bucolic retreat without having to leave the limits of the metro system. The over 2,000-acre park includes several very natural-seeming but artificial lakes, a museum, smaller gardens, and even two hippodromes—quintessential refined nature “à la française.” On a sunny Sunday afternoon, you will find Parisians of all ages at the Bois running, biking, picnicking, rowing, reading, or simply sitting on the grass or a bench reflecting.

Even in such a busy city, Parisians recognize the importance of creating time to spend without a clear, productive goal but instead quietly thinking, wandering, and appreciating the little things. This time is considered not at all wasted or lost, but in fact very valuable. 

For example, the verb “flâner” is absolutely essential in Parisian culture, but lacks a real equivalent in English: my best approximation would be “to stroll contemplatively.” Some of my best memories are of calm moments with “livres de poche” in the elegant Jardin du Palais Royal or observing precocious French children in Parc Sainte-Perrine near my homestay. 

One of my top suggestions in Paris is to always have something to read on you, such as a newspaper or a paperback book—you never know when you’ll discover the perfect spot to stop and read for a few minutes or hours.

Brittany Wong 
Duke in Paris
Summer 2016

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