Want to Connect? Then Unplug.

I just got back from two glorious weeks in Paris. (Pinch me!) And it amazed me to see the French Paradox in action.  If you are not familiar with the French Paradox, it is a phrase that was coined in the 1980’s when doctors and scientists tried to make sense of the rich diet that the French consumed, yet the low incidences of coronary disease and obesity.

Let me rephrase.  According to the U.S., the French are doing it all wrong.  They smoke, drink, eat tons of butter, cheese, sugar and red meat.   They don’t eat dinner before 8:00 pm, they stay out late and get up early.  And yet they thrive, not to mention that they are in shape and of course, beautiful!

Upon closer look however, smoking aside (no one should smoke – ever!), when you take a closer look, the traditional French diet is based on whole, fresh and often locally grown food free of GMOs.  The portions are small, even if rich and the Parisians walk EVERYWHERE.  They don’t eat junk food and almost never eat in between meals.

Unfortunately we saw too many McDonalds, KFCs and Burger Kings around the city (mostly in the tourist areas) but that’s for another blog post.

What we did see however is a lack of laptops and people tethered to their devices.  What we did see were people connected to each other at the cafes, parks and the metro.  What we did see were very clear lines between work and play.

Maybe the French Paradox has less to do with diet and more to do with less stress, more interpersonal connection and much much much more down time.  In contrast to the average vacation time in the US which is a meager 2 weeks, the average French worker gets 31 days off per year.

Back to the cafes.  During my 2 weeks of roaming around 90% of Paris, I saw all of 3 people working on their laptop and virtually 1 person with earbuds in their ears.  I definitely saw mobile phones, but mostly being used to connect with others.  And not once, ever did I see people out to dinner fiddling with their phones and texting with others as opposed to connecting with each other, unless they were tourists.   At many cafes, I saw patrons writing in their journals, reading their newspaper and drawing in their sketch pads.  In the neighborhood parks, I saw couples holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes and families having picnics, playing cards and board games with each other.

Upon my return to New York, upon walking into a my neighborhood park, I counted 8 people on their laptops, 15 people in earbuds and kids running around while their parents were busy texting on their phones.  In my neighborhood  coffee shop, not one table was free of a laptop or iPad and virtually everyone was plugged in with earbuds and engrossed in their screens with virtually no connection to each other.

I suddenly longed for Paris where I put my phone and devices away, sat at the cafe and enjoyed some down time, people watched and actually talked to people sitting at nearby tables.

Maybe, just maybe if we adopt more of this in the States – and unplug to connect, we too will see a difference in our health and happiness.

Until the next time!




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