The Full-Court Press - From Paris With Love
July 5, 2011
Rising junior Samantha Jordan checks in from her summer study aboard in Paris.
I think the French get a bad rep. After living in Paris for several weeks now, I am going to try to clear up the misconception about the French.
After visiting my friend Pauline in Normandy (northern France) I believe I have a perspective regarding how the French see themselves. Pauline is my "French sister." A few summers ago, Pauline, who was an exchange student at the time, lived with my family in Virginia when we were both 14. She said that when she asks people from another country what they think of the French, they often say that the French are snobby or stuck-up. Her theory is that people who have this unfavorable image of the French have probably only had interaction with Parisians.
I guess I can kind of see her point. The Parisian women definitely come across as having a superior attitude. But honestly if you could look as fierce as one of them, you would probably have that attitude to go along with it as well. With their sharp heels clacking on the pavement, fast-talking French and ability to make cigarettes look cool, the French women are pretty fierce.
But it is not just the fashionable business women. There definitely is a different attitude here than in the US of how to treat strangers. The French simply do not invite small talk. If you are stuck in an elevator for example, or are standing in line for an hour for a ticket to a chateau, don't expect to fill the time with chatter; the French just don't do that. They might even get annoyed by the American tendency to tell complete strangers their whole life story. What is more common here in Paris is a determined disregard of strangers. My friends went to a comedy show called "How to Become Parisian in One Hour." One of the tips the comedian suggested was to learn the Parisian "metro face." This is best described as intently staring at a definite point while resolutely refusing to make eye contact with anyone else. This is not just a joke; a lot of Parisians actually do this. It is really hard to ignore this steely French glare.
Parisian waiters also leave much to be desired when it comes to courtesy. They are very nice when enticing you to dine at their restaurant. They might gently hook arms with you or make a light joke. But once inside the restaurant, you might wait half an hour to grab their attention again. I have been brought the wrong order by a woman who couldn't or didn't want to try and understand my elementary French. I was also present in a group when one of my party had to wait ten minutes just for some buerre (butter) or a carafe d'eau (water). And while some are willing to try and understand my very American French, others get exasperated and sigh "Ok, what do you want?" instead of the "Qu'est-ce que je vous sers?" that I am looking for.
And yet, despite the above examples, I have really enjoyed my interactions with the French. Most are helpful and really willing to understand when your French is mixed with a little English. And definitely when I go out, the guys are very friendly and everyone seems to want to get to know the American girls! And by the way, their loose grasp of English makes for some very funny pick-up lines. One guy who wanted to go out with me and my friends asked if he could "catch us up" because he wanted to "make party" with us!
In movie portrayals of Paris there is always a couple making out in public. So how can anyone say these people are mean, when they are clearly so loving? And just so you know, the hundreds of pictures and movies that show Parisians making out all over the city are not just Hollywood. The French really are all about the PDA! I have seen so many couples in the metro, on the quay by the Seine, in the parks or even just the streets having private, intimate moments in plain view. In the US this is frowned upon but here I think it is kind of sweet. One of my French guy friends was puzzled that Americans would think that this is rude. He said "What's the problem? If I like my girlfriend then I'm going to kiss her and it doesn't matter if anyone sees."
And during my six weeks I definitely did see... a lot. But on the other hand there was nothing gross about seeing Pauline's parents. They must have snuck in eight or nine kisses (that I saw) during the weekend I stayed with them. And besides holding hands everywhere they walked, her Dad would always give her mom these intense looks so you could tell they were really in love. I know I am being such a romantic right now but that's just not something you see every day back home. This couple must have been married more than twenty years but they were acting like teenagers in love for the first time.
So I could agree that maybe Parisians are a little rough around the edges. They definitely won't go out of their way to talk to you and you won't feel a need to make small talk with one. But I do think they are very welcoming once you get to know them. And they are definitely a group of true romantics. Who knows, maybe I am turning into a romantic because of them. One girl in my class definitely is. She's going to return home to the US with an engagement ring.