Monday, June 25, 2007

Stereotypes ...

Tangentially related to the post below, regulars here know how much Mrs. F and I love Paris; enough to plan to retire there. It is 'our city', the place, next to New York, where we feel most at home.

That said, I take a lot of crap from Americans who've neither been there, nor know anyone who has beside me. Most of their comments begin with "those fucking French". I guess we have the conservative propaganda to thank for that. So today I was pleasantly surprised to read a post from someone who has learned some of the same things about Paris and the French that I did a long time ago:


But there's another, even more unexpected part of Paris I'm getting to know: plenty of warmth and openness, even (especially?) toward Americans. My immediate disclaimer is that I am a young woman, here alone, so of course men are going to be, ahem, warm (that particular stereotype holds water: some French men can be relentless). But well beyond that, I've by now met men and women--in bookstores, at the gym, at author readings, at cafes, and in shops--all over the city who have made my assimilation smoother. Everywhere I go, I always make a concerted effort to speak French, and all the people and groups whom I've met sit and listen serenely, even though it takes me ten minutes (and numerous consultations with my French dictionary and notebook) to stammer out one just sentence. Then they answer me in French--slowly--and I answer back. Viola! Conversation ensues. Another new friend of a friend of a friend, who is French, took me under his wing, inviting me out all the time, and introducing me to his large and lively group of companions here. From my first night out with them, I've gotten emails and phone calls from the various guys and girls with offers to see plays, have coffee, and practice my French.

I think the French camaraderie I'm discovering goes hand in hand, at least in part, with its café culture, prevalent here more than anywhere else I've ever been. Part of that translates from a slower, more relaxed pace of life (c'est possible, even in a big, cosmopolitan city), and the aforementioned deviation from disposability, but most importantly, it offers license for le parisienne to linger in cafes over her café au lait or the vert for as long as she chooses, by herself, or with an acquaintance or four. Each café in Paris has a slew of as many chairs as possible squeezed into one area, most of them facing out toward the street, and people sit in them all day along; everyone has equal access to the energy of passersby, of which there are what seem like hundreds, even on tiny, quiet side streets. (Here, people stroll everywhere, or if not, they hop on their bike or moped, not in their Denali, to get where they need to go.) Paris's café culture supersedes over-the-top imbibing, too: it's about socializing, sitting around comfortably, and relaxing, while drinking wine, or just an espresso or a Coca-Cola. So perhaps another reason I have yet to see a person carrying a to-go cup of coffee is simply that a staple of life here is having most beverages out somewhere, sitting down, preferably with friends, even if it's when you don't have tons of time; in other words, taking (at least) a few minutes to enjoy.


Paris is a 'live and let live' place. It is a place where any time of the year you can see artists creating their works on the Pont des Arts, mimes at Sacre Cour, and street food vendors at Notre Dame.

As someone who doesn't speak French aside from the normal greetings (Mrs. F handles the complicated stuff), I find the people have been more than patient with me and helpful, far from the stereotypes you hear regularly in this country. A "bon jour" when entering a shop and "au revior" when you leave goes a long way.

Yes, they have their problems too, but we could learn a lot from them.

One thing they do need is a pooper scooper law, but you learn to walk with one eye to the ground.

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