“Wafer-thin mint monsieur?” – line from “The Meaning of Life” (1983) by Monty Python in the Mr Creosote sketch
Coming back to Parisian service, it is one of the many crazy contradictions in living here that the service can be either meticulous or the worse you ever had in your life. That of course can be experienced in cafés and restaurants but also when dealing with the daunting French Administration. Sometimes, its almost as bad as the I.N.S. (and believe me, I was married to a French woman in the US and had MANY dealings with the I.N.S and none of them were better than say your average root canal). Sometimes it is amazingly friendly and even productive. Let me state another example. In the US, no one would dare to talk to an I.R.S. tax officer for fear of getting audited. In France, you can practically call them by their first names. Well, not really but if you ask them for a delay, in most cases they’ll grant it. If you ask them for advice, they’ll give it freely. If they make a mistake, they’ll reimburse you – it might take two years but you’ll see the money. None of those circumstances was even conceivable for me living and working in the US.
And then there are cafés and restaurants. Let just put it this way, France would probably be a nicer place if it weren’t for Parisians. Yes, they are rude, arrogant, ignorant, self-assured, and annoying. But, thankfully, they are very fond of their city and so you don’t have much occasion to run into them when traveling OUTSIDE of Paris. All kidding aside, Parisians are viewed even by the average French person as arrogant. Perhaps though, if we are honest about it, every major city has that flaw. I mean New Yorkers and Bostonians have well-deserved poor reputations in politeness and manners, Tokyo residents are considered pretentious by the rest of Japan…that being said, rarely outside of Paris have I seen folks relieving themselves in the street in the middle of the day wearing a three-piece suit and I have only been kicked out of a café for daring to enter with my kid on his trike (he wasn’t even fidgety). [NOTE: DO NOT PATRONIZE THE REGENT CAFE/RESTAURANT AT METRO CADET – THE OWNER’S A JERK!]
One theory I have is that a major portion of the grumpiness stems from over-crowding. Paris is the most densely populated city in Europe and on the scale of the Asian megopolises – according to the 1999 census (the last to date), there are 24,448 people per square kilometer (63,320/sq mile)! There are almost 2.2m people crowded into an area just 55km wide (34 miles). The implication there too as that our apartments are pretty small on average (a 55m2 (600 sq ft) flat is considered to be a decent size – 100m2 is in the millionaire category). Personally, I always feel a big aggressed by this lack of personal and public space. Perhaps as a rule, Parisians, consciously or unconsciously, feel that pressure to and react by being grumpy and aggressive in daily life.
Since Paris is so crowded and relatively compact, there is precious little green space. In my neighborhood, there is one, yes, just one, park.
As I tried to show you above, the one green bit (they cut all the trees in this Google Maps sat photo several years ago) is still off-limits. The playgrounds are pretty small and the park itself is pretty miniscule. Try being happy and easy going when you have less than 100m2 to enjoy outside with perhaps 50k other folks…not easy right?
So referring to my quote, this city is explosively crowded and perhaps that could be one of the many reasons that its inhabitants tend to be hurried and unfriendly. Or not? Let me know what you think in the comments.
The Square de Montholon was redesigned late last year and has more space but less green. I checked but unfortunately, Google Maps, Apple Maps and Mappy all have the old satellite view I showed before so I pulled this one from the Square’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/laVieDeMontholon which shows a before and after.