Hopefully Humorous Observations and Occasional Tips in Dealing with the Gauls and Parisians
[Author’s Note for 2014 Re-Publish: To celebrate my 18th year in Paris and the 4th anniversary of this series of post, I am republishing this first article and have added an update here and there. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them, albeit some time ago.]
After nearly 15 years passed as an American ex-pat (and naturalized French citizen I might add) living in Paris, I figure I know a thing or two about France and the French. On the 1st of April, myself and almost 700 colleagues from my current huge US-based corporate megalith are on a forced march over to a French-owned software company. Of the 700 fellow colleagues, nearly 650 of them are not French so I wanted to give them a bit of a crash course about living in Paris, dealing with French people, and a few ideas about French culture.
“C’est de la merde!” – line from “Le Père Noël est une ordure”, a sardonic comedy created in theater form (1979) and produced as a film (1982) by the French comedy troup Les Splendid. Rough translation: “That is made of poo!”
One very disconcerting thing for the first time visitor to our beautiful city is the nearly ubiquitous piles of dog poo on the Parisian sidewalk. Despite the documented 650 accidents requiring hospitalization due to folks slipping on poo and breaking their necks, the city’s cops tend to look the other way with pinched noses when they see poodles and great danes having a “grosse commission” on the sidewalk. I have wondered about this particular phenomenon for years and have still not quite understood how such a few animals could create such a mess. Perhaps the French dog has a particularly sensitive tummy, or perhaps the French dog chow is too rich. It is just so strange because I have traveled all over the world and never been so aware so often of such a monstruous quantity of poo anywhere else. Someone has actually taken the pain to make a website about this: http://museliere.free.fr/feces.htm. Well, I guess my advice is, while walking around here – ALWAYS WATCH YOUR FEET!
Anti-Americanism – NOT!
“J’aime les Américains, pas leur politique” former French François Mitterrand (1980). Rough translation: “I love Americans, but not their politics”
So, let’s set the record straight here: THE FRENCH DO NOT HATE AMERICANS. Should I repeat? THE FRENCH DO NOT HATE AMERICANS NOR DO THEY HATE AMERICAN CULTURE. That isn’t to say that they are all dying to move to Des Moines and wear denim shirts. That doesn’t mean that Americans in Paris will be well-treated in Parisian restaurants (trust me, we are ALL treated equally badly in Parisians restaurants!). But it does mean that French people look up to Americans as beacons of entrepreneurship, creativity, seemingly boundless energy, and hope against hope. Some indications of the absence of anti-americanism: The incredible atmosphere in Paris was electric when Obama was elected. ‘McDo’ or McDonald’s (51 and counting in Paris alone) for you Yanks and others is PACKED ALL THE TIME BY FRENCHIES. And no, not just Frenchies that are broke. To prove it, just take Starbucks. In less than 6 years, they already have opened 34 stores in and around Paris where we all (yes, I admit being a big Grande Latte fan!) go for overpriced coffee and almost always have to wait in line (just try to get something at the store on avenue des Capucines near Opéra Garnier one day, the place is packed ALL THE TIME, ‘course it is probably the most beautiful Starbucks…). Anyway, another point of fact is that the biggest movie successes are American, the homage paid during the D-Day celebrations each year, etc. etc.
Now referring back to my quote above, French people (and lots of other folks in an outside of America) do not always agree with American politics, like say Gulf War II. I don’t know when the idea the fact that one dislikes a country’s leadership and the policy decisions of those leaders gets confused with not liking the people in the country. I just would like to assure you that the French have no gripes to pick with the average American. None. Zip. Nada. Do they have a problem with the former president and his policies? Yes. Do I also have problems with the former president? Yes. Does that make me less American? No. And once again, does that mean the French hate Americans. NO!