My friend Polly Platt, author of French or Foe and Savoir Flair, is soon to publish a third book on l'Amour a la Francaise. "Any thoughts?" she asked me. Although I'm a Polly too, I know precious little about "love" in France, I told her. I've only been here since March. But as a relative newcomer to Paris I have noticed how the preamble works.
The flirting -- it's everywhere!
One observation, initially, is that in France all flirtation skills get honed and ready for practice on a daily basis. Until last spring I had been living in frosty old New England for almost 30 years and not at all accustomed to it. But somehow being in France, if one is at all adept at joining the esprit of the repartee, the flirtation takes place.
One simple moment. Last month at the Carrefour at Auteuil, in the checkout lane for home delivery, in front of me was a tall, ruggedly handsome man, clearly just back from vacation. He was wearing Bermudas and topsiders, a polo shirt and a great tan. Tousled hair. I was doing my own "check out" by trying to determine his domestic status by analyzing what he was buying (a great game in any case). We were jostling and bumping a bit because of bulky items in our respective carts. Anyway, I did eventually notice a wedding ring on his finger, so he was off-limits, officially, at any rate. However, when it was my turn to go to from the cashier to the livraison a domicile desk, the clerk said, "What else can we do for you, madame? Vous etes avec le monsieur, n'est-ce pas?"
I replied, with my best stage sigh and engaging smile, "Non, hélas!"
Mr. Tousled Hair was flattered and amused, and gave me a glittering glance and complicitous nod as he headed out the door.
It was a great little moment of connecting. (I would NEVER have done that in puritanical Massachusetts, especially not as a divorced woman. Bad, bad, bad.) I guess part of it is that in France it feels as though it's your duty to show appreciation of beauty or something pleasing.
Another little moment: One Sunday after church at the American Cathedral a small group (4 women, one man) decided to have lunch. As we were exiting the church building, the sexton gave us beautiful flowers left over from a Saturday wedding. When we entered the cafe on avenue George V, the waiter asked what the flowers were for (we all had identical bouquets of antique roses). Quick to rise to the opportunity, I quipped. "Aujourd'hui on les offrait aux plus belles femmes du quartier." (They were giving them to the prettiest ladies in the neighborhood.) The handsome waiter, just as quick in his French flirtation skills, replied with a smile, "Ils n'avaient pas tort!"
Paris just brings this out in people. And this is only the lighthearted banter. There is, for those who can handle it, a little teasing that goes on that creates a positive (magnetic?) tension between men and women. It leaves the door wide open for the next step and the next step.
Moment number 3. I arrived for a business meeting in the entrance to a gorgeous Haussmanien building. One attractive Parisian businessman whom I'd met previously was there already, and he greeted me and we chatted aimiably in the grand courtyard. A beautiful setting for any encounter. After about 15 minutes when my French colleague hadn't shown up yet, Mr. Big Business and I decided it was best to give her a call. He teasingly said to her into the phone, "Yes, Polly and I have been here for a while, but I won't tell you what we've been up to." I giggled (not very French?) and maybe blushed. Hanging up, he gave me one of those very French looks and offered a coy apology, saying, "Alors, I hope I didn't shock you?"
"Mais non, I was actually flattered..." I warbled.
(Is it really me saying things like this? Polly-who-stammers-at-the-slightest-crush? Where do these words come from? Is it because I'm speaking another language? Or is it just Paris?)
So, ladies and gentlemen, the next step is --- ??
My guess is that 99% of the time the "next step" doesn't take place. But then at least everyone continues on their day, slightly more charged than before.
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