Sunday, May 21, 2006

I AM an American in Paris

It's funny how settled in I feel in a way. I'm totally accustomed to the French phone lady on voicemail, and not at all traumatized any more about going into stores and asking questions. It helps that I've learned to stop trying to masquerade as French -- that will never work, because it ain't so. So I just try to be a civilized americaine, ya know do my bit to make French people think that Americans are halfway intelligent and francophone (and even funny).

Sometimes I get the impression that French people don’t expect foreigners to have anything amusant to share with them. No fun light banter with shopkeepers in stores, for example. Usually it's pretty serious interaction. I was in a boutique on rue Tronchet trying on pants, and said jokingly to the lady, "The pants are great; it's the body that needs help!" and she frowned and said "Mais non, " and went on a little mini-tirade about how you must respect and love the body you have. Oh well, it was just my way of trying to engage in lighthearted banter... So I tend to do that less and less, because they just don't seem to get that level of levity.

On the other hand, I have learned how to engage in conversation with cab drivers, and so far can charm just about any of them. I called one to come pick me up and he said "I can't -- there is a manif in your neighborhood and the traffic is blocked." (His taxi stand is around the corner, so he knew what the real situation was, but he was apparently acting on official traffic reports from la prefecture de police). I said, "Monsieur, I have the best view of the Madeleine of anyone, and can tell you in fact that the traffic has cleared up. In fact, feel free to call me any time if you want a really good traffic report!" He said, "Okay, I'll be there in 2 minutes."

Another day I was bringing to the apartment two antique wooden chairs I bought at a brocante, and although I called the number for extra-large taxis, a regular size taxi showed up. The driver snarled, "You are moving furniture. Do I look like a moving man?" "No," I replied sweetly, "you look like a very kind chauffeur de taxi." He melted like butter. Even helped me move the chairs into the foyer when we arrived.

Then -- enfin! -- a little foray into Polly-humor that kind of worked:

Yesterday I got a bad blister on the palm of my hand from trying to assemble an IKEA table with a too-small screwdriver. I immediately dropped everything and went straight to the beloved pharmacie at the corner for help. I told the mademoiselle about spending the morning shopping at IKEA, and showed her the horrible, painful result of the afternoon's assembling efforts. She found all the right pansements to miraculously cure my blister, and a nettoyant for cleaning my hand. As we approached the caisse, I noticed a homeopathic product in promotion called "Memo-Boost pour aider le memoire." I said, "Ah, I will take this so I will remember not to go back to IKEA!"

She actually got a good chuckle out of it, before then saying, "Quand meme, il y a des choses tres interessantes chez IKEA."

Of course I’m absolutely passionate for IKEA; unfortunately, I don't think there is a French phrase for "just kidding". Maybe "c'etait pour rigoler"? I dunno. But I got her to laugh!

Masses taking over the streets in Paris in April

In the cold pink dawn of a Sunday in Paris, once again the police had barricaded the streets: rue Royale was just a silent sea of cobblestones, so I strode down the middle as I headed to the Place de la Concorde to see what all the tumult was. Gendarmes were everywhere.

Coming from the Champs Elysees there appeared to be an endless river of human beings, running in my direction. People were shouting, the police cars were wailing their sirens as they drove ahead of the masses. First came a throng of black men, leading the pack. The rest of the crowd followed close at heel.

A large oomp-pa-pah band began playing, celebrating the opening of the 30th annual Marathon de Paris.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Which means "note de la redactrice". I owe a huge thanks to dear friend Ariane for setting up this blog for me, as I'm totally inept.

An explanation of "Polly Vous Francais:"

When I was very very little my older siblings gave me my very first French lesson, telling me to respond to the question "Parlez vous francais?" by answering "Oui, un peu."

I obliged, but I asked them what it meant; and, in all fairness, they explained "It means, 'Do you speak French?' ."

Great. But then little Wog was very upset to hear the same question being asked of her older sister. I thought they should be asking "Suzie-vous francais?"

Not eactly an early attempt at cartesian logic, but the genesis for a lifetime of learning French.

Le Look Parisien

written in April 2006

She's getting it figured out. Le Look Parisien. After finishing le petit dejeuner, she dons le look.
Well-pressed jeans. Check.
Suede boots. Check.
Long scarf coiled around the neck. Check.
Face lightly made up, lips glossed. Check.
Hair coiffed. Check.
Brown shearling jacket. Check.
One last check in the mirror before heading out the apartment door to a meeting. Looks pulled-together.
Into elegant wrought iron elevator cage, down to floor "0".
Push "porte" button to enter courtyard.
Push exterior "porte" button, out heavy ancient door onto place de la Madeleine.
Nod "Bonjour, monsieur" to shopkeeper next door who stands guard smoking all day.
Deep breath, get ready for the Parisienne-style walk, which will take her past Dior, Gucci, Chanel and all the neighborhood stores:

Head tossed high as though you're looking over the person in front of you. Check.
Posture: not exactly "chest out", more akin to "boobs first". Check.
The stride - a mild version of the fashion catwalk, heel-toe, heel-toe. Check.
Longchamp bag hung just so at the elbow. Check.
Feeling good, got le look. Within minutes, a man calls out from behind her, "Madame?"

Hmmm. Does she deign to respond? She turns oh-so-slowly and confidently around.
He says, "Vous avez un morceau de papier colle la!"

Mais oui, Polly's customized version of le look parisien includes a yellow post-it note flapping from her derriere.
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