Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Visitor from the Black Lagoon

I am learning (from my French and American friends in Paris) the perils of having all the people who were never nice to you in the US suddenly being your best friend when they think it means a free place to stay in Paris. Real estate is very expensive in this city, and people rent/own just what they can afford. Almost no one keeps an empty guest room - that's not only wasteful, but I’ve just learned that we all must pay a taxe d'habitation based on the square metres of space occupied divided by the number of people living there. So it’s no surprise that residences tend to be small.

Then of course there are your truly dear friends from “home” who would love to come to Paris (and whom you would GLADLY lodge on the sofa for months for the mere pleasure and delight of their company) who, because they are so thoughtful and sensitive, don't even ask to come because they wouldn't want to inconvenience you. What terrible irony! These are the ones you truly want and need.

Evidently everyone falls into this when they first move to Paris and then they learn.... about the evil houseguest. My learning saga:

First, I hardly know him. I'll call him "Sam". We had a couple of dates in New York before I moved to Paris, dates at his brownstone in Brooklyn that were okay but basically went nowhere. Highly opinionated, self absorbed yet thinks he's helpful in his critiques and observations, he can't understand why he has a hard time getting along with his children. I hadn't heard a word from him in a year. Or cared to. Then suddenly when I was back in New York last month I got an email from him saying that he’dl be in Paris in November and he'd "love to see me" -- he would be staying with old friends in the Marais.

Now to be fair, at the moment I had some other romantic prospects here in Paris, and so I naively thought it would at least be good to parade around some American "competition" to get the message delivered, testosterone jump-started, etc. I don't usually do this, but it was all to bolster my self-esteem, which was flagging at the moment. I thus forgave myself for any extent to which I may have been shamelessly exploiting Sam's interest in me.

So I accepted to see Sam when he was in Paris-- he very specifically asked me to block out Saturday evening and Sunday. Sounds like a date to me, with a D majuscule.

Said Saturday rolls around and he is no where to be seen at the appointed hour-- I had given him digicode, interphone, etc., all the instructions for getting to my place. As agreed, once he is 15 minutes late, I will go down to the street to look for him, in case he has digicode difficulties, a known phenomenon in Paris. Every 10 minutes I head down to the street -- no Sam. Finally after 40 minutes have elapsed I go back to the street and see him walking down the street away from my building -- he thought my address was a different number, and hadn't brought it with him.

Is it me, or have I gotten impatient with people who don't understand about the importance of planning ahead, keeping all the info that you have told them is VERY important to keep? Visiting Americans who think they know better than you in Paris are exhausting.

Exasperated, Sam complains that it was impossible to find any subway entrances in the 4th arrondissement, so had to walk 45 minutes across the Seine etc,. to get here, got lost, very very VERY sweaty and so asks immediately if he could remove his shirt (strip down to sweaty yellow mildewed Tshirt - ugh) because he had thought he should bring a wool jacket and a rain jacket, and wore them both while speed-walking the wrong way through Paris.

OK so already things are not going so well.

He looks at my apartment and laughs and says, "You're living in a college student's apartment" and laughs at about everything else I'm doing. I graciously chalk it up to nervousness on his part. Then after drinking a few of my beers he says, wherever you'd like to go for dinner is fine with me. So I obligingly take him to my favorite neighborhood resto, Au Pied de Fouet, where I am known and almost ready to be a neighborhood habituee. Very cheap and boisterous and good food. Very tiny, Parisian and old fashioned. A delightful gem.

At the end of the remarkably inexpensive meal, he leans in toward me and semi-seductively says, "Polly, it would be my great honor if you'd let me pay for this meal." Like it was f*cking Taillevent or something and he was putting down a purple velvet cape for me to walk in the door. Puhleeeez.

But I'm too nice. So I thank him profusely, we go for a spin on foot around the neighborhood and wind up back at my apartment door. I’m ready to call it a night and bid him goodbye. Then-- he asks that I accompany him to the subway station, three blocks away, so he won't get lost again.

Okay, I guess I've become too Parisian in my sensibilities, but that was such an un-macho move. Gross. A real turn-off.

So let's do the addition. Sweat, bad manners, correcting me (did I mention that?) about my knowledge of French, being conveniently feminist/new-age when it comes to paying for meals, complaining about Paris, bashing my computer, more sweat, ridiculing my lifestyle, being a sissy about going to the Metro. Oh and I forgot to mention stray nose hair and how he totally befouled the bathroom, right after stripping down to his T shirt, moments after arriving. The spray can of Air Wick lavande is there for a reason, Mister. Ditto the ventilator fan.

Why oh why did I even agree to meet him the next day? I guess from boredom, and because I had said I would, and we have friends in common in the US, he's intelligent enough and likes French literature and we can have decent conversations. And I think it's sometimes more fun to be out and about in Paris with a member of the opposite sex, when there is the opportunity. And he’s not ugly or even plain.

So Sunday we meet -- of course I couldn't get him to even try to travel to any place new to meet, since now all he knows is my apartment. So I head back across the Seine from church, in the 8th, to meet him at my apartment in the 7th, then we head back to the 8th to the Parc Monceau. A colossal waste of time, all that back and forth We have a so-so lunch in a gorgeous setting; my fault for picking that restaurant? At the end of which Sam says, "Let's just split it 50/50." I am definitely not accustomed to this from a 60-year-old man. Then he gives me 20€ for his half of a 46€ bill and figures that's even. I am in shock.

I spend the afternoon showing him all the great lesser-known sites of the 8e and 7e arrondissements. Then, walking back to my apartment along the esplanade of the Invalides he pops the question. "This is awkward, I don't know how to ask this..." Finally getting around to some sob story that he has to leave his hosts' place Monday but doesn't have to be in London until Tuesday, so maybe -- well who knows how things will evolve, he says, but could he sleep at my place Monday night? "I'm happy to be chaste," he says.

"Spell that, please, " I retort.

So at a weak moment I agree -- I had no plans for Monday evening, so what the hell. Someone to take me to dinner, how bad could that be?

Then he departs to his hosts' house to go to a dinner party being held in his honor. Oh, really? So I'm so irrelevant in his Paris visit that he couldn't even lightly suggest to his hosts that they invite me, for example? Not that I really wanted to go, but at this point I'm feeling mightily used. Only relevant enough to be tour guide and lodging provider. (Serve 'em up, Polly.) Bon appetit, Sam. Have a great party.

The next day he rings the bell at my apartment at 6:01 pm, suitcase in tow. Immediately asks for a beer (before I could even offer one). Relaxes with his feet up on my beige couch, shoes ON. I am busy finishing some correspondence on my computer. Then he asks if he could check his email when I'm through. No prob. I'll be glad for him to get his shoes off my sofa.

Sam then proceeds to write many lengthy, lengthy emails to lord knows who using the "I am an angry cub reporter typing on a Corona manual typewriter" approach on my slim new laptop. He is heaving big sighs, wiping his dripping brow with the back of his hand, and smashing the keys with mach force. From the other room I can hear the keyboard being furiously bashed. I am cringeing. This delicate keyboard already has some issues. "What kind of computer do you have at home?" I venture. "Does it have an old, sticky keyboard? Is that why you crunch the keys so ...adamantly?" Clueless, self-absorbed, he doesn't answer.

"You know, this keyboard of mine is SOO incredible," I offer, "All you have to do is lightly tap the keys and it goes even faster. Very sensitive to the touch."

"Naw," he starts complaining, "I just can't deal with this -- this PC. I have a Mac at home. Much better configuration."

Then after "checking " his email by brutalizing my laptop for another 45 minutes, he mercifully stops what he's doing, stands up and says, "OK, I'm ready for dinner," as if he expects me to have been Domestic Diva whipping up a five-course meal while he was waiting.

"There's a nice little restaurant down the street, a little more upscale, if that meets your budget," I offer. So we head down to rue de Sevres to delightful Le Petit Lutece, and things seem a little better. Sam at least has enough savoir faire to order some interesting menu items like civet de singlier, and I order the brandade de morue. Musing over what wine to choose, Sam puffs up and "gallantly" says, "Polly, you can choose the more expensive wine (24 euros!) -- I'll pay for the wine and we can split the rest of the bill."

Oh man, he's just killing me with the chivalry -- not only as a guy but as a guest! How much would a hotel room have cost him? Jesus, if he thinks he's going to get free bed AND get lucky tonight, NFW. He's just slapped a soaking-wet duvet on any faint sparks that might have been lurking around.

Then the wine comes and the waiter pours a little into Sam's glass, and instead of tasting it he just SMELLS the wine and nods that it's fine. Excellent wine, that Chateau de Cretin. I wonder if he would have nibbled the cork. The excellent dinner arrives and he insists that we share tastes and proceeds to jab at food on my plate with his fork. Good thing none of the food falls in his lap, because his napkin is still very nicely folded next to his plate. I'm starting to lose my appetite, and desperately hope that the waiters aren't smirking too much.

I am at a loss for words to dissuade him from any of these behaviors. I simply talk more about my new business project I’m working on with my friend Marie: a course to help American women learn French etiquette, fashion, and comportment. Tonight this gives me a venue to discuss charming anecdotes of good and bad manners from both cultures. I guess I have become too Frenchified -- or else too stunned -- to outright criticize what he is doing, as he is neither a stranger nor a member of the family. Some story I mention must finally resonate. He eventually catches on a bit, and says, "I am probably a transgressor in many of those areas."

"Don't worry, you can learn," I suggest.

Then, joy of joys, time to come home and make up the guest bed in the pull-out sofa. Yes indeedy. It would have been the biggest leap from zero to supersonic speed, dating-wise, to have any other sleeping arrangements. Trust me.

Whew. I'm home-free, I think. But no, the final coup. Sam announces, as if this were already a given and no problemo, "Well, I guess it is best to head to bed now, as I have to be at Gare du Nord at 6:30 tomorrow morning. Don't worry, I don't expect you to take me to the station."

Excuse me??? So I have to get up at 5:45 to make sure he's actually gone in time? And I'm supposed to be happy to be relieved of dropping him at the station? I don't even own a car.

I am either too gracious a hostess or too much of a sucker, and so the next morning I actually arise and fix breakfast to send him on his way.

As he's wheeling his suitcase toward the door, he says, "You know, Polly, if you weren't living in Paris I would really want to pursue a relationship with you. You are a fascinating creature."

I smile generously as I nudge him into the elevator cage, "Oh, I'm sure you would. But I AM living in Paris. So – well, c'est la vie. Bon voyage, Sam."

Watching that elevator descend out of sight I dance a little jig.

And dash to my computer to write a blog post.


Unknown said...

this is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Just loved reading that post. Your writing is fabulous, Polly. Carry on!
Eric, a frenchman in London

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Merci, Eric.

I'd be interested to hear tales of the French experience in London, too!

Anonymous said...

LOVE IT CUZ!!! I am sorry he was such a dork, but I adore your story here about him. Priceless.
Luv ya!!!

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