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Sometime in the 80’s my husband and I toured Paris. It amazes me to think back to how I called long distance, 2 or 3 times, and spoke with the hotel clerk, reserving a room for a couple of nights. There was no Expedia or Travelocity to compare rates and accomodation details, or even Trip Advisor to guide me through the myriad of pros and cons about an establishment. Chock it up to youth. I didn’t know better, so I plunged ahead, uncaring if the woman at the other end of the phone was rolling her eyes at my obvious lack of sophistication or inability to speak French.
Thank goodness the next time we venture back to the City of Light, the internet will pave the way. This time there’ll be 3 adults whose needs will have to be met, including one 25-year-old who’ll want to do as Cyndi Lauper wails in her song,”Girls just want to have fu-un!”
I’ll have to enlist my French blogging buddy, My English Thoughts, for some help there. Maybe she’ll drag my daughter along to some of Paris’ hot spots, after her elderly parents totter off to bed long before midnight.
I’m hoping when our family does make it back to France’s capital of haute couture and irrepressible charm, the Parisians will be as amenable to us as they were to the author of the following article. I’ve come to love Joe Queenan‘s irreverent sense of humor, which always seems to be “on point.” He publicly admits to things about which most of us probably “bite our tongues.” I guess he’s allowed to get away with it since he writes a column for the formidable Wall Street Journal.
Needless to say when I was in Paris decades ago, the French were as reserved as I’d heard they would be. They weren’t rude, but they weren’t falling all over themselves to be nice either. Being raised to be invisible, an Asian thing, my husband and I had no trouble blending into the background wherever we went . So we were most accommodating of the Parisians then-disdain for American tourists. Hopefully this time my old-age crankiness won’t get me, and the locals, into a battle of the wills, the ill-wills, that is. They’ll have no issues with my always-calm spouse and sweet-tempered off-spring. I’m both, unless I see an injustice about to happen. Then…get out of my way! This 5’2 senior will make you rue the day God gave you 2 ears to hear what spews forth like venom from a cobra!
Okay, well…now according to Queenan, I’ll have no need for any of that. I’ll just have a wonderful, heady touristy time in “gay Paree!”
French Twist: Meet Monsieur Nice Guy
If you’re a seasoned inhospitality buff like me, the very worst has happened: The French have stopped being mean and surly.
I started to notice this two years ago when I spent two weeks in Paris, and an equally unexpected aura of congeniality was certainly evident when I visited southern France last fall. But now the restraining walls of condescension and nastiness have utterly collapsed and a wave of warmth and courtesy have flooded in. Sacre bleu.
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During my four-day stay in Paris last month, waiters, concierges, museum guards and even cabdrivers all treated me with jaw-dropping affability. The ticket-taker at the Pantheon did not scream at me when I asked where Emile Zola was buried. The woman in the chocolate shop did not sneer when I asked for directions to the Rue Mouffetard (it was directly around the corner.)
The garcon in the posh restaurant did not treat me like the prototypical Ugly American when I asked what a “cocotte” was. The clerk at my two-star hotel asked if I would like to use her computer to print out my boarding pass, and went out of her way to get the broken elevator fixed so that I wouldn’t have to climb three flights of stairs on my gimpy legs.
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Wherever I went–the Louvre and Orangerie, the Comedie Francaise, Honore de Balzac’s house, even the Eiffel Tower–everyone went our of their way to be charming and helpful. For a minute there I thought I was at Epcot.
What happened? What triggered this explosion of courtesy and warmth? Well, for starters, the recession, which would motivate even the most chauvinistic French to tone it down a notch when dealing with tourists. But France has had recessions before, and that never took the edge off those legendary brusque, haughty people.
No, my suspicion is that much of the coarseness and incivility toward foreigners–and particularly toward Americans–stemmed from embarrassment about having collaborated with the Nazis. Anti-americanism was practically an official state policy under Charles de Gaulle, but now the war is no longer an issue. Most of the World War II generation has died out and been replaced by young people who do not have a chip on their shoulder.
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Friendly young people. Helpful young people. I know this will come as a shock to those who have not visited France for a while, but the French are now friendlier than the Italians, than the Irish, than the girls who greet you at Hooters. This unanticipated onslaught of goodwill totally floored me.
As a globe-trotting malingerer, I have always enjoyed returning from a jaunt abroad with fresh support for popular American stereotypes about foreigners. Yes, Belgium really is boring. Yes, the Swedes really are laconic. Yes, the Scots really do like a dram or two.
But now these stereotypes are collapsing like wisps of straw. Though most Americans still associate England with bad food–fish and chips, bangers and mash–the truth is that dining out in London is now an absolute joy, with top-flight restaurants everywhere. You can get a good meal even in the provinces, which was certainly not the case before Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair dragged the U.K. into the modern world. So there goes another beloved, hoary stereotype.
As a world-class spoilsport and curmudgeon, I now have less and less anecdotal material to fall back on when I want to blast another society. Luckily, when last I checked, the Germans were still arrogant, the Italians were still incompetent, and the Canadians were still reliably unexciting.
Still, if I go to Berlin this fall and find out that the Germans are no longer bossy and overbearing, I’m going to throw in the towel and turn into an American who doesn’t overeat, overspend or take the first five minutes of every conversation trying to figure out how much everybody else in the room paid for their house. I’m warning you frogs, you Teutons, you Russkies: Two can play this game.
the guy makes me laugh…even though much of what he says is not meant to be funny…hugmamma.