Sunday, October 7, 2012

How to Become Parisian

Last night, Mr. Oil and I attended a hilarious one-man show called "How to Become Parisian in One Hour."  We went with friends of ours, a French couple I'll refer to Mr. and Mrs. We-Love-America.  I call them this because they go to the US more than most Americans I know, and they think the US is pretty great.  Which we do too, but its not a typical attitude here in Paris! 

In any event, Mr. and Mrs We-Love-America had suggested this show as a fun night out together.  Until a few hours before, I didn't even know what we had agreed to see - I had just heard the words "show in English" and said, "Mais oui!"

If you live in Paris, or have a free night while visiting, I highly recommend this show, which makes fun of Americans at least as much as it does Parisians.  Covering everyone's favorite topics from dealing with waiters in restaurants, taking the Metro, getting into nightclubs, and finding an apartment, the tourists and French audience members were equally tickled throughout the performance. 

Facial expressions - pouty lips and an arrogant yet thoroughly disinterested stare - coupled with the classic Parisian sounds - think "ffff" or "buhf" or other related guttural exclamations - seem to make up a significant amount of what you must master in order to become Parisian.  We're working on that.  Meanwhile, this week we also worked on becoming Parisian by attending the Parents' Night at Baby Oil's halte garderie

Now, this was my first open house of any kind since my son's not yet 2, but I can't imagine that a group of parents standing somewhat awkwardly around as the staff explain in great detail just how all of the activities in which the children partake are essential to their development is that different in the US.   Just to be clear, we're talking about baby yoga, painting, collage, music, and gymboree.   I did learn that it is vital to send my child with a change of clothes because if something happens to his clothes (paint or whatever), it is important to his personal sense of self that he have his own clothes to change into. 

I understood about 40% of what was being said.  But as I said to Mr. Oil and another Anglophone mom with whom I sat in the back and whispered, anyone who can talk for that long and that seriously about how 1-3 year-olds spend their time has sufficiently convinced me that they are suitable to care for my child 10 hours each week. 

Following the open house, we went to dinner with my back-row whisperer friend and her French husband. We checked out the menu at one restaurant, left, then turned back around and decided it would work great.  In that time, the restaurant clearly determined that we were not French.  Though the restaurant was largely empty, the waiter ushered us to a table in the basement as opposed to the main floor.   I thought nothing of it, but our French companion was immediately insulted.  "How dare they sit us with the tourists!" he exclaimed. And true enough, the other seated table was a group of Asian tourists.  "That f**king guy, I can't believe he put us down here - I'm French!" said our friend.

This led to a prolonged conversation about how to project a Parisian persona - which, in a similar theme to what we would learn at the show last night, apparently boils down to, "If you show one moment of niceness, this will be interpreted as weakness, and you will be screwed."    Ah, the glamorous, romantic Parisian life!  

If you do show weakness, or are otherwise defeated by the challenges of living the Parisian life, you should drop everything and head to Cafe Pushkine and pick up their vanilla croissant. It is a gigantic, oversized, perfectly baked specimen of croissant with a layer of vanilla flavoring inside that adds just a touch of sweetness.  It is magical.  It transports.  We ate one this afternoon after a 20-minute screaming toddler meltdown inside the Printemps department store.  The meltdown was miserable and somewhat embarrassing.  The vanilla croissant made it all go away.