Thursday, October 30, 2008

(False) Idol Worship

Another Prominent Parisian ad campaign. I wonder if they've begun rethinking this one.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Guess I Didn't Really Need That Shoe After All

Now I’ve done it. This is probably a story I should bury in the “Secret Annals of an Awkward American in Paris.” But what fun is public humiliation if you can’t share it with your friends?

Yesterday was beautiful. When I woke up, there was literally a small French child singing “Frère Jacques” outside of my window. I ran a few errands and then made afternoon plans to wander around the magical Jardin des Plantes before having tea at the Mosquée de Paris with a friend. This day was perfection, and I was in happy-daydream-mode as I waited for the metro.

I quickly exited happy-daydream-mode when I stepped into the metro car and realized that something was not quite right. I looked down. Ah, yes. One of my shoes was missing, and I was standing in the middle of the train with one bare foot. Quite strange, really, because this foot had had a shoe on it not two seconds earlier... I was sure of it. I turned around just in time to see the little bastard slip into the gap between the platform and the train—plummeting to its death on the tracks below.

I didn't need to gasp in horror because everyone around me on the train had already done so. So I just froze in a state of stupefied shock. Luckily, there was a go-getter next to me who pulled me back onto the platform and immediately started scheming about ways to get the shoe back. In the meantime, the conductor noticed the commotion and turned off the train, which, as you can imagine, made me quite popular with the hundreds of metro-riders within.

My shoe was down there, but it could not be reached with the train in its current position. My friend gave up (apparently not such a go-getter after all), and the conductor told me to wait there. The authorities were coming. Il faut pas descendre. Do not try to go onto the tracks. And like that, they were gone.

The platform was now deserted, save for me and a dazed homeless guy on a bench. The platform across from me, however, was full of people who seemed equally perplexed and amazed at the sight across the way: me... a poor man's Cinderella... but dirtier and more forlorn.

So, I waited on the bench next to the homeless guy; we made quite a pair. He covered himself with a bag and fell asleep, and I tried to look as blasé as possible, as if wearing one shoe had been a carefully calculated fashion decision with which I was entirely comfortable.

I sent a few text messages to alert some friends about my loss of shoe. One response read: “Guess you didn’t really need that one.” Guess not.

A few trains came and went, with passengers eyeing me, some in disgust, some in pure awe. I considered trying to jump into the tracks, either to retrieve the shoe or to put myself out of this misery; but I decided that the mortification of losing a shoe and electrocuting myself would be simply too much for one day.

Still, no assistance came, so I strategically positioned myself at the end of the platform so that I could speak to the conductor of the next incoming train. As he pulled up, he seemed unsurprised to see me standing there. I knocked on the window sheepishly.

“My shoe fell in the tracks.”
“Yeah, I heard about you,” he replied. “They’re sending someone.”
Oh good. The word had spread.

I returned to my perch next to my homeless friend. As the next few trains passed, I noticed the conductors watching out for me with that unmistakable look of amused disdain. Finally, one of them got out and yelled, “The girl who lost the shoe?”

Yes, that’s me. How could you tell?

Finally, I spied two RER workers slowly approaching me from the opposite end of the platform. They were in no rush, nor were they amused by the havoc I had caused.
They looked at me.
They looked at my shoe on the tracks.
They left.

A few minutes later, they came back with a broom to fish the shoe out. No luck. One went to get another broom.

His partner stayed, and I decided it was a good time to make awkward conversation.
“Does this happen often?” I asked.
Then she told me to go sit down.
I obeyed.
Then she conceded, “Well sometimes people lose phones. But not shoes.”

Finally her counterpart came back and embarked upon an elaborate shoe rescue endeavor. While the woman watched for oncoming trains, he used the two brooms in a “chopstick-like” manner and eventually succeeded in lifting my shoe from the tracks below. It was frightened, but intact.

“Thank you so much. I’m so sorry about this,” I giggled, immediately realizing that I shouldn’t be giggling.
He sort of smiled.
She didn’t.
They left.

I looked around the platform for someone to share in my joy—or at least in the absurdity of my shame—but, strangely, no one wanted to associate with me, not even my homeless guy.

The next train came and I hopped on, both my foot and my ego thoroughly soiled.

As the train pulled away I wondered, “How would a cool French girl have handled that situation?”

It’s pretty clear. A cool French girl would never have been in that situation because (1) she would not be a complete spazz, and (2) she would have been wearing cool French boots, which are what I intend to wear for the remainder of my time in Paris.

Once again, bravo l’Américaine.

The culprit.

*P.S. Today I took my shoe to my special secret fountain to cheer it up because it was ashamed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Loincloth by Any Other Name...

I am very much indebted to a friend from the U.S. who, while visiting Paris last week, made an incredibly important discovery. While at the new Jean Nouvel-designed Musée du Quai Branly, she came across a loincloth on display.

Clearly, this is an exciting event in and of itself, but it became even more exciting when she read the French translation for the object: a cache-sexe. I’m not going to translate directly because this is a civilized blog, and the French term is quite graphic indeed. In fact, it makes "loincloth" seem downright puritanical.

Later that day, the same friend re-discovered another important term: lèche-vitrine. Literally, someone who "licks windows," a.k.a. a window shopper. But just as the French have better shopping, they also have better shopping descriptors. So after a day of window-licking and loincloth-admiring, she scurried home and reported her linguistic findings via mass email to a group of friends.

One particularly sassy friend sent a response that read: “lèches ma cache-sexe, biatch.” He’s a regular contributor to Elle Décor and thus has quite a flair for language.

Anyway, just food for thought. You might want to try out some of this new vocab next time you’re in Paris. Personally, I have sought to introduce the topic of loincloths into many of my recent conversations, and I’m pretty sure it has won me significant respect and admiration from anthropologists and strippers alike.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

In Celebration of the French Tongue

In France, language is taken very seriously. There is an ongoing debate here about how to preserve and protect the French language—both from its own organic evolution/desecration and from the English words that, little by little, are weaseling their way into French dictionaries. After watching a TV show on which an assortment of French politicians, academics, media personalities, and writers lamented the devolving state of the language, I realized that the situation is grave; this issue keeps people up at night.

And, evidently, it’s not just the French language that is at risk. Dozens of Parisian metro stops currently display this ad:

Stop massacring English! And yes, that’s a picture of a bruised and bloodied British policeman, the implication being that it is unacceptable—even violent—to speak English improperly. Hear that, French people? Get yourselves to a language school RIGHT NOW before this situation spirals completely out of control.

These ads make me laugh because, 1) they’re ridiculous looking, and 2) I like to daydream about a reciprocal campaign being launched in the US. “Stop massacring the French language!” I feel like many Americans’ first question would be… “What’s French?”

Anyway, it’s no surprise that language is important to French people. French is awesome. It is fun to speak—or to attempt to speak—and there are a whole slew of words and concepts that I find very amusing.

The verb flâner, for instance, is a classic. It basically means to wander aimlessly, pensively, with no firm destination in mind, simply to take in one’s surroundings and to ponder life’s questions in an unrushed manner, maybe while strolling along the banks of the Seine or while watching skater punks show off their skills outside of the Palais de Tokyo, for as long as one wants because, why not, we have free healthcare and lots of vacation days, but we also have a president whose gaudy Rolex is simply too much and it’s very déclassé and we should take an afternoon to stroll and reflect upon these things.

Yes, the French have a word for this concept, and they’re not joking.

But as wonderfully expressive as French can be, my favorite French words of all time are the awkward, “modern” ones—those that seem to have been made up, on the spot, by a really confused person who needed a name for something… fast.

We have a two-way tie for first place:

Talkie-Walkie: You guessed it. It’s a walkie-talkie. But we’re not just using the English word, you see, because we’ve switched the order of the words, therefore making it French.

Babyfoot: Known to the English-speaking world as Foosball—a game I always hated, until I started calling it Babyfoot. Now I can’t get enough.

*By the way, if you want to say “we’re tied” in French, you simply say égalité. Equality. Succinct, straightforward, it is exactly what it claims to be. And just so you know, I learned this expression while playing Babyfoot.

For an Anglophone in France, things can get awkward when you are speaking French and need to use an English word that has been adopted by the French. Do you pronounce it correctly? Or do you adopt a faux-French accent and pronounce it as the French would? I have a friend who struggles with this dilemma everytime she tries to order a muffin. Starbucks is surprisingly popular in Paris—as is the muffin—or as the French call it, the “moo-feen.”

Anyway, I’m having a lot of fun here when it comes to language. As some of you may have noticed, I am losing my English. And I wouldn’t say I am gaining proper French, but my franglais is improving at a rapid rate. It’s sort of refreshing to be in a language-less limbo for a while… a rebirth of sorts… or should I say, a renaissance? (Pronounce as you wish).

I was speaking to a French guy a few weeks ago about the adventure of learning another “tongue." (Langue, the word for language in French, also means “tongue”).

“That’s so good that you have come here,” he said in English. “And you enjoy learning the French tongue?”

I let him know that he might want to be careful when throwing that expression around. But, fundamentally, he’s right. Learning another language is endlessly enlightening and amusing, and in my opinion, you can’t get better than the French tongue.


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