Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Drinking Record Set

I've always been impressed by Europeans' ability to start drinking first thing in the morning, as if it's no big thing. Get up, brush your teeth, walk the chien, consume booze.

I recall an early morning layover in the Munich airport with my mom. The airport was sterile and deadly silent, save for the clinking of beer mugs and the satisfied post-sip sighs.

Likewise, when I studied abroad in Prague, many pubs opened around breakfast time so that people could have a drink before going to work.

This all seems reasonable enough to me, but yesterday, I think a new early morning record was set. I hauled myself out of bed to go for a run / walk / limp before work. Just before 8am, I passed by a typical café and witnessed a middle-aged couple--seemingly normal in every aspect--devouring the morning paper while boozing it up. Beer for him; rosé for her. Now that's dedication.

Go France?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Vive Obama

It suddenly just got a lot easier to be an American in Paris. I don’t know what this means for the future of my blog, but I suppose the future of the world is more important.

This post is going to be less snarky than usual because since Tuesday, my equilibrium has been thrown off. The sarcasm and cynicism that generally guide me have subsided, and my heart has been flooded with unfamiliar feelings… warmth, genuineness, humanity, hope and…. could it be… patriotism? As patriotism is a feeling I have never before experienced, it took me a while to recognize it. I never realized how badly I wanted to like my country until, at long last, I kind of do.

When I first moved to Paris, I felt that my non-Frenchness attracted a lot of attention—both negative and positive—that I didn’t necessarily want. One early acquaintance asked me if I owned a gun, which was kind of funny except that he wasn't kidding.

So just when I’d learned to blend in a bit more and spent hours working on my French scowl, Obama went and turned the tide of history. I threw a little Gobama soiree on Wednesday night, and when I was shopping in my neighborhood, I couldn’t help but gush to everyone I encountered… the wine guy, the cheese guy, even the saucisson guy. I’ve never been so thrilled to announce my citizenship and to declare Il faut fêter! (“We must party!”) They concurred and were equally eager to share their opinions about the election.

Here’s the thing: French people care about American politics. The opposite is not always true. For many Americans (Sarah Palin included), their knowledge of the French political landscape extends no further than Carla Bruni’s evolving wardrobe. But from what I can tell, your average French person is informed and invested in American politics. Most of the French people I know were following the election as closely as I was, which leads me to the reassuring conclusion that French people want to like the United States; they just need a good reason to do so.

And now they have one!

In the mayhem following the announcement, I was a little sad not to be in New York to celebrate with my compatriots, who pranced through the streets like a pack of wild squirrels on the loose. One friend wrote, “Union Square last night was a big hippie party with drum circles and thousands of people chanting ‘yes we can.’ I think you would have enjoyed it.” Friend, what are you implying?

But in all seriousness, it has also been amazing to experience the election from abroad, where its potential global impact is truly tangible.

Last night, I was walking with a friend and two girls asked us for a lighter. Then they asked us where we were from. A week ago, I would have said “Canada.” But last night, we were excited to say “We’re from the States,” and after we did, the first thing they said was “Vive Obama.”

It was an incredibly poignant moment—almost too poignant—except that it was completely genuine. We chatted a bit, and they went on to say how impressed they were that the U.S. had elected a black president—a possibility they felt could not happen in France anytime soon.

In a state of stupefied joy on the day after the election, I agreed to be interviewed (in French) on RMC, a French radio station. I’m sure I made no sense, but I didn’t care. After eight years of darkness and shame, it was amazing to be able to speak openly, freely, and happily about the (now very real) concepts of hope, change, unity, teamwork… and a new puppy in the White House! I told the crazy French talking heads that I’m finally “not embarrassed to be American,” and I think I meant it... for now.

So I may continue to have trouble opening various doors around Paris. And I may drop my shoe into the Metro tracks once in a while. And I may be conspicuously not-French…

But I did help to elect Obama, and I’m going to assume that counteracts my past and future faux pas.

Vive Obama.

Click here for Radio Podcast

I come on about 1/3 of the way through and ramble for a couple minutes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Crazy, Creepy or Just French?

Today I would like to play a game I have invented called “Crazy, Creepy, or Just French?” I realize that these categories are not mutually exclusive, but for the sake of the game, we will try to draw some sort of distinction.

If you disagree with my conclusion, you are free to weigh in with comments. In fact, I insist you do. (Not you, Mom). The best comment will get some sort of prize… probably in the form of an e-card or some type of artistic work that I create using Paint.

So, here we go…

Last week, I was running an errand for my boss. It was sunny; I was feeling kind of cool because I just bought some new Ray-Bans and they make me look a bit French. (Real French people would probably disagree). As I approached a group of people outside of a café, one of the guys in the group sort of stepped in front of me and refused to let me pass until I agreed to "faire la bise" with him. (The double-cheek kiss that you do if you’re (1) European, (2) in Europe and interacting with Europeans, (3) are a nightclub promoter in the U.S. and want the world to know that you’re a total sleaze). I found this quite cheeky, perhaps even shocking. But even more shocking? The fact that my first instinct was to comply and to ask "Comment ça va?"

How's it going? Maybe I’m the creepy one.

Anyway… Crazy, Creepy or Just French? My conclusion: Just French (and maybe a bit drunk).

Then there was the old lady in the metro. She was looking a bit worse for wear, and she approached me and asked for a Euro. I searched around in my wallet and handed her a pile of coins, which she promptly sifted through and then gave me the most hateful look I’ve ever been given, accompanied by a soft and venomous growl. What? Maybe I had just fallen short of a Euro... it couldn’t have been less than 90 centimes... GIVE ME A BREAK! I’m a struggling wannabe writer and the dollar is not so hot right now. But whatever. I coughed up some more change. She gave me another look of icy disdain, and moved on, having thoroughly put me in my place.

Crazy, Creepy, or Just French? My conclusion: Crazy… and quite French. And definitely drunk.

Speaking of the metro…. On my way home from work, I have come across the same woman three or four times, and her behavior leads me to believe that she is quite short-tempered indeed. Each time I have observed her, I have been reaching the platform just as she is fleeing it, SCREAMING: “Putain! J’en ai marre de ce merdite metro! Je m’en fou! Je m’en fou! Je m’en fou!” (“Whore! I’ve had enough of this shitty metro! I don’t care! I don’t care! I don’t care!”) Whoa, lady. We all know rush hour is rough, but calm down and have a kir.

Crazy, creepy or Just French? My conclusion: Incredibly French.

I live on a noisy street. A few nights ago, a very rowdy group of French kids passed by my window. How did I know they were French? Because they were all singing in English: “I’ll be there for youuuuu…..alalaalaala (they didn’t really know the rest) lalalaa”… Yes, the theme to “Friends”…. every French person’s favorite show of all time. Maybe not every French person’s, but the vast majority, for sure. If you ask a young French person if they’ve been to New York and they haven’t, they say “No, but I’ve seen ‘Friends’.” (This is supposed to impress you).

Crazy, creepy or just French? My conclusion: Just French…. And drunk, of course.

I was in a cab a few weeks ago and, per usual, got into a deep discussion about something nonsensical with the driver. He asked where I was from and what I hated about Paris. At first, I couldn’t think of anything. Then I realized, yes, there is something. I hate that you can never find a cab after 2am.

It is the one thing I really miss about New York: the heavenly vision of the yellow taxi in the night, emerging from the darkness to take you home, no matter where you are, what you’ve done, or where you’re going (unless you’re going to Brooklyn and then they start whining and saying things like “You didn’t look like you were going to Brooklyn").

This Parisian cab driver, though, seemed astonished that one would have trouble finding a cab. “You just have to put your sexy finger in the air,” he said, demonstrating with his own sexy finger. “Just take your sexy finger, and put it in the air, and every car will stop.” Fair enough. When I tried it later that night, however, my sexy finger proved completely unsexy and ineffective. And while I was unsuccessfully trying to lure cabs, I dropped my sexy cell phone against the window of an already occupied cab, and the whole ordeal was incredibly awkward and decidedly unsexy.

Crazy, Creepy or Just French? My Conclusion: I don’t know anymore. But hopefully not drunk.


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