Monday, July 28, 2008

Watch Me As I Faukxe This Cigarette

Let’s chat about smoking for a minute. Despite a recently passed no-smoking-in-bars law, tobacco continues to reign supreme in Paris. And while I’ve never really had any interest in being a smoker, it has become exceedingly clear that you won’t get far very in this town unless your lungs are lined with filth.

Listen up, Americans. Despite what your 3rd grade D.A.R.E. counselor may have told you, smoking is cool and, yes, it kind of makes you look like a movie star. I wish I could pull it off, but there’s a problem: smoking literally makes me feel like I’m going to die. Not so much in the moment, but more so the day after when I wake up wondering if I’ve swallowed a cauldron full of battery acid.

I also never really got into smoking because of a little “challenge” initiated by my father. When my eldest brother became a smoker at the tender age of seventeen—he fell victim to Euro peer pressure while traveling in Spain—my dad made a deal with my other brother and me: if we reached age 21 without becoming smokers, he would give us $1000. Sweetness! I think he’d had a few too many bloody marys when he issued this challenge, but so be it.

Anyway, 21 rolled around and my lungs remained, for the most part, unscathed. (I inhaled a butter-rum Lifesaver once). Curiously, the $1000 never materialized, but then again, neither did a smoking addiction. So I guess it was a win-win. False promises save lungs.

And now, while I would like to get really self-righteous about the importance of not smoking, my non-smoker status is less a responsible choice than it is a biological necessity. So my conundrum: what to do during the numerous cigarette breaks that inevitably occur over the course of a bar-hopping evening?

Option 1: I can stay inside the bar and hang out with the loser non-smokers.

Option 2: I can concoct a strategy that will afford me access to international smoking circles without sacrificing the sanctity of my lungs.

Option 2 it is. I’ve come up with a clever little trick: faux smoking… “fauxking” if you will (pronounced foh-king). I know it sounds sexual, but don’t get excited—it’s not.

Fauxking: the art of pretending to smoke (ideally in a highly pretentious, blasé manner) without actually committing the filthy act.

I first began to understand the concept when Bill Clinton famously admitted to fauxking marijuana, and I have since adopted the strategy and tailored it to my own social needs.

Word to the wise: fauxking takes determination, intense focus, and hours of practice. You can’t just go for it without proper training. As you might imagine, getting caught pretending to smoke is a LOT less cool than having refrained from smoking in the first place.

There is a time and a place. Let me explain.

Appropriate use of fauxking: Friday night, I fauxked my way through two cigarettes outside of a bar because I was with a friend who needed a smoking buddy. I was discrete, and therefore successful. The trick is to take a small amount of smoke into the mouth and then CALMLY shoot it out the side in one smooth stream. If you are making a chipmunk face, you are doing it wrong, and you are likely making a true ass of yourself.

Appropriate use of restraint: Later that night, I ended up at Le Baron. Luckily, there were no Olsen twins in sight; otherwise I would have been turned away like the riffraff that I am. But on this night, we triumphed; and then came time for the requisite smoking session outside. I considered fauxking for a brief moment, and then the terror of being caught in the act outside of one of Paris’ ultimate cool-kid establishments made me reconsider. Visions of being confronted—“Qu’est-ce que tu fais avec cette cigarette?”… “What cigarette… oh this cigarette? I’m smoking, see? I’m smoking, I promise.”—saved me from what could have been the ultimate shame: the fauxking call-out.

Then again, sometimes when I’m with people who already know how weird I am, I’ll just announce, “I really want a cigarette but I’m going to fake inhale, ok?” If they judge, then maybe these are not worthwhile friends. And if they go with it, I know they’re the real deal. In this sense, the art of fauxking doubles as a social barometer.

Ok… this is spiraling out of control. Just know that if you don’t want to smoke, there’s always the option to fauxke. Or, if you’re normal, I suppose you could do nothing at all.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bravo, L’Américaine

I live in Paris now. I know this because every morning when I wake up, I experience a brief moment of panicky, delighted confusion… I have no idea where I am! 

I remain disoriented until I ask myself the following questions:

Question: What are these sharp things in my bed?

Answer: Baguette crumbs. They were probably stuck to my face when I fell asleep.

Question: Are there alien babies in my room?

Answer: No, just French babies in the courtyard, their voices glittering in the morning light.

Question: Is this butter-infused air I’m breathing?

Answer: Actually, yes. There’s a patisserie next door.

Ahhh, and it all starts to make sense. Once I’ve determined where I am, the day begins; and because this is Paris, every second of every day is poetic and beautiful, obviously.

First, I put my contact lentils in my eyes. I’ve started calling them this because that’s what the French call them—lentilles optiques—and I’m going with it. Then, I am almost tempted to eat Corn Flakes simply because they are so beautifully labeled here:  Pétales de Maïs Dorés au Four. Corn Petals made Golden in the Oven. Seriously? Leave it to the French to make Corn Flakes sound like something that might rain down on you in heaven if you're lucky (as opposed to say, something that falls off a mangy dog that's been digging around in the dumpster... Corn Flakes, indeed).

But, beautiful name or not, Corn Petals are not appropriate. It’s a lot more fun to go to a café where I can drink coffee for a mere 8€ and try to look pensive and mysterious. And so on and so forth throughout the day. You get the idea…

Basically, I’m an idiot who is, little by little, living my way through the romance and stereotypes of Parisian life because I know that… sometime very soon… Paris is going to become real to me.

In fact, it sort of already has. Somehow—don’t ask me how— the wily French have figured out that I’m not Parisian. No matter how many berets I don, or baguettes I eat, or accordions I play, or little dogs I put in the basket of my Vélib, somehow they know.

For instance, the other day, I was struggling to open a very tricky door that involved a button and, well, it’s far too complicated to explain. Two French guys were watching me from the other side of the glass, amused and incredibly unhelpful. Five minutes later when I finally figured it out, I proudly burst through the door to hear them snarl “Bravo, l’Américaine” in between long, blasé drags of their Gaulois. Wait a minute… how did they… you mean to say… just looking like a door-confused idiot gives me away?!?! And I’m half-Canadian, goddamn it! But fair enough. This is all George Bush’s fault.

Don’t worry. I’m not discouraged. I’ve navigated most of the doors here with great success. And I’ve learned that some French people are actually nice, like the cheese man at the local market who, upon seeing me for the first time, ordered me to “Mangez!” And I did. I’ve always been good at taking direction. And he let me eat as much morbier as I could (which was way too much).

Or the other nice guy in the Jardin du Luxembourg who told me I looked like a statue and asked me if I was Swedish. OK, he was a little too nice, and now that I think about it, he didn’t have teeth.

Clearly, I’m still figuring things out, very slowly. I’ve only been here for three weeks, and I think it will take me at least three more to perfect my F*ck-You-I’m-Parisian glare. But I will succeed. That’s why I’m here.

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