Friday, December 3, 2010

Paris Rudeness or The Love’s Run-In with The Wench from the Rue Caulaincourt Boulangerie

The lady in the boulangerie was mean to The Love.  He came home last night with two delicious slices of apple pie for dessert and a flustered face.

“She grumped at me!” he said.  “I said morceau.  Isn’t that right?  Two morceaux de tarte aux pommes?” 

“Yes!” I said.  “She would have known what you meant.  It’s probably more of a tranche, a slice, but still, sounds like she was just being mean.”

“There were only two bits left!  I pointed to them and said “Les deux pièces and she still acted confused and did a whole huffy act in front of everyone!”

“The slut!” I said.

“Yeah she’s a big fat slut!”

It broke my heart to imagine anyone being rude to The Love, especially as he was such an Effort Maker when it comes to participating in every aspect of French life.  He didn’t speak a word of French before arriving here years ago, and that didn’t stop him getting straight out there, absorbing words and customs at a rapid rate, learning to tilt his head and pout his lips up to dramatically ponder his next thought when he didn’t know how to say what he wanted to say next. 

“Euhhh,” he would sigh in ultra-French mimicry before his signature go-to phrase, “C’est difficile pour moi.” 

But it wasn’t hard for him.  People found him utterly charming.  From the old dudes out at the racetrack, to café locals, to the tight clique of tall, intimidating street kids clad in hard-core NBA gear who commandeered the basketball court on the Canal St Martin.  Off he went to join them in his shorts and white socks pulled high, shiny new 10-euro basketball from Go Sport clasped in his long, white musician’s fingers.  Nobody dared approach that basketball court; it had a long heritage of ownership by a tight-knit homie league.  But within minutes The Love was doing their handshake and speaking verlan – French street slang – with them, as they sang ‘You’re Beautiful’ each time he made a charge.  For some hilarious, unfathomable reason they nicknamed him James Blunt.  He owned it. 

The Love was a Tryer, which was more than I could say for a lot of anglos who came to France.  He had no reservations about making mistakes or sounding bad, he was just interested to try and learn.  And so he did.  And the Frenchies adored him.  How could they not?

We always defend Parisians when people ask, ‘But aren’t the people there rude?’  It irritates me.  They’re not rude, in fact they’re the loveliest, warmest, most accommodating, generous people.  They’re honest, sure – if they don’t like you, you’ll know.  They just don’t put on a big act and then bitch behind your back. 

If you try to participate in their culture, then you’re much more likely to be welcomed.  The infuriating thing is that Anglophones think they own the world and expect to be able to walk into France and people will simply bend over and accommodate them.  So few people even learn Bonjour.  I would be rude too, if someone came into my shop in Melbourne and said hello to me in Slovenian, repeating it over and over loudly as though I was stupid, expecting me to understand.

HOWEVER, all this being said, the Parisians, like any group, can certainly be rude.  And for some reason, the Lady in the Boulangerie is the most common culprit.  I wrote a whole story about her in the newspaper years ago called The Burnt Baguette

And as an outsider, you have no choice but to take it.  In his article in the 1923 Toronto Star on ‘Paris Boorishness’, Hemingway wrote:

“No matter what the provocation, a foreigner must keep his temper in France.”

It’s true.  The Love and I have an expression we repeat often here, “He who smiles last wins.”  You can never let things get to you – traffic, rudeness, infuriating bureaucracy. You smile, be firm, take it, move on. 

So I’m sure the run-in with the Boulangerie Wench won’t dampen his spirits.  He knows.  He’s smiling.  And he’ll have to keep going back because their baguettes and sweet tarts are just too good.  And anyway, if she bites him, just a few doors down he’s got lovely Fouaid and his luscious fruits and veggies to chat with.  Fouaid, whom The Love thought initially was Fred, but it’s more Forehead said quickly with a speech impediment, is very different to the Fruit Shop Man we had back home.  He and The Love struck up a friendship in about two seconds.  Fouaid knows all about us and Kiki and sends me lots of messages of love every night via The Love.  Last night he explained to The Love how to make the perfect tagine. 

Which he did.  

Willy Ronis 'Petit Parisien'


  1. Why can't you lose your temper Hemmingway/Bunny?

  2. You and The Love are the real thing, Hemmingway and his wife left Paris when she fell pregnant to have their first child in Canada. Maybe someone was rude to them. Light weights!

  3. It's so pleasant to read you stories Jayne.
    It's my daily rendez-vous.
    Poor Matt, I know that sort of parisians and I hate them...He would have said "une part de tarte"!
    Are you living rue Caulaincourt ? I had a really good friend who lived there and my vocals teacher lives rue Damrémont.
    Take care, I'll come soooooon !

  4. Thanks Gaëlle! 'Une part de tarte!'
    Blah - you can't lose your temper because then you LOSE. It's a very, very important part of the game. You can, however, be direct and call them on it, in measured, even tone and with a certain level of cleverness and perhaps even wit. That's how you win. But that takes many years of practise. And being anglo puts you at a natural disadvantage. A bit like not being Irish and trying to sing Go Lassie Go.