18 July 2011

5 Reasons I Will Never Be Parisienne

I just finished reading Olivier Magny's "Dessine-moi un Parisien" (in English "Stuff Parisians Like") and it had me rolling.  After 3 years of life in Paris, so much of what he said is amazingly true.  Even though most of my friends aren't real, born-in-Paris Parisians, many of the habits that Magny addresses in his book have been adopted by them.  Heck, even me, a girl from the backwoods of Tennessee has adopted many Parisian habits.  We go to the cinema on Sunday, we love to sling around the word putain, and we love our ski weekends and country house weekends.  Perhaps it is survival.  I tend to think that I have this subconcious desire in my American mind to become this sleek, sophisticated, and sensual Parisienne woman.  My poor subconcious better be able to cope with some major failure, because that desire ain't happening.

Read Magny's book.  You will die laughing.
Magny's book got me thinking.  All of us making our lives in Paris, we are adapting.  The city can be brutal but lovely, fun but irritating, relaxing but tiring all at once.  Heck, there is even a syndrome named for Paris that afflicts many Japanese tourists/students/professionals who are unable to cope with the brusque, individualistic behavior of Parisians.  Paris has a vibe, a lifestyle and you gotta adjust to survive.  For us expats, it also helps to find other coping expats, no?  We will never truly lose who we were before as we make our lives in the 75 (or 92, 93, 95, etc.) Some people do try their hardest to become Parisian, but not this girl.  Besides my "charming little" American accent, I began thinking of my little quirks that will eternally keep me from becoming a Parisienne.  It really was quite the fun exercise in self-depreciation!  Here are my top 5:

1) I will never feel guilty about eating.

Magny discussed the popularity of the cafe gourmand (little versions of molten chocolate cake, creme brulee, and a macaron served with with an espresso) in Paris.  The cafe gourmand allows Parisians, especially the female of the species, to partake in a bit of dessert without much guilt.  He also talks about the perpetual diet that many Parisians are on.  I am not an obese American.  I believe in eating healthy and well.  But I also believe that a good meal with friends should be a pleasurable activity and not a calorie counting fest.  If forced to choose between some amazing, TO-DIE-FOR dessert and a cafe gourmand at a fantastic restaurant, I am gonna go for the former.  Sure, I can't fit my butt in those skinny little jeans that Parisiennes wear, but at least I have a booty...and dessert.  I am not a pants girl anyhow. :)  I like ribs and steak and duck confit.  With fries.  Why not enjoy from time to time?

Can I get 5 of these?  To go?

2) I am not convinced that grandes ecoles are defining characteristics.

I am a recruiter.  In France.  Nowhere more than in this realm do you see people go crazy over a Polytechnicien, Centralien, ancienne de HEC than among these professionals.  Before moving here in 2009, I knew about these schools.  I, however, was not prepared for the social fascination, almost borderline worship, that the French have for students and graduates from these schools.  They are prized candidates in recruitment, with some people wanting to hire directly from these schools and no others.  They are immediately thought to be incredibly intelligent, from excellent families, and in a good social class.  If you didn't go to these schools, you have to work pretty hard to prove yourself.  It's all about your diploma in France baby.  This drives me NUTS.  I went to a really good school in the States, which even outranks many of these schools.  Yet because it is not "well-known" here in France, they don't think I am worth much.  I have to work to prove my intelligence and professional worth.  I so wish I could yell at so many French people and tell them that some of the world's best business leaders didn't go to grandes ecoles.  But you can't overturn decades or centuries of beliefs...

3) I really like beer.

I mean A LOT.  It doesn't make me less feminine.  It doesn't make me a drunken slut.  But to all those wine-sipping Parisiennes, I might as well have 4 heads.  It's ok though...I'll raise a pint to their health!

4) I cannot be rude/huffy/lacking in accountability

I cannot be this...

In the metro, I let people off first before getting on.  This kind of gesture to descending passengers is generally undone by others pushing me on, which consequently gets an old lady worked up and cussing at me.  When someone comes to me with work, I do it.  I even sometimes *gasp* take initiate and do things that aren't my job.  What I wouldn't give to have the deluded self-confidence that French bureaucrats are noted for.  The ability to say "Ce n'est pas ma faute, j'ai fait mon boulot, ce n'est pas ma responsibilite." (It's not my fault, I did my job, it's not my responsibility.)  But that pesky combo of Puritan work ethic and Southern politeness screws me everytime.  I can't elbow people to get a seat on the metro during rush hour. It is physically impossible.

5) I can't give up tennis shoes and white socks.

I gave up sweat pants and flip flops at the grocery store.  But I CANNOT give up tennis shoes and white socks while walking around Paris or while running.  Sorry Paris, but this girl needs comfort from time to time.

I've accepted my fate of being a beer guzzlin', non-elitist, hamburger eatin' Parisian wanna-be.  Skinny jeans might not be in my future, but I think life, laughter, love, and dessert in the City of Light definitely are.


  1. You live in Paris? You're a Parisian.

    What you're NOT is a Parisian stereotype. Congratulations, you're your own person.

  2. this was my favorite read of the day, mrs. lepère! sometimes i really wish i could slap that old lady in the fur coat and pearls that just shoved me on the bus as well. but alas, i grew up in texas, where we actually pull over to the side of the road to let people pass when we are driving slower than they are. i don't think that kind of politesse is going to deprogram itself from my brain anytime soon.

  3. i know you can't really generalize, blah, blah, blah...but it's Friday so, what the hell, I will anyway! :)

    French women don't eat much...i think people that don't live hear, don't see how much No. 1 really happens (and mainly with the female frenchies i know). i know it happens in other cultures, too (women are obsessed with their size everywhere!). But, it's just that this whole "french women don't get fat" line is so misleading. Trust me, they are not throwing down plates of butter-laden, sauce-rich, heavy french food. Oh, and they definitely aren't doing No. 3 either. (not beer drinking...especially not in a -gasp!- pint) French females tend to drink a lot of Perrier and Diet Coke when out. And, hey - I say if it works for people and they're happy, cool. But, I like to eat and drink a bit myself, too! :)

  4. @ Monica: Yes, I've tried to be huffier on the metro, but I just can't. I guess that I should be glad that I can't go down to that primal level of hitting and shoving people to get what is mine, but at the same time, I feel defenseless!

    @ Forest: The eating part is more a Parisian thing than a French thing. I lived in Strasbourg, and there I could swig beer all I wanted. I could also order a heaping plate of choucroute or some other heavy meat-based dish, and the waiters smiled. They appreciated that I could eat their stick-to-your-bones meals. And if I didn't finish, they would ask, "What? That's all you can eat?" Loved it. Lyon is similar too, in terms food consumption by the ladies.

  5. I think putain is universally French. Even five-year olds say it! Sad, but true!

  6. Totally agree that the eating part is a Parisian thing and not a French thing. I'm a Parisian myself but lived in 3 other countries (including the US) before moving back to France so also had a bit of time to reflect on how people behave here ;) I definitely don't count on the calories I eat and most of my Parisian friends don't either, however I agree that many Parisian girls eat like tiny birds (and to be honest, some of them look a bit anorexic!). They definitely are obsessed with their looks.

    I gotta say that most of us don't drink beer except maybe the Alsatians or the Ch'tis, not a big fan of the taste and not a fan of that big beer belly ;)

    But that "grandes écoles" stuff is SO ridiculous and I wish they could understand one day that yes you can be smart and not come from a "grande école", just like they should understand that changing jobs and industries doesn't mean you're unstable. It can also mean that you're curious and open minded ;)

  7. @Lelaina: Totally agree with you about the grandes écoles part. It really makes me angry, working in recruitment, and having to really defend a candidate who seems really good just because he didn't go to a grande école! I hope that I can change it just a little bit ;)

    And yea, also agree with you about Parisians. I go outside of Paris, and I feel normal. In Paris, I feel like a fat kid! And I'm not fat!

  8. very nice,