by Joe Procopio
Homer the Brave
Look. I love Leslie like a sister. But if she sends me to Paris again I'm gonna quit.
As Thanksgiving approaches and the Official Kick-Off tm of the holiday season gets underway, I find that I have finally come to realize just what it is I am thankful for. I am thankful for good coffee. I am thankful for big fat domestic cars. I am thankful for basic cable. I am thankful for affordable food and spacious housing. I am thankful for a pre-determined, socially-accepted level of personal hygiene. Yes, Charlie Brown, I am thankful to be an American. God bless the USA.
It's not that I hate Paris. It's not even so much that I hate the French.
No. Strike that. It's the French.
I knew going into the trip that Paris is a city that polarizes visitors. For every traveler I know who adores crusty bread and stinky cheese with their vin blanc, I know exactly one other who always turns the word "French" into an alliterated curse. And I secretly hoped that on some level I would be uncomfortable there, mainly because it's a widely known fact that an opinion on France is one of those social barometers that gives you an inside track on targeting someone's personality. It's the same thing with opinions on politics, VH1, opera, and NASCAR. All of those, by the way, I have no opinion on, but, for the record, I really didn't want to be a francophile.
Don't get me wrong. I know that my experience was perhaps an exception and not the rule. I know I got foibles. Oh baby, I got foibles. Maybe I don't understand the culture and I'm just lashing back in ignorance. In fact, I'm sure that's true. But I take back every discouraging thing I've ever said about the United States. I disavow all the potshots I've taken at media figureheads, political fatcats, corporate brownnoses, suburban zombies, all of them. At least for this month.
There are two things we've all heard about the French. They're rude and they stink. Sure, there are plenty of smaller quirks in there, Jerry Lewis, hairy female armpits, and so on. But I don't have all day.
As I used to say to my friends with a smirk of confidence, mistakenly considering myself to be quite worldly, "Dentistry has come a long way in London."
Let me dispel the first myth right away. Parisians aren't rude to Americans. They're rude to everybody. English, Belgians, Germans, dogs, each other, no one escapes. But it isn't a matter of rudeness per se, it's more a federal level of attitude. It's really no different than getting the finger in New York traffic. It's their version of a friendly hello. The only reason it seems more oppressive in Paris is because they're yammering at you in a language you don't understand, full of guttural hacks and nasal honks. I can only compare it to my alarm clock going off at six a.m., but try to imagine that perpetually.
So, when in Paris, be as American as all get out. No matter what type of hackneyed French you use, they can detect it, and they have no time for you. They're busy being French. Every transaction you undertake in Paris should begin with: Parlez-vous anglais? ("Do you speak English?")
If they answer "Non", then move on to the next shop/restaurant/hospital. Trust me. You're playing with fire here, and you will soon be relieved of francs and presented with a plate of snails. Guaranteed. It's a little joke they have.
If they answer "Oui!" with a big, fat, friendly smile, move on. They understood the question and they're lying to you. Continue to conduct business only upon hearing the word "Yes."
When you do speak, make sure to adopt either a thick New York accent or a loud southern drawl. See, I'm a native New Yorker living in the south, so when I get excited, I tend to subconsciously slip into either accent, and, in Paris, it wasn't until this happened that anyone ever bent over backwards to help me. I have a theory. Parisians have heard these accents in American movies and television and are inclined to imagine that those who use them carry either a handgun or a shotgun.
Excusez-moi. Oł est la salle de bains? Merci Beaucoup.
The second myth is that the French don't bathe... as often. This mystifies me, as they have that bidet thingy, which is perhaps a little more hygienic than I particularly care for. I can't personally dispel the myth. For all I know, when I got into the cab at the airport and was hit with a stench that made my face wrinkle like a stale prune and left me choking and staring at the cabby in disbelief as I rolled down my window and contemplated his blank and puzzled return stare, that could have been caused by his forgetting to apply deodorant that morning.
So, when you get on the Metro and happen to smell something foul, make sure not to yell, "Sweet mother of mercy what manner of animal took a crap in here?!?" Everybody will know you're an American.
I can't explain the BO thing away in custom or culture. There's no water or soap shortage and there certainly seems to be enough perfume to go around. And I don't care what kind of social or cultural differences exist. Someone, at some point, must have noticed. In a two-thousand year-old society ONE PERSON must have asked, "Jeezus, Henri. Is that you?"
Anyhow, I went and I'm back and I'm still kind of edgy. It looks like Leslie's plan backfired. But, in a way, it kind of didn't. I can't wait to get back into the thick of things over here. Let the Parisians have the Louvre and the Sorbonne and the Champs Elysees. I'll take home. I mean, I hear Ted Danson has a new series.
I love this country.
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