Sunday, May 18, 2008

Parisians: a rant

(Image: A typical Parisian dressed for a trip to the laundromat.)

I’ve said before that when Americans complain about the French that most of them have only ever been to Paris and they’re really complaining about the Parisians. I should also say that I’ve lived here for nearly two months now and I’ve decided that a certain percentage- about one-third- of Parisians are completely insane.

The first thing is that at least a third of them are in a state of existential suffering at any time. The mere fact of living in a crowded city with other people is a serious blow to their pride. You watch them in the Metro stations and they’re each and every one rolling their eyes, lamenting, frustrated beyond belief with all of these vague nondescript blurs moving around them, which are, in some exotic cultures, referred to as other people. And then, every now and then, some world-historical tragedy will take place, such as the train will be delayed by five minutes, and they despair like Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden. Their entire body goes into spasms of aggravation. Well this just fixes it! This is the cherry atop the pile of merde that is their life! OH! If the Parisians could just find a way to make histrionics profitable they would never have to work again.

If Americans are aggressive in public, and Canadians are passive, the French are passive-aggressive. I am convinced that, when the French Army goes to war, a major part of their strategy is icy stares. I am also convinced that this is why every Parisian who was alive during the war considers themselves to have been aligned with the Resistance. Oh, well some of them might have been running guns; but me, I was sighing loudly in public places! I was part of the Jean Paul Sartre Sneering Squad! I rolled my eyes against all odds! I’ve actually read a book that claimed that Picasso (who, of course, was not French) was a major part of the Resistance against the Nazis because during the war he was, get this, living in Paris painting nude women! This was intellectual freedom fighting! Oh to live as happily up one’s own ass elsewhere as it is possible to do in Paris!

And, in a sense, you can understand the suffering- life in Paris is remarkably and stupidly complex. There are thousands of unwritten rules about how to walk, how to dress just so, how to comport oneself, how to relate to the opposite sex and the same sex, how to eat, and so on and so forth. As Thom Yorke put it in an interview here, it is at once brilliant and completely mad. Have any of you had a stranger stop, look you up and down, scoff, and throw their nose in the air? For most of us, it hasn’t happened since High School. It’s happened to me at least a dozen times now in Paris. The other day, a sophisticate on the sidewalk stopped and gave me a glare that could seriously translate to, “You! You killed my father!” I think it was due to my pants.

And there’s finally something depressing about how stylish, how elegant, and how perfect Parisians are. They’re like WASPs! You couldn’t imagine them ever having sex- after getting together in an expensive hotel room and wearing extremely sexy haute couture, screwing would be completely superfluous. And here’s something that took me years to figure out- flawless women are profoundly depressing to be around anyway. There’s no joy and nothing living there- you could display them in as museum as an artifact of their society. They live by checklist.

Don’t get me wrong: Paris is a great city with an incredible amount of culture, fashion, art, imagination, and a brilliant French patrimony. But, as a Canadian, Parisians strike me as taking themselves, and everything else for that matter, entirely too seriously! If I ever live here again, I’m wearing gold lamé and a pink cowboy had every day. It’s a shame that the phrase “get over yourself” makes no sense in French.

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