Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Man and Other Common Enemies

One can master all of the technical aspects of a language and call themselves fluent, but one cannot say that they are truly bilingual until they are able to tell jokes and negotiate in that foreign language. I have officially given up on French humor. Their dirty jokes offend me, their sarcasm is completely lost on me and I make people laugh by saying normal things that aren't meant to be funny at all. The ability to negotiate in French, however, is my personal holy grail and I am on a quest to obtain that skill.  


The French love to say non. No is so much faster and easier than yes, yes requires work, responsibility and follow through. Whereas a quick and simple non gets the person asking you the question out of your hair instantly.... if you aren't French that is...
For the French know that a no is never really a no, it's a "maybe" or a "convince me" or a "I'm too busy so ask again later". A French person knows how to move beyond the no and get to a place where on peut s'arranger, a place where a deal can be made. 



One of the very few positive things to come out of the fire in our building is my generous budget for replacing my handbag. I have been given a nice sum form our insurance company and so I spent a large part of my day today looking at purses. In order to be reimbursed for this purchase however I need to produce a receipt proving that I did indeed purchase a purse and that I didn't just pocket the money. There is a beautiful little Depot de Vente (high end consignment store) in my neighborhood that sells furs, vintage bags and a great assortment of sunglasses. The owner is a force to be reckoned. The first time I visited the store she sat at her desk in the corner, pulled out a package of extra long cigarettes and lit it with her gold lighter, violating the no smoking policy that has been in place for years. From the glint in her eyes you could tell she didn't give a rip and if you, the customer didn't like it, you could leave. Personally I liked it. I liked the brazen nature of it all and thought to myself, now there's a women who might be willing to negotiate. 

I walked in to her shop this afternoon and was welcomed with a musty dusty smell of stale cigarettes and old coats. The owner was sitting at her desk, spectacles on, looking through her pile of hand written receipts, no cash register or computer here. Old Mary (uninitiated fresh from America Mary) would have quietly looked through the bags and found one that used up most of my allotted budget, then bought it and sent in the receipt to my insurance company. New Mary (Mary who is one step closer to the holy grail) walked straight up to madame  to tell her all about the fire, to compliment the reaction of the firefighters of Paris and then (and this is key) identify the insurance company as the enemy. Nothing brings French people together faster than a common adversary. The larger and more obscure the better, the insurance company, the state, the bosses of the world, The Man... these all make excellent enemies. I told her that the insurance company has given me a set (and I implied obviously stingy) allowance to replace my handbag. "Say no more, you poor thing, let's find you a handbag or two and I'll write you a receipt to give to your insurer for one bag at whatever sum you like!"

Done. 

Dam Dim Dom


18 Rue Damrémont
75018 Paris 


10 comments:

la fourchette said...

This is very interesting and confirms my own experience: I find that there are many French who have a much higher tolerance for dishonesty than I. A cultural difference, no doubt, born of that sense of cheering/supporting the underdog against whatever the common adversary is. You've illustrated that very well here.

Kristin said...

Brava Mary!!

Cyrielle said...

You learn fast!
*** Felicitations Madame ***
I'm sure you'll get the humor with time. xoxo

Alexandre said...

if you want to marry me, just ask!

My ability to write English has clearly been damaged by the late hour and the amount of alcohol I have in me right now but I feel like you aren't been fair with us "French" (as French as I can be) men.

What did we do to you? Aren't we the nicest? At least I am trying to be... Sorry if you've been hurt by my fellow countrymen!

Louise said...

Well done ma belle! Can we see photos of le sac?

Niv mani said...

delightful!

La Rêveuse said...

Awesome. I can't wait to get to know you better. I wish I'd been with you on this trip.

Alexandre, I think you may be misunderstanding the American expression "the man". It has nothing to do with penises, French or otherwise. ;-)

L Vanel said...

Very funny! Thank you. We just sold and bought a place to renovate, and dealing with various people who have suggested creative solutions to various problems has been very interesting lately. Thanks to David for suggesting your blog!

The 2010 Grand Adventure said...

Oh how I want to live in Paris...

Queenie said...

Love it! The French seem very real.