Sunday, January 15, 2012

Two Lessons Involving Bread

Lesson One

If in your travels through Paris you should happen to get lost, ask directions from a person with a baguette tucked under their arm. Parisians rarely travel more than fifteen minutes from their home to get fresh bread, so that person is certain to know the neighborhood.

Lesson Two

While out wandering the streets of Paris, if you should see a bakery with a line coiling out onto the sidewalk plant yourself firmly in it. Parisians are willing to wait in long lines only for the most exceptional bread and pastry. If they are taking the time to stop and pick some up then you, the traveler, certainly should too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Square Trees

On the surface Paris really does seem like an orderly place, filled with organized inhabitants. Parisian parks are lined with rows of trees trimmed into perfect squares, the neat, near obsessive landscaping lulls people into believing that there is structure here, that non means no, that lists are made then followed, and exceptions are rare. Polished white exteriors, daily garbage collection, potato purée pressed into neat rounds on your plate... all of these things add to the impression of order.

This impression, however, falls to pieces whenever Parisians have to wait in line. Arms reaching out, heavy sighs, shuffling sneaky feet, strategically placed market carts, innocent looking mamies claiming they thought the head of the line was the tail, are all common tricks around here that will leave you, the honest, trusting American, permanently last in line. Now, imagine if you will, what it is like to be in an "invisible line" or "waiting list".

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bonjour 2012! Bonne Année!

Happy New Year isn't just something you say to those around you when the clock strikes twelve on the 31st.  In France, Happy New Year or Bonne Année is something that must be systematically and individually wished to each one of your loved ones, cherished shopkeepers and neighbors. Much like the daily ritual of wishing your kin Bonjour, you must do it with sincerity and with accuracy, never wishing the same person twice in one year Bonne Année just as you would never, heaven forbid, tell someone Bonjour twice in one day.

Even the city of Paris gets their wishes out to the masses
Here you are far more likely to receive a Happy New Year card in the mail than a Christmas card with family news and shiny photos, makes sense in a country that prides itself on laïcité, secularism. Gregoire assures me that we have until the end of January to send out our good thoughts in card form to our French friends and family. He also emphasized how incredibly gauche it is to wish someone a Bonne Année in advance. And so since one minute past midnight last Saturday I have been sending text messages, doing a few phone calls and above all keeping careful track in my head of those who I have and haven't seen yet and wishing them a Bonne Année in person.

Keeping track is key, nothing offends the French faster than greeting them twice, as it makes the first greeting look like it wasn't important to you. We all know from my post about French Kissing that the greeting ritual here is taken very seriously. Recently I was working on set with all sorts of people I don't yet know milling about, overwhelmed by the size of the studio and the newness of my new job (more on that some other day) I was smiling my brightest American smile and greeting everyone I saw. A women walked in, we exchanged bonjours. She later walked back out then walked by our table again. Knowing how rude it is not to greet someone in this sort of environnent I smiled and offered up a bonjour. She stopped, whipped around and curtly replied "RE-bonjour you mean...". You can toss in a re infront of your bonjour which will turn it into hello again as opposed to just hello, this could be employed at the bakery for example. If you were to pick up your morning bread and greet the sales person with a cheery bonjour, then that afternoon were they still to be working when you picked up your dinner bread you would wish them a rebonjour! Give it a try, they will be delighted that your morning encounter meant so much to you that you remember it and them and thus adjusted your greeting to reflect that. This stickler of a woman reminded me of that long ago learned lesson.   

So to all of you (except of course the ones I have already spoken to since midnight on the 31st) I wish you a very Bonne Année. I think this is going to be a big year.