As an American artist based in Paris since 1994, I am weary of hearing, “But I heard the French are rude” or “…the French hate Americans.”
FAITES ATTENTION! Stop whacking people with your backpacks!Photo © Ann James Massey
Coming to my studio on the metro after church one Sunday, I had my own rude “Parisian” turn.
I was seated comfortably in the open section of the coach where the doors part and the seats unfold down. A couple of tourists arrived with their backpacks in place. It was not crowded so I remained seated, as did others.
Paris Métro Photo ©2022 Ann James Massey
Suddenly, whack! I yelped in surprise and pain. One of the tourists standing in front of me had turned to her friend. Her large backpack, filled with rocks or books (so it seemed), hit me square and hard on my upper right cheek, missing my eye by only a centimeter. Not a pip from her, not an “excuse me,” nothing. I reached up and punched her well covered arm to catch her attention. She looked at me blankly and I angrily stared…
Shortly after I moved to France, I complained to Henri Bérenger (then friend, now my better half) that the French spoke too fast. His dead-on reply was, no, they did not…I just did not understand.
One Sunday some weeks later, I was coming out of my church (The American Cathedral) and walking down Avenue George V when a bunch of schoolboys ran up to me and asked me something in French. I did not have a clue as to what they said, so I answered simply, “Je ne parle pas français,” which means I do not speak French…in French. Rather an oxymoron when you think about it.
As I turned and continued on my way, I heard one of them say, “What’d she say?” “I don’t know. She spoke too fast.”
The American Cathedral in ParisPhoto © 2001 Ann James Massey
I whirled around and walked back to them talking in an exaggerated drawl, “Hi, I’m from Texas. Can I…
These dogs on patrol turned out to be aoûtiens Photo ©2003 Ann James Massey Crates still need to be guarded in August. Photo ©2003 Ann James Massey
By French law, everyone in France gets 5 weeks minimum paid vacation on top of a myriad of holidays. The largest chunk of that vacation time is the sacrosanct 3 weeks to a month in July through August when the residents flee the heat of the cities for the countryside or the beaches. The majority of Parisians are traditionally aoûtiens (August vacationers) as opposed to juillestistes who leave in July. Not sure what they call those who are gone between the 15th of each month…the ponteurs (bridgemen)?
Also by mandate, a few of the small businesses like boulangeries (bakeries), boucheries (butcher shops) et. al, within a certain block radii must be juilletistes or have replacements so that those who stay behind can still shop in their district, besides at the local grocery…
There is no doubt I love Paris, but there are some things a girl from Southwest Texas misses. The hardest part is the sky
When I first moved to Paris in 1994, I was amazed at what I perceived was the parking deftness of the Parisian driver.
Parking in many areas on the surface is overcrowded with vehicles often resting almost bumper to bumper…literally…touching and/or with a couple inches leeway at best. So are the Parisians the most amazing parallel parkers ever?!
Literally bumper to bumper parking in Paris beside friend Stefany Avenel and better half Henri Bérenger. Photo ©2000 Ann James Massey
Sort of, yes. With their usually smaller cars than in the US, they are capable of zipping right in and out without the maneuvering and anxiety I experienced getting my first driver’s license in my mom’s station wagon. But only inches to spare if that? I started to wonder if there was an enterprising fellow with a forklift wandering around and people just paid him to slip their cars in directly.
Then I witnessed their secret. Bumpers cars! Back in; hit…
Today Paris has a multitude of ways and venues to feed the less fortunate, though history has not always proved so generous. For example, the four-and-a-half-month siege of Paris during the Franco Prussian war was devastating and some ways of staving off starvation can only be described as uniquely French.
Still manna from above is always welcome.
After all, in his early days in Paris, it has been said that Ernest Hemingway found that the city provided cheap sustenance when he would capture pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens to supplement his diet.
As a youngster from 1935-1941, Henri Bérenger (my better half) lived on the Avenue de Paris leading to the Palace of Versailles. Therefore, the gardens were his playground. He remembers well riding the ancient “carrousel” there and spearing the brass rings with his stick, but he does not remember going there during the Read more Manna From Above in Paris and Versailles