“Being a Parisian is not about being born in Paris. It is about being reborn there.” Sacha Guitry
90+ Ways You Know You’re Becoming French
In May of 2014, long-time compatriot, Shari Leslie Segall, who has lived in Paris way longer than me—since 1985—wrote, along with two other women of equal longevity living in the City of Light—collaborator Lisa Vanden Bos and illustrator Judit Halász—a whimsical little book, watercolor illustrated, containing 90+ points that are ways you know you are Becoming “French.”
What does that mean, I would ask myself since there is no way in “h_ll” I’ll ever become French, even once I had a passport to show citizenship. They do a wonderful job of explaining just what that means, and to those of you who have lived in France a long time, you might even see yourself in some of these situations.
Shari says the French agree with me that a foreigner can never truly “become” French regardless of their identity papers, “but, that if you’re here long enough, your adaptation mirrors those Escher drawings where columns of black geese or fish on the left fly or swim straight across the page, migrating and mutating by imperceptible degrees, melting into and finally becoming their white counterparts on the right. To a greater or lesser degree, whether you expected to or not, one day you realize that you’re crossing to the other side. How do you know that you’ve arrived?”
I crossed to the other side a long time ago on some levels, but others are so culturally ingrained that I’ll never, never really become French and that doesn’t really bother me in the least. There are many Americanisms I prefer to hold on to. But, if you want to know what the clues are…here are just a few of Shari’s:
How do you know you’re becoming French? When you…
#4. call 5 p.m. “late afternoon” instead of “early evening”
#5. consider 7:30 p.m. a tad early for dinner
#6. refer to them as 17:00 and 19:30
Everything takes place at least one hour later in France than in the U.S. We wake up later, we lunch later, we dine later and we retire later. This may be because of the amount of daylight as Paris is further north (on the same latitude as Montreal). The farther north you go in the northern hemisphere, the later it stays light in the spring and summer due to the sun’s position versus the northern hemisphere.
Years ago, we wouldn’t have thought of going out for dinner before 8 p.m. The restaurants wouldn’t even serve before then, and if they did, it was because they had a tourist clientele and knew the foreigners’ routine to dining early. I’ve watched this change over the past few years, and now the normal dining hour is 7:30 p.m. with the restaurants opening at 7 p.m. I’m not sure what happened exactly, except that perhaps the tourists filled up the restaurants so early that the locals have to go earlier than they might just to score a table!? When I’m visiting family in the U.S., they have the dinner set for 6:30 or 7 p.m. and my stomach is simply not ready to eat…again! Wasn’t lunch just a couple hours ago?
And yes, the 24-hour clock is really much more logical. About a year after moving here, I booked airline tickets to travel to Tel Aviv to visit a friend living there. When I arrived at the airport two hours ahead of my 7 p.m. flight, the ground host explained that I had missed the flight by 12 hours! “Madame, that flight left at 7:00, not 19:00!” Rest assured, I never made that mistake again!
#20. stop smiling at folks you pass on the street and wonder why those batty tourists are smiling at you
You may not even notice it. Americans smile ALL THE TIME. Their faces are in a permanent smile position and the lines in their faces show it. They look happy and their bright, white teeth are glisteningly freshly bleached. Then, plop them in Paris and they are smiling even more…radiating with how pleased they are to be here. Put that up against the French who were taught to be critical and skeptical of everything, who are taught that smiling for nothing just makes them look stupid and silly, and it’s a big contrast, to say the least! But don’t let that stop you from smiling…I quite like it, and am sure I’m still smiling like an American idiot. In fact, one of my neighbors, who I pass from time to time, always remarks, “Madame, vous êtes toujours souriante!” (“You are always smiling!” )
#69. are so used to seeing bare breasts and/or buttocks (in advertisements, on magazine covers, at the beach) that you no longer see them
In the summer of 2000, singer Johnny Hallyday gave an open-air free concert on the Champ de Mars. The grass was packed with spectators of all ages. His opening act was a line-up of the Crazy Horse dancers…topless of course. Did anyone think anything of it other than me and the other shocked Americans? Doubt it.
#91. believe that a scarf is your most important accessory or your best inter-season buffer
In fact, I don’t remember owning scarves before living in Paris…except for big wooly ones for the middle of winter in places like New York and Tennessee, but never in Los Angeles or New Orleans! Now, half the shelves in the closet are devoted to scarves of every size, shape, color and pattern and they are growing all the time. Even in the dead of summer, it would be ‘heresy’ to leave it at home (along with the umbrella and the sunglasses, since the weather is so unpredictable). Still, I can’t promise to tie it as well as a REAL PARISIENNE!
I’d like to add a few others of my own. Perhaps Shari and her cohorts would want to make it an even 100?:
#96. wear dresses or skirts every day and leave pants aside for when you’re going to stay at home
During one trip to the U.S., I walked out from the guest room at my sister’s house wearing a skirt and top, to which she exclaimed, “Where are you going so dressed up?” It was then I realized that American women have given up showing off their legs in skirts and dresses in lieu of the comfort and androgyny of pants. If a woman wears pants in Paris, she will surely never be noticed. Ladies, leave your pants at home for driving around in your cars and bring your skirts to Paris for the sidewalks and the adoring looks!
#97. like that the toilet is not in the bathroom, but in its own separate room
I can remember thinking how strange that was! But it didn’t take long to see the benefits and wonder why Americans haven’t adopted the practice. You need a lot fewer bathrooms when the toilet is separate and no doubt, your bathroom is going to smell a whole lot better with the toilet in another part of the house!
#98. place your drink order last, not first
I’ve seen it so many times. The waiter comes to take our order. Visiting friends immediately ask for their wine or Coke or whatever and he looks at them oddly, then asks, “You’re not going to eat?” The order in which you tell the waiter what you’re having is very specific in France. If you tell the waiter what you want out of that order you take the risk of him never getting it right. First, comes the first course; second order the second course; third you order your drinks. At the end of the meal, the waiter will return to take your dessert course, and then again to take your coffee or tea course. Don’t deviate! Besides, how can you know what you will drink until you know what you’re going to eat? That’s why there is a certain logic to it.
#99. write the date as DAY/MONTH/YEAR
This is one of those things that still makes no sense to me because when the dates are electronically, and automatically categorized, they are totally out of order if written this way. Regardless, in Europe (and most of the world) the date is written as day-month-year, so today, for instance, is 19-12-22 or 19 December 2022. Therefore, if I were to write the date 12-19-22, there would be mass confusion since there is no 19th month in our calendar. The only countries that do not share the European date format in fact are the U.S., Philippines, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Canada and Belize.
#100. file your important documents in “pochettes perforées transparent” that fit into “classeurs” that get put on a shelf instead of into a file drawer
The system for filing away documents is completely different than what we are used to. File folders don’t exist and even Pendaflex folders and filing cabinets have only been around since Staples and Office Depot came to France. Office supplies are a fortune (why I don’t know), so I still make a trip to an office supply store when I’m Stateside and bring back file folders, legal pads, and other goodies that either don’t exist here or are very expensive!
If we put our minds to it, I bet Shari and the rest of us could come up with an easy 100 more! And she did. Here are a few more, updated in 2020.
To order the book, visit the FUSAC website.
The Paris Effect
I just finished reading Edith de Belleville’s Parisian Life: Adventures in the City of Light. She spoke at Après-Midi in November and kept us all laughing…as does her newest book, rendering me cracking up and agreeing with just about everything she wrote! The book is very much written in Edith’s unique voice—very different from an American writing about Paris in English, as it’s her very Parisian viewpoint that we, as Americans, need to know and understand!
One chapter is titled “The Paris Effect.” This one struck me more personally than the others. Edith likes American women for a variety of reasons, and notes that they “never give up” and “use the sisterhood concept,” meaning they “help each other more.” She made fast friends with an American woman she met in a café who came to Paris from New York to live her dream of living in Paris. Shauna explained that when she tells her American friends that she lives in Paris, “They all have stars in their eyes. It’s incredible, the effect Paris has on Americans. It’s crazy!”
Edith then she asked her American friend, Shauna, if now she’s a “Parisienne” or just an American living in Paris? And I had to ask myself the same question. I’ve been in Paris more than 28 years, but like Shari Segall’s book about “Ways You Know You’re Becoming French,” I wondered if I could ever really become French, even if I have changed a lot of my American ways?
Edith writes that French actor Sacha Guitry describes the Paris Effect perfectly: “Être parisien, ce n’est pas être né à Paris, c’est y renaître.” (Being a Parisian is not about being born in Paris. It is about being reborn there.”)
Here’s how to get your copy.
Fashion In Paris Coloring Book! By Vie en Rose Creations
One of our staff has created the perfect gift for girls, teens and women who love Paris and Fashion—a fun and unique coloring book to discover Paris through fashion and a way of learning French words! It comes in paperback and you can get immediate delivery when you order on Amazon!
Click here to order it now!
And Happy Holidays to everyone!
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Matchbook Gallery by Craig Ziegler
P.S. Yep, Christmas is getting closer by the moment, and that means many of you will be traveling to be with friends, relatives or maybe just for the fun of it. I’m headed (for the first time) to Marrakesh, Morocco to take in some sun and warmth, and a very different culture. Stay tuned for next Monday’s Nouvellettre® with a full report of what we hope will be a very exotic holiday!
Quite a surprise and an honor to see myself included in your most recent Nouvellettre! Thanks!
Best regards and Happy Holidays,