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Carla Compared to Jackie O

One of you readers who lives not far from where I have been staying while visiting Los Angeles, wrote with “loving humor” that “it’s a shame,” since each place is unique unto itself, that “true sophisticates” don’t make comparisons between them (like I do), but instead appreciate each for their own assets, values and virtues.

He’s referring, of course, to the comparisons I make between the city I live in (Paris) and the cities I visit (in this case, San Francisco, Los Angeles and as of today, New Orleans).

Yes, I can certainly agree with that, but perhaps considering that a) Parler Paris is about Paris, b) I’m not very sophisticated and c) my goal is to get you to think more deeply about your own likes, dislikes and life choices…it’s natural to express the culture shocks one is likely (and do) experience going in one direction or another.

Each time I travel, particularly back to my native land, the culture shock in reverse is acute and impossible to ignore. It is a ‘slap in the face’ forcing one to question one’s own cultural ‘default mode’ (a term to explain how when we look at another culture’s values or behaviors, we are unconsciously comparing them to our own ‘default mode’ and judging them accordingly, used by Ruth Mastron and Gilles Asselin in their book “Au Contraire: Figuring Out the French,” /parlerparis/books/booksaboutfrance.html).

For instance, I was asked one evening over sushi in a San Fernando Valley restaurant why the French are so ‘rude.’ Funny, I find them rarely ‘rude.’ They are just ‘French.’ But of course, my perception is no longer from the American cultural ‘default mode’ which expects a smile (even when not happy) or good customer service (even if the customer doesn’t deserve it).

There’s a new film out titled “Bottle Shock: Wine ‘Wars’ Uncorked,” about the ‘war’ between California and French vintners. A review by “une Française” Daniele Thomas Easton, a former French consul in Philadelphia, sees life in the U.S. from her own French cultural default mode: “And if, you, like me, have lived long enough in the United States to reach the sage conclusion that both countries balance the good and the bad evenly; that you can eat in some fine Philadelphia eateries as well as you would in some Paris bistros; that bread from the Metropolitan Bakery can beat baguettes from some French supermarkets; that some new American cheese, made in the right way (read unpasteurized milk) can taste pretty good, you, too, will enjoy Bottle Shock.” (Bottle Shock will open in Philadelphia on August 6 at the Ritz East — )

The reader also didn’t seem to think that the “misspelling of French words in a Sonoma restaurant is no worse than the abominable spelling of English words in some of the most “branché” (hip) French restaurants,” and that “most travelers find these mistakes rather charming.”

Sorry to disagree, but mistakes in English on menus in France are not at all charming, at least from my cultural default mode — just illiterate. It’s offensive no matter which side you’re on — that one culture has so little respect for the other that they don’t bother to find out how to correctly spell or pronounce the other language. The French are so proud and protective of their beautiful language, that to see it mutilated is painful (from my new default mode).

Most English translations on French menus are yes, every bit as abominable, but would they have the English at all if English speakers made an effort to understand the French? And besides, the mistakes in French on an English-language menu are there because they use the French to look chic, “branché” and international…and instead, thanks to the errors, they only look pretty stupid.

Lastly, our loving reader claims there is a “real reason there is a difference between the two cafés” (Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots). Adam Gopnik, in his book “Paris to the Moon,” observes, “Still, one of the things you learn if you live as a curious observer (or as an observed curiosity) on the fringes of the fashionable world in Paris is that the Flore remains the most fashionable place in Paris, while the Deux Magots was long ago abandoned by people who think of themselves as belonging to the world, to ce pays-ci–this country here, as the inhabitants of Versailles called their little fashionable island.” ( So, what real reason what he talking about? I can’t be certain.

In Los Angeles, there is no choice to be made between Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots — since neither exist. Instead, they are lined up around the block to get a “Pinkberry” or a “Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs.” What’s up with “pink?” Is it the new hot trend in color or concept? How would you like to see the Eiffel Tower pink?! It’s blue at the moment. How about lining up for a “Blueberry” or “Blue’s Famous Meat Balls?”

(By the way, Pinkberry is a Los Angeles-based franchise of frozen dessert restaurants with 71 stores in L.A. and New York. Korean Americans Shelly Hwang and Young Lee “created a cultural phenomenon,” proclaimed by an American Express commercial for a new “Plum Card.” And Pink’s is “Home of the World’s Best Chili Dog” proud of their 70th year in Los Angeles at the same location in Hollywood near the intersection of Melrose Avenue on N. La Brea Boulevard at number 709.)

The cultural shock struck again while enjoying the sun and surf in La La Land, with my toes in the sand, reading Vanity Fair’s article about French First Lady Carla Bruni that compares her to Jackie O. So, you see, I’m not the only one to make comparisons from our own cultural default mode.

Now, wouldn’t you say that Jackie O is more like Café de Flore while Carla Bruni is clearly Les Deux Magots?

Adrian Leeds at the Hollywood Bowl A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. The Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group is open all summer long! Tell your French friends and join us now! Visit for more information.

P.P.S. We mourn the loss of art gallery owner and promoter of all souls creative, Anne Vignial, who struggled to bring young street artists to be recognized for their budding talents. She was a friend, a colleague, a neighbor and an illustrious resident of the 3rd arrondissement. We will cherish her memory forever.

Anne is pictured on the left with one of her young talents, Jef Aéroso, 2007.


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