Is it “So French” to be “So Real?”
Every year, the City Hall of Paris invites the city officials, other illustrious members of the city and press to celebrate the New Year at the Hôtel de Ville in the Grand Ballroom. The mayor always speaks, while his or her cabinet of ministers adorns the stage. The intent is to honor the players in the economic, social, associative, youth, sports and cultural activities in the city of Paris and to welcome in the new year. Champagne and hors d’oeuvres are served after, to which everyone scurries before they run out.
I’ve attended many of these events and always enjoyed them when Bertrand Delanoë was the mayor. He would walk out with real stature and a strong presence, dressed impeccably, his team behind him looking very much the same. Mayor Anne Hidalgo is another story (regardless of my feelings about her as a mayor). She was badly dressed and uncoiffed, as was her crew of cabinet members. The last time I attended, they looked like they had just stepped out of bed, unfitting for the leaders of the Capital of Fashion. It shocked me actually, and I thought about how different they might look if they were American politicians or even capitalists! (Anne Hidalgo is a Socialist herself as are her cabinet members, as well as Communist. See paris.fr/elu-e-s/adjoint-e-s-a-la-maire)
This year, the event takes place this coming Thursday, January 16th and I won’t be able to attend as I’m headed to Nice on Wednesday. But, to do my part, I attended the open-to-the-public new year celebration at the Carreau du Temple this past Saturday with the Mayor of the 3rd Arrondissement, Pierre Aidenbaum leading the event, and Anne Hidalgo following suit with a speech of her own. (She’s an excellent speaker, BTW.) The few seats there filled up quickly, but April Pett and I arrived early enough to snag second-row seats. (Unfortunately, we were behind a woman reeking of cheap perfume to the point of almost being intolerable…but I wasn’t giving up my seat just for that.)
The event opened with a dance performance of young people. The choreography was too profound and intellectual for me to understand — somber and sad, weird and contrived…not a pretty dance, but a spastic one, if not agile, symbolizing what I couldn’t imagine, except perhaps the struggle of the young to succeed in the world. I leaned over to April and whispered, “The performance is so French!”
The crowd was quiet and respectful, so maybe they got a lot more out of it than I did. It was tough to hear the speakers over the din coming from the back of the beautiful event space, as they had “thoughtfully” created a special space entirely dedicated to children to keep them entertained. I suppose it hadn’t dawned on the organizers that they’d make so much noise! After the speeches by the two mayors, they all left the stage and wandered through the crowd shaking hands and meeting the residents. This is universal politics, to greet their subjects in the flesh.
What makes something “so French” is an assessment one learns over time living in France: when you can distinguish the cultural differences by the tiny little clues that make it “so French” compared to one’s own culture or any other, for that matter. The city officials on the platform to the sides of M. Aidenbaum and Mme. Hidalgo wasn’t any more fashionable than what I’d remembered in the past, but not entirely slovenly. Do they just not care or is dressing down a Socialist statement or part of their strategy to “dress down” and be one of the people? The mayor herself was wearing black pants with a long black sweater attempting to hide what seemed like a bit of weight she has gained. Compared to her predecessor, Bertrand Delanoê, who I’d seen wear a crisp black velour blazer, she commanded no real presence.
Think me superficial for commenting on fashion in politics, but if you google the words “politics + fashion” you’ll see immediately what I mean. American politicians are dressed for success. According to the Washington Post, fashion is very important to politics. “Does his sweater exude empathy? Does that suit make her look strong? Clothing choices help sell a political message. What does a bedazzled cardigan say? A poorly-tailored jacket?” Elizabeth Warren is well-known for her rolled-up sleeves look, written up by Robin Givhan, fashion editor for The Washington Post, her sleeves are often rolled up “as though she could immediately dive into a messy situation without pausing to worry about her nice frock.” Even an Elizabeth Warren Real Life Action Figure doll sports the rolled-up sleeves that have become her trademark.
There were stacks of the quarterly free city magazine “À Paris” to be taken, but mine had come in my mailbox a week or so earlier. Addressed to Parisian residents, it is also available for pick up at the Hôtel de Ville, in-district town halls, and in many municipal places. In addition to the city’s magazine, each arrondissement city hall publishes their own, too, monthly or bi-monthly. As far as I know, U.S. cities do not make this effort. I’m not talking about privately owned and profitable magazines such as “New York Magazine” or “Los Angeles Magazine.” These in France are publications issued for the benefit of communicating with residents, the costs of which are borne by the taxpayers.
I’ve always thought this was commendable, for the city and each of its districts to communicate with their residents informing them, of not only the role their government plays in their lives but what they offer culturally to their constituents. It shows, as do their new year events, that they open a dialog with the people and that their grassroots efforts are important. While I wished they dressed more for success, I had to think again about how they care more about the substance of what they do vs their outward appearance. Was I being a superficial as the average American to be swayed by Elizabeth Warren’s rolled-up sleeves to think she will “dive into a messy situation?” Probably yes –– Americans are accused by the French of being superficial all the time. And isn’t it the truth? And is that why I didn’t understand the profundity of the spasmodic dancers?
It all left me pondering questions and ultimately admiring the French politicians, not for their slovenliness, but for caring more about real communication than their clothing. It’s “so French” to be “so real.”
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. Don’t miss tomorrow’s Après Midi. It’s TOMORROW! You won’t want to miss this session featuring Kim Bingham. Details on our website. See you there!!