Paris, Nice, Male, Female, Oysters and Plastic Versions
Paris to Nice. The following Saturday, Nice to Paris. Then Sunday, Paris back to Nice I go, to meet with clients searching for a “pied-à-terre” in the sunny Mediterranean city. It’s always hard to leave Nice, when the sun is shining so brightly, but with Paris as gleamingly bright as it is predicted all this week, I will not be complaining. If it were like this all the time, I would say, “It’s Paris. You come here for the weather.” That’s okay…Paris has many other attributes, as do both French cities.
We have so many clients moving to Nice these days, that our community is growing substantially. It’s become “de rigueur” to host a dinner at a local restaurant and invite our new “family” of Expats, who have largely become friends. When I’m back there next week, we’ll do it again. This is something that hasn’t happened in the same way in Paris.
The Expat community in Paris is so much larger, and so much more physically spread out, that it’s not quite as easy as it is in Nice to gather in a central spot steps from where we all live (in the Carré d’Or or Quartier des Musiciens) and take a table for 10 or more. The restaurants are accommodating. When we all landed at Portovenere on rue Halévy, one of my regular haunts, we realized that “master of selfies” and “crooner extraordinaire,” John G. Jones, lives in the same building as the owner/chef of the restaurant, Thomas Russo — signs of the small and closely-knit world that Nice is.
As usual, I ate my way through the city, dining at many of my favorite restaurants — but I have so many that it’s impossible to say which is truly number one. Il Vicoletto almost always gets my first meal shortly after arrival and often my last one, too. My phone number is recognizable to the staff there who answers the ring, making me feel very welcomed indeed.
I will let you into a little secret of mine, however, that will get you great restaurant service every time: When you call to make a reservation, even if it’s the very first time (and particularly if it’s the first time), say, “Bonjour (or hello), this is [your first name]. Do you have a table available for [X number] on [the date] at [the time]?” What happens is that the person answering the phone thinks he or she is supposed to know you! They will pretend to recognize you in order to be polite. And then when you show up and say, “Bonjour, I reserved a table at [the time],” they immediately know who you are and will never forget you! From that moment on, you will be treated like their favorite patron. Don’t be shy. Try it. I promise you, it works to make immediate friends with the restaurant staff.
As I boarded the train Saturday afternoon and plugged in my laptop, a Facebook message from the authors of The Bonjour Effect popped up that…”The French Academy is finally accepting feminine forms of titles –– though ‘La’ Sécretaire perpetualle (a woman!) isn’t exactly embracing it, saying the word ‘écrivaine’ (female writer) is ugly. Seriously.”
An article in the Telegraph published last week, announced that the French language is in a kind of “revolution” by finally accepting feminine forms of job titles. This is a big deal coming from the “hallowed Académie Française” which has lived by its rules for centuries (established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu) to protect and uphold the French language…to the extreme. The academicians of the Academy (40 of them) are so indispensable that they are called “The Immortals.” The Immortals elect new Immortals and hold office for life, much like U.S. Supreme Court Justices. They have the right to resign and they can be dismissed for bad behavior — as the governor of Vichy France during WWII, that kind of “bad behavior” sent Immortal Philippe Pétain out the door.
Women have had a tough time getting recognized by the Academy. Even Immortal Hélène Carrère d’Encausse (yes, a woman), wanted to be referred to as “Madame le secrétaire perpetuel” in the masculine form, arguing that gender had nothing to do with the title. She was also against such feminine forms as “la ministre” (a female minister). And she “drew the line at ‘écrivaine’ (a female writer) on the grounds that ‘it’s very ugly.'” (Oy vey. Who says it’s “ugly?” I’m glad she’s not in the U.S. Congress voting on a woman’s right to abortion!)
At the end of this week and month, on the 28th of February, the Academy will announce the newly “feminized” versions of a list of job titles. While it has been holding on for dear life, the French language has been evolving without them. Other dictionaries were already accepting such words as “aviatrice” (aviator) or “avocate” (lawyer) without the approval by the Immortals who have been accused of being misogynistic by taking such a rigid stance.
I have personally endured the same kind of treatment since moving to France, however it’s misogyny in reverse (“misandry” — the hatred of or contempt for men or boys). My name, A-D-R-I-A-N, is spelled like the man’s form of “Adriane” or “Adrienne” or “Adriana.” When I was named, either my parents screwed up, or they wanted to remove the gender implications from my name (which might have been on purpose since I was the fourth daughter and my father seriously wanted a son, but I doubt it).
Henceforth, I was always “the boy” being sent to boys’ Phys-Ed classes (obviously by mistake) or somehow relegated to being included with the boys, rather than the girls. The French can’t get their heads around this masculine spelling for a woman and always assume I am a man, until they see me, of course. Letter after letter is addressed to Mr. Adrian Leeds, for example. When I order up an Uber car and wait on the curb, the driver is always confused, expecting to see a man instead. It is such an ongoing problem, that I simply adopted “Adrienne” when saying my name verbally to avoid confusion whenever possible.
Sunday lunch in Paris was what American friends, Geraldine and Jeffrey and I, called “Oyster Sunday.” Geraldine is the writer of the blog, “The Travel Oyster,” but that has little to do with why we have the habit of eating oysters together on Sundays. They’ve been coming to Paris for two months every winter for as many years as I’ve been living in Paris, and for several years before that. Geraldine happened to be with me the first time I stepped into what would become my Marais apartment in June of 1997 and we’ve been good friends ever since. She and her husband, Jeffrey, have often stayed in an apartment in the Marais and love to frequent the Bastille Market, where they discovered an excellent oyster-purveyor. Jeffrey has a particular fondness for shucking oysters, as well as eating them. With my oyster-loving New Orleans background (where I learned to eat them at the ripe old age of two), I naturally got invited to join them. The tradition hasn’t waned and at every opportunity, we gather on available Sundays for shucking and eating oysters.
This Sunday was our first oyster lunch of the year (and hopefully not our last) since I was in the South soaking up the sun. With the French language so concerned about gender, I wondered if oysters had a gender. In French, the word for oyster is “huître” and it’s a feminine word, but that doesn’t mean the mollusk is female. In fact, oysters are both male and female — “protandrous hermaphrodites.” They are male during the first two to three years of their life, then they change to a female phase later and can live as long as 25 years. In effect, they carry eggs as well as sperm, releasing millions of both of them into the water where fertilization takes place, randomly. I wonder what the Académie Française would have to say about that! (The sexual life of an oyster is fascinating, but I prefer just eating them.)
After a dozen oysters each and a bottle of white wine, the three of us wandered down to the Place des Vosges where hundreds had gathered on the grass to take in the sunny rays. We settled in among them, enjoying the unusually gorgeous weather to which Parisians are not accustomed. After a bit of time bronzing, I texted friends whom I was to meet later for drinks, using “Siri” on my iPhone:
“Be there soon. I’m at the ‘Plastic Version.’ It’s absolutely gorgeous on the grass.”
This is how Siri interpreted “Place des Vosges” — as “Plastic Version.” And now, Place des Vosges will forever be our “Plastic Version.”
A la prochaine…
(with Jeffrey and Geraldine)
P.S. Hey, hey, hey! You no longer have to wait until the next re-airing of your favorite episodes of Adrian on House Hunters International. HGTV now has the videos of many of the most recent episodes available online! You’ll find links to those episodes on our Adrian Leeds On House Hunters page. Get your fix today!