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Some People ‘Get’ Paris and Some People Don’t

Old friend and colleague, Lynda Sydney, pays a visit on her one time home, Paris, about twice a year now since she returned over a year ago to her native land, Ontario, Canada. She carries Paris in her heart like so many of us do — those who live here and those who don’t, but still hold on to the “maladie” we all share. The “maladie” is what I call that yearning for the City of Light that we find so hard to put into words, or explain how or why it affects us so strongly.

Often we find ourselves defending our precious city to those who she says “don’t get it.” In fact, after many times coming to the city’s defense, she, the copywriter and wordsmith that she is, decided she needed a ‘come back’ that would ‘put’ these naysayers in their rightful places — among those that are better off staying in their little wombs, never venturing off to see the rest of the world.

One such bitter ‘fox’ as Aesop’s fable about ‘sour grapes’ describes, actually blamed a ‘rude’ waiter on his reason for disliking Paris so much. We’ve all heard this excuse! And of course, it’s highly likely ‘Mr. Sour Grapes’ himself had never stepped on French soil, much less encountered a truly ‘burly’ French waiter. And it’s even more likely that this age-old story has been passed on from fox to fox just to provide an excuse for disliking something they don’t really know or ‘fear’ in their own ignorant way.

Those of us who know better can’t help but crack a smile and then start telling tells of waiters, rudeness, politeness and cultural clashes, of which we all have many. When you translate the word “rude” into French, you arrive at nothing. There is no word for it in French!
You can be “pas poli” (not polite), but you can’t be “rude.” Funny that the language doesn’t even recognize the action, and therefore it would seem pretty impossible to be something one cannot describe.

There is no question that the concept of “service” in France is different from the western idea of “customer is king,” and that we have all had our cultural clashes
understanding how to deal with that difference, but ‘rude’ is not how I’d ever describe anyone. In fact, “au contraire!” Now that I’ve learned how to ‘charm’ any wait person, male or female, mostly by showing a real respect for that person (who’s working hard to make your dining experience a happy one), the service could never be better! I certainly don’t need to get to know the person’s name (“Hi. My name is Mary. I’ll be your server this evening! Just let me know if you need anything.”) — since a good wait person in France should never have to be summoned for appropriate service.

Just to take this one idea a little further, I can assure you, that if you NEVER just take your own seat in a café without asking permission, or GOD-FORBID move the tables around yourself (it’s their establishment, you know!), or BARK your orders to the server without a “s’il vous plaît” or “merci beaucoup,” but humble yourself as the ‘stranger’ in their ‘home’ by showing a simple level of respect for their authority, you will achieve the highest form of service that one can muster. In 15 years living in Paris, I’d have to say that I can only recall having ‘rude’ service only once or twice, and that occurred long ago when maybe I didn’t know any better, either.

The REAL reason someone may dislike Paris isn’t about a rude waiter at all. Let’s admit it, there are people, as Lynda says, who just ‘get Paris’ and those who don’t. They are either open to other cultures and therefore are not intimidated by one as different as this one, or they feel more comfortable in their native environment complaining about sour grapes in order to rationalize why they wouldn’t want it anyway. It’s human nature and Aesop recognized it.

For the life of me, I can’t seem to find a single reason one wouldn’t fall madly in love with Paris as so many of us have, even after suffering the trials and tribulations of maneuvering any foreign culture, and catching the “maladie” for which there is no cure, except for one antidote: Paris itself.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. Last night at restaurant “Aux Trois Petits Cochons” on rue Tiquetonne (number 31, 2nd arrondissement,, the ‘burly’ waiter was so ‘rude’ (can you hear my sarcasm?) that Lynda and I were treated to a little “digestif” of liquor-soaked cherries, just to reward us for our inimitable charm. Highly recommended…at about 35€ to 50€ per person and well worth it.


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