You Know You’re Becoming French When You…
I wasn’t allowed to vote in yesterday’s European parliament elections because I don’t have French nationality or carry a French passport. (I guess you already know that Marine Le Pen’s National Front party took more than 25% of the seats compared to Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party’s 21% and President François Hollande’s Socialists a poor third with 14%??!!) Instead, France granted me the right to be here for ten years at a time with a visa known as a “Carte de Résident,” renewable.
It took ten years of renewing a “Carte de Séjour Visiteur” every year (without permission to legally work in France) until they would grant me permission to live here another ten years (with the right to work) and now, I’ve applied to renew the card again on this tenth anniversary coming up this October. If Marine Le Pen had her way, I might never been allowed to live here at all. The National Front party is very vocal about their anti-immigration policy which focuses on “non-European immigration, and includes support for deporting illegal, criminal, and unemployed immigrants” (Wikipedia.org)…not that I fit into the “illegal, criminal or unemployed” status!
Regardless of my legal status in France, whether they want me here or not, or how fluent my French is or knowledge of France, or how well I can tie a scarf, I will never be FRENCH. Being French is so much more than just being a resident, try as we might.
One of my long-time compatriots, Shari Leslie Segall, who has lived in Paris since 1985, along with two other women of equal longevity living in the City of Light, collaborator Lisa Vanden Bos and illustrator Judit Halász, explores the topic and suggests “90+ Ways You Know You’re Becoming French” in their newest little hand-held book.
“How do you know you’re becoming French?,” they ask. 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 you know what, that doesn’t really bother me! 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. and 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.
We wouldn’t think of going out for dinner before 8 p.m.. The restaurants won’t even serve before, and if they do, it’s because they have a tourist clientele and know the foreigners’ routine to dine early. 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 don’t have a whole lot to smile about these days (high unemployment, high cost of living, etc.) and it’s a big contrast, to say the least! But don’t let that stop you from smiling…I quite like it, even if I don’t do it myself anymore.
#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 everyday and leave pants aside for when you’re going to stay at home.
During my last 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 less 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, first course; second, second course; third, 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?
#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, automatically categorized, they are totally out of order. Regardless, in Europe (and most of the world) the date is written as day-month-year, so today for instance is 26-5-14 or 26 May 2014. Therefore, if I were to write the date 5-26-14, there would be mass confusion since there is no 26th 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! But either way, it’s a fun exercise and a great look at how our cultures so widely differ.
Copies of the book can be ordered online at store.fusac.fr/ or you can purchase the book in Paris at:
* Thanksgiving Grocery (20, rue St Paul, 75004)
* Brentano’s (37, avenue de l’Opéra, 75002)
* Style Pixie Salon (2, rue Edouard Vasseur, Ivry sur Seine)
* Librairie Eyrolles (61, boulevard Saint-Germain, 75005)
* Passion France (42, Avenue de la Grande Armée, 75017)
* Papeterie Librairie de l’Ecole Militaire (41, avenue de la Motte Picquet, 75007)
* Librairie Papeterie du Champ de Mars (28, avenue de Tourville, 75007)
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris & Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
P.S. It’s Tuesday! Watch House Hunter’s International episode “Living a Teenage Dream in Paris, France” on May 27 at 10:30 p.m. E/P and 1:30 a.m. E/P. Can a former Paris exchange student who has long dreamed of living in France find a Parisian apartment when she hasn’t given much thought to what she wants in her new home? Tune in and find out