Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I couldn't believe my eyes but there he was, straight out of central casting, an older gentleman perched just inside the mètro entrance at Place de la Concorde playing La Vie en Rose on the accordion. I looked around for someone with whom to share the moment, half expecting to see Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. So it got to me thinking: how true are those stereotypical American images of France? After five months here, I have learned that the French are more standoffish and formal than rude (even when you are torturing their language), and that while some Parisians are impeccably turned out, not everyone is a style maven. Plenty wear jeans and some even wear sneakers! But it turns out that the French really do:

  • wear berets (okay, not all of them. But on any day when the temperature's below sixty, you're more than likely to see a few.)

  • wear scarves. I suppose that some are Hermès or some other such designer but I'm really talking about the thick wool variety wrapped around the neck of every man, woman, and child at the slightest hint of cold. The little bitty kids wear them too, something you don't usually see in the U.S. except when they're bundled up for an afternoon of sledding.

  • smoke (a lot).

  • say "voila" and "ooh la la." Actually, it's more like "oh la la" and said with a kind of clucking, resigned head-shaking demeanor of "oh my goodness...what a shame" than the wink-wink suggestion of...well....you know what.

  • carry baguettes under their arms. A trip to the boulangerie is a daily ritual and how else can you carry one or two loaves of bread, each two feet in length?

  • dress their little girls like dolls with chin length hair caught up in a bow, Mary Janes, and a proper wool winter coats (no ski jackets for these kids.)

Vive la France!

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