Unfriendly, dismissive, and rude.
The above descriptors are sometimes associated with Parisians, but believing they’re accurate would be as silly as believing that every meal in Paris is served with frogs’ legs and escargot. From a North American perspective, it’s as silly as believing all Canadians bathe in maple syrup (why the hell would we bathe in it when we can eat it?!).
The truth is there are assholes everywhere, it’s a lovely feature of the human race (but luckily it’s not the dominant one.) I was eager to tap into the friendliness of Parisians which I knew was their dominant trait (gotta have faith!), but like with any place, it’s not this automatic thing where you loiter around cafés and parks until someone decides to talk to you. You have to put yourself out there, you have to walk into a room where everybody’s having a conversation without you, and you have to figure out how to fit your way in.
The quickest way to do that (without being creepy) is to join an organized group where you’re guaranteed a “starter” conversation. Nothing is guaranteed beyond the starter conversation (you weirdo), but if you’ve honed your social skills to a generally acceptable level, you can find yourself having pleasant conversations with Parisians, as you try to figure out what wine-producing region in France shares a name with a vehicle (Cadillac, who knew?!).
That’s exactly what happened to me, when I showed up for my very first English and French pub quiz night in Paris.
It started out in that nervous way, like when you don’t know where to sit in the high school cafeteria. No one really paid any attention to me as I walked through the bar, and the boisterous conversations were already in flight. I heard French, I heard American English (sorry but our Canadian English accent is different, and Americans should know, you make fun of us for it all the time!), I heard UK English, and I definitely heard glasses clinking with declarations of “Santé!”
I made it past most of the tables in the bar because the seats were already filled. Eventually I found a seat at a table in the back, across from a man and woman having a lightning-fast discussion in French. I didn’t even have a drink to make it seem like I was busy while they talked. This would’ve been the time to take out my phone, and that’s exactly what I would’ve done in Toronto, in any stretch lasting longer than ten seconds if my friends were MIA at the bar.
But this is Paris, dummy! You came here to meet people!
So I smiled.
Yes, I smiled at two people having a busy conversation without me. Though they weren’t looking directly at me, eventually my smile (powered with the very same ammo that fuels a “Care Bear stare”) broke through.
The woman turned to face me and said “Bonjour.”
And the rest, my friends…is history.
Can you imagine if that’s all it took and suddenly I had twenty friends?
Anyway I replied and introduced myself, and then, with another local joining our table (along with an American woman), we started to explain our occupations.
I was asked if I’m here to work.
I said no.
I was asked if I’m a student.
I said no again.
They were curious now, and this was right around the moment when I pictured telling these locals I was here to write a book, the most biggest cliché of moving to Paris. For half a second, the old stereotypes of Parisians and how they would rudely dismiss me took over. But then I remembered that it’s not like I bathe in maple syrup just because I’m Canadian, so I told them.
And no one laughed.
They must be good actors, eh? (I do say “eh.” Sue me.)
In reality, they had a lot of questions about my “Year of the Chick'” fiction series, and about this travel-blogging thing which will warp into another book. Most of the questions surrounded the sequel to Last-Minute Love I plan to write, where (SPOILER ALERT) the character quits her job and moves to Paris at the end of book two. The French man to my right seemed to be the most inquisitive, especially about what experiences I would have that would inspire the events in the book (insert a French man’s raised eyebrow here). The best part about all of this, is how the Parisians encouraged me to answer in French, just as I encouraged them to answer in English, so they could improve as well. Thinking back to my first day in Paris when I chickened out from talking to a waiter in French, I can happily say that in any store and café I visit now, I speak in French. In fact, the sentences of French I spoke on that quiz night, were more French than I’d spoken since 1999.
To re-iterate, yes, this was a quiz night. It lasted a couple of hours and we definitely became competitive with the other six teams, but the quiz was only a cover for why we were really there. It was language development outside of a classroom, and judging by the wine and conversation we shared once the quiz was over, it was also a chance to make new acquaintances and exchange a few phone numbers.
After reading this, one could easily say it is not a true reflection of Parisians, since the locals at the quiz night were getting something out of it too by improving their English. One could certainly say that, but in response I’d say that yesterday I met a woman who lives around the corner from me. She’s a friendly Parisian who’s finishing her studies, and she also has an adorable kitten (bonus!). I’ll probably see her next week to go for a pint (or “boire un verre” as the French would say).
Oh, and to “keep it real,” tonight I was at a different bar for a meetup of internationals which locals often attend. Here I met a French man who we’ll call “Francois.” As he asked me about my rom-com series writing endeavours, he only wanted to know how many dates I’ve had in Paris so far, why I’m not trying to meet as many men as possible for the book, why on earth I go jogging in the Jardin du Luxembourg because I can’t meet men while I’m jogging, and do I know how to pole-dance, because I look like I’d be good at it.
Thanks “Francois,” but I’ve only been here for a week, I don’t pole-dance, and I’m going to go home and write now.
Yeah…all kinds of people in all kind of places, but cheers to the friendly Parisians!