A friend of mine is leaving tomorrow for her annual month-long trek home to visit family in France. She looks less and less forward to this excursion each passing year, and is downright dreading it this time. She’s way ahead of the game from my point of view: she stays in a chic little apartment located in a small city about ten miles from Paris, has access to a car, knows her way around the country and speaks fluent French. Voilà, non?
Non. Listening to her groaning and sighing, I had to tease her about the irony of the situation. Most people would be thrilled to spend an entire month in France once in a lifetime, never mind every year (like moi!), to which she responded, “Oh I love France. It’s the French I hate!”
It is commonly said that the French are not very friendly, and I’ve found them to be indifferent, but I figured that was only directed towards all of us non-French stiffs. Oh contraire!
She has noticed on the past two trips in particular, that no one dresses well anymore (“They all look like Americans.” Apparently this is a very bad thing.), people are overweight (ditto), everyone is very rude, and no one is kind to the elderly.
The latter is particularly distressing to her elderly mother and worrisome to ma amie of course. In comparison, when her mother visits the U.S., she is welcomed everywhere and treated respectfully with kindness and deference.
In Paris especially, my friend witnessed her mother being callously treated. No one cared if she stood in a queue for a long time or needed assistance because she cannot move quickly as she goes about her day. She was grumbled at and sometimes reprimanded for requesting ‘special attention.’
No one in queues acknowledged the senior card her mother presented that is supposed to allow the elderly to advance in long lines or receive discounts, etc. If anything, showing the card caused louder grumbling and more derision.
I find that all shocking and sad for a society dedicated to joie de vivre. In France, I am told, everyone considers the elderly as nuisances for one reason or another. Healthcare and services for the elderly are limited, difficult to obtain and expensive. So much for socialism and the comforts of old age.
The NYTimes had an interesting article in 2012 that addressed reality of France’s socialism thing. If you’re curious, check it out: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/16/opinion/frances-nutty-socialism.html?_r=0
Another colossal faux pas is Paris’s drivers. City drivers are notorious everywhere for their aggression and impatience, but it seems they take on a whole new level of hostility in the City of Lights. No one obeys traffic rules (they don’t seem to exist even as a point of reference) everyone ‘cuts’ everyone else, never gives anyone a wave through and cursed name calling is the new lingua franca.
As if deliberately timed to appear on this eve of ma amie’s departure, I came across two articles posted on BBC about the quirks and pressures of living in Paris and across France, written by a Brit who lives there. Perhaps the writings of Proust will lead the way (read the article and it will make sense)
Chic, but leaky
Nightmare neighbours: behind the chic facades of French apartment blocks
I also came across a Frank Zappa quote that fit this post: “There is no hell. There is only France.” Ha! I am more than a little curious to find out what caused that little snit! I’ll have to read his book, You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, to discover its raison d’être!
Bummed out in Paris? UGH!
Sorry if I’ve dampened your romantic thoughts about relocating to a cute little apartment near a bookstore café. Bouy yourself right back up by visiting these two charming websites about beautiful French décor and antiquing the arrondissements. Indulge your French fantasy right at home: theparisapartment.wordpress.com.
Or start pondering that bucket list vacation by looking at apartment rentals in Paris at the deftly named: http://www.parisperfect.com
No endorsement to either business, they’re just fun sites to visit for a de courtes vacances douce (loosely translated a sweet, short vacation!) without leaving home.