Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Being beautiful, in France

I'm quite used to getting unsolicited advice from French people about how I should look and dress; it's what makes the holidays so much fun! But in the past two days I've had two rather bizarre incidents that I thought I'd relate to my dear readers.

Yesterday morning I left my house for work and my sixth sense for public transportation kicked in. I think my bus is at the bus stop, I thought. I bet if I run, I can make it. (The bus stop is at the end of the street and around the corner, so by the time I can see it, it's too late). So I started to run up the street, quite fast, in my dress, trenchcoat and ballet flats, carrying a big bag of students files. You know, as you do. Totally normal. Not worth noting. Well, maybe for an American.

Have you ever seen a French woman run? I have. Once, in Parc Monceau. She was wearing a turtleneck and cargo pants. It was about 70 degrees fahrenheit. This whole "exercise" thing hasn't really caught on with French women, and as they say on that website with the silly cat pictures, teh kitteh is doin it rong! lol lol lol

My sixth sense is finely honed, for in fact the bus had been at the bus stop and was now stopped at the red light. The driver opened the door when he saw me booking it up the street. I hopped on and said, in French, "thank you!" The driver smiled broadly. "No, thank you!" he replied. Eh? "I just love that. I love to see a woman who runs!"

I laughed. What else can you do? I think I made his day. Power to the Yank who isn't afraid to leg it.

Today I got up the nerve to go to the hairdresser - my third time in France. The first time was great, because the hairdresser was a monoglot Portuguese speaker and I was spared small talk. The second time was not great. Today I tried a new salon in my town. This hairdresser, like the other two, was competent but a bit rough. I got thwacked with the brush a few times. She chastised me for me dry hair (a result, I'm pretty sure, of Paris's very hard water), recommended un soin (a deep-conditioner - and a racket), and trimmed my shoulder-length hair in record time. I was satisfied.

But I was also tired and having a "bad French day," struggling with both speaking and listening comprehension. So when she told me to sit back down , I didn't really know what was going on. She and the nice man who took my coat started asking me what I was wearing for makeup. Eyeshadow? Pah. Can't see it. Too pale! Concealer? Gasp! Not enough, apparently! And didn't I mind the redness in my cheeks? They could fix that for me, they cooed. Don't worry. C'est offert, madame. (It's free). Nice man produced a bunch of cotton balls and started rubbing my face. What the hell?

(Do I look like I want advice? Is this a French woman thing, or is it my bad luck? I went into a shop to buy sunscreen recently and the shop assistant looked at me, started nodding vigorously, and said, "Don't worry, madame, I understand your problem. Freckles. We have a product for you. We can fix that." Whah?)

So, without really agreeing to it, I got a free relooking from the nice man. It took longer than the haircut. Hairdresser and one of her turbanned clients peeked in from smoking behind the shop to offer encouragement. Mais regarde! Baaah t'es belle maitenant! Oh mais c'est tres bien!

Am I belle? Well, I think I resemble this famous and celebrated French person! I've resisted the urge to scrub it all off - I want to see what MCM thinks when he gets home. It's at least good for a laugh.

PS. Happy birthday, Mum!


  1. We are both LOL!!! Did you take a pic? This is too much, too much. Such funny stories! Thank goodness you've written them down for all-times sake!

  2. Very interesting for French to read you !

    Have we really "tous les défauts du monde" (all the defects of the world) ?

    Add "suceptibility" to your list !


  3. Sorry, don't laugh, susceptibility is better, no ?

  4. Thank you, Anonymous - I don't think that the French have "tous les defauts du monde," but I do think that my cultural assumptions are very different from French ones. I hope my blog reveals not only my frustrations with the French, but how ridiculous I must seem as I try to get by in Paris!

  5. Je pense que vous parlez mieux notre langue que moi la vôtre. Aussi, je m'exprime en français.
    Merci d'avoir répondu !
    Je vous comprends mieux maintenant et, même si je suis "anonyme" (ce qui ne me plaît pas trop, mais bon), je continuerai à prendre de l'intérêt à vous lire.
    Entre nos deux pays, le fossé de "culture" étant si grand, c'est vrai qi'il est très enrichissant de l'analyser de part et d'autre !
    Il y a quelques années, j'ai traversé les Etats-Unis d'Ouest (San Francisco) en Est (New-York) pendant un mois. J'ai adoré !

  6. Ma fois! I have just spent a giggly hour reading all your blog entries from the beginning, A.P. -- so much more fun than what I was supposed to be doing. I totally concur on the restaurant thing, that so much of it is the same. We never quite know where to bring visitors either.

    We had an entire Picard meal, I do believe, very early on when we went to a resto in the 7th, just because it was in the exact location of a place we remembered romantically from over thirty years ago. I even grilled the patronne about what happened to the previous place. Alas, she had no info. But I do know one thing. There was no Picard back then, ergo, no Picard formule posing as real cooking--not that there's anything wrong with Picard, to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, but it's strictly chez nous when we're being lazy.

    And the hair catastrophes are unending. After I finally found a great haircutter over by the Crillon, with prices to match, he and I got so friendly he shared all his photos from a recent trip to Iceland, and I got the worst haircut of my life--the default Paris bob, which looks horrible on me. It took three months to grow out. All hairdressers, French or not, go bad when you start chatting. Time to yank the chain on the chit chat.

    I look forward to more tales, AP. I'm happy you've emerged from your early Paris funk--the carte de sejour experience brings that on like nothing else. We had the **tch from enfer for one of the steps, and Gerard got very cheeky at the end when she asked us to look over the papers to make sure she was correct! He said: "Parfait." I had a very hard time not dissolving. Then again, at his O Chateau wine tasting, sans moi, he apparently introduced himself, when asked, in this way: "Hi, I'm (Gerard) and I'm an alcoholic." It's how he deals . . . and how we all want to deal once in a while with this alternately blissful,exasperating/dreamy endroit, Paris.

  7. This is amazing, and so easy to relate to. I have had my own unsolicited "beautifying" adventures in Paris - and I've thought something was wrong with me since I got here. I am still confused about the French standard of beauty, but very happy to see I am not alone.


Please leave me a comment! (As I am writing this blog anonymously, please address me as Accidental Parisian, even if you know my name in real life).