Monday, July 30, 2012

Politeness and the Parisians

During my month blogging about Bringing Up Bebe, I was inspired to reread several books by Peter Mayle. Mayle frequently comments on how well-behaved French children are in restaurants, and how polite the French are in general. Nevertheless, he quotes Provence natives who describe the Parisians as rude at least once per book.

It would be easy to dismiss these comments as sour grapes on the past of the rural French who secretly long to live in Paris. However, I just finished reading The Sweet Life in Paris: delicious adventures in the world's most glorious and perplexing city by David Lebovitz. Lebovitz, a pastry chef, cookbook author, and Paris resident, makes it clear that visitors to Paris must obey etiquette in greeting shop employees (say Bonjour to EVERYONE) and in dressing even in a casual fashion (it is not OK to put out the trash in sweats). Lebovitz describes a simple visit to his supermarket, which sounds dismal and which he likens to a "Romanian prison" (p. 176):

"At my Franprix, if there's a mess, all the employees gather in a semicircle around it to watch it spread. They just stand there, watching it, waiting for something to happen. You can see them backing away and thinking to themselves, "C'est pas ma faute...c'est pas ma faute..., hoping for someone else to take the initiative. They'll toss a plastic cone nearby, shrug, then head back outside to finish their cigarettes." (p. 176).

Lebovitz devotes an entire chapter "Lines are for other people" where he lambastes the Parisian refusal to stand on line, leadng them to cut other people or push them aside. He makes Paris sound like one overcrowded Times Square.

However, all of his accounts sound like these Parisians failed their state-run preschools. They obviously never learned to cope with the boredom of a minimum wage job. They've never learned to use initiative at work. They haven't even learned to get along with their fellow walkers. And then there are strikes. Constant strikes. Once again, the strikers are definitely not people who have learned to settle  with what they have been handed in life. I look forward to the changes to American society that will occur once a French upbringing for children has become popular in the US.

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