Pardon, I’m French

2011-01-08

I’ve been living in France for two years now. Seduced by the cultural diversity, the French accent and the savoir vivre, I fell to the charm of Paris.

It is one of the few cities I know, where you can find people from all over the world. Africans, Asians, Arabs and Americans. You hear so many different languages when you walk through the streets, amongst the herds of tourists and the immigrant inhabitants, that you can forget that you’re in France.

One thing that I have trouble accepting is that France is not only the hexagon between Germany and Spain, but it also includes islands in the Carribean, the Indian Ocean, near the Canadian coast and somewhere behind Australia. It’s just so dispersed, that I can’t get used to the existence of France Outre-Mer.

It is not only the cultural diversity that dominates in Paris, but also that of the social casts. When you walk down the Champs-Elysee, decorated with temples of luxurious cars and exorbitant jewelry, you are bound to bump into one or two homeless beggars. The city became unaffordable for some of its inhabitants.

Speaking of its inhabitants. It seems to be a French custom to apologize. The word I hear most in France is “Pardon”. People making their way through a crowd: “Pardon, Pardon”. You step on someone’s foot in the metro and he is the one that says “Pardon”! It is apparently so instinctive to say “Pardon” that it does not seem sincere.

Dining in France is a three to four hour ritual, even on a daily basis in private households. It’s not because they are slow eaters, but they savour every one of the three or four courses. First, the apéritif, a little cocktail to start with. Then a salad or some ham, followed by an exquisite main dish. Not to forget the wine, meticulously chosen to harmonize with every meal. Next comes the cheese platter, a stinking pleasure for the gourmands and a delicious dessert followed by a small coffee. The meals are spiced with vivid discussions and the charmeur’s sweet talk.

I had to kiss so many people when I moved to France. I still do, every morning. Not a French Kiss, just a kiss on the left, and a kiss on the right, cheek to cheek… It’s the French way of saying “hello”, Unlike the German efficiency of shouting one “Good morning” to the entire office, but more like the Syrian: “Hello. How are you? How are the children? How is the family? And their health? May God keep them healthy and happy. God protect them and give them long, success lives. etc…” before getting down to business.

The French are not always the charmeurs though. They can get nasty when they’re not pleased. It is a French tradition to go on strike. The public transport in Paris and the national railway company go on strike so often that no one cares why anymore. It is like the “Boy who cried wolf”. Sometimes, when I need about two hours to get home because half the trains were cancelled, again, I wonder if the strikers are aware of the chaos they are causing. I wonder if their employer’s loss is as big as the customers dissatisfaction, because the latter are really, really frustrated during the strikes!

I took a train from Karlsruhe to Paris a couple of months ago. The train stopped at the last city on the German side of the common border, because the French were on strike, again! It was late in the evening and I was stuck in Saarbruecken. The last free hotel rooms in town were taken by the hundreds of other stranded passengers. I luckily met two French business men and a Canadian girl in the train, with whom I rented a car. We reached Paris about 6 hours later, in the early morning hours, but I was just so glad to be home.

Yes, my current home is Paris. “Home sweet home”. It is comforting to hear the French language. I even dream in French sometimes. I developed a habit of enjoying the wine and the cuisine. I don’t know if they’ll manage to convince me to go on strike. It’s not in my German nature. But the French have got me under their spell…

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