“I am screwed”, I’m thinking.
Ok, I’ve been living here for a few years now, and I should know better, but I fell for the oldest trick in the book.
A week or so ago, I invited a few friends and acquaintances over for dinner. One of them, who is French, has always been a bit scornful of me, from my lack of complete fluency in The World’s Most Complicated Language to thinking it’s funny to ask me if I’m going to take out ketchup for my dinner. At my house. Which was supposed to be some kind of joke. I guess.
Anyhow. So I get asked a question, and I should have seen this coming. But really, it just seemed so innocent at the time, he asks“What do you think of France?”
The moment I opened my mouth, to give my opinion, I said to myself, “Merde!…there is no way out of this.” I should have shut my mouth right there and not even bothered. What was I thinking? When I moved to France, I purposely avoided political or cultural confrontations. Not only was my French not up-to-snuff, but there never seems to be any way to win an argument. But I’ve lived here long enough, talked to a lot of people, and have opinions just like any normal-ish person.
So if someone asks,
“What do you think of the Marais?”
If you say…
“It’s beautiful and historic. The buildings are lovely and it’s a wonderful testament to the magnificent history of France.”…
“Ugh! It is a horrible place. It is full of tourists and very trendy now.”
But on the other hand, if you say…
“Oh, I used to like the Marais but it’s become so trendy.”…
“What?! The Marais is the most beautiful part of Paris. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
You basically can’t win.
As I attempted to answer his question, remarking what I loved about Paris, touching on subjects like the fabulous food, French history and culture, the beauty of Paris, and the expressiveness of the French, I also started alluding to the problems here; unemployment, the ailing social state, immigration woes, and the fear of globalization that are plaguing the country (and before any folks start in on the US, I certainly have a few things to say about that as well, but you’ll have to visit my top-secret other blog to read that.)
Well, so all of the sudden I’m defending both sides at once in my argument, kicking myself for being such a stupid boy for falling for one of the oldest tricks in the book around here.
In France, the worse thing you can do is not have an opinion, which was something I learned early on, and that it’s okay to be critical (except in my Comments, so don’t get any ideas…) Unless you’re Tucker Carlson, most Americans think it’s really bad to get into a heated discussion (which was certainly true in poor Tucker’s case, which got his bow-tied ass fired.) But in France, there’s nothing worse than being phony, and saying what you want or expressing yourself is far more acceptable than walking around with a big, dopey grin on your face regardless of how you actually feel.
Well, I guess I should backtrack and say that it’s only acceptable it seems to express yourself as long as you’re in agreement with them.
But the lack of unprovoked smiling is why a lot of people think French people aren’t very friendly, when in fact, that’s not true in most of my experiences. In Polly Platt’s book, French or Foe, she explains that French people wear a mine d’enterrement or funeral expression, and reserve smiling for times when they are truly, actually happy, rather than just slapping a silly grin on their face (…remember the old picture I had on my site here? See how French I am now?) It’s not that French people aren’t happy, it’s just they’re not happy all the time, just like David. In fact, I now refuse to smile anymore unless I absolutely, positively have to. It’s made my life so much easier not having to act happy all the time.
So I’ve come up with a solution to this dilemma: Only get into arguments that I can win.
Which leaves 2 things that are absolutely inarguable (well, 3 if you count the political state of America): Dog doo on the streets and retirement at age 50.
I’ve heard some rather ridiculous arguments things around here, such as this choice nugget against the proposed anti-smoking laws…“You have to respect the rights of others,” said Valerie, 29, a smoker since the age of 20.
I think I’ll let Valerie’s comments speak for itself (and maybe cut the poor dear a little slack, since she’s only 29), but no one can seem to defend leaving dog doo on the street, and no one seems to be in the “Pro-dog doo” camp. Are people going on strike to preserve the ‘rights’ of dog owners not to clean up after their dogs?
Likewise with the generous retirement age. I can’t imagine retiring in 2 1/2 years…and with full benefits (well, I don’t get any benefits, so I can’t imagine that anyways.) But letting people retire at 50 seems awfully young to me. I mean, what does one do for the next 40-50 years? (Unless, you’re a smoker. Then you can probably shave a few years off that.)
So I’ve come up with a solution for both problems; instead of those people retiring, voila!: why not hire them to clean up after the dogs in Paris?
Or better yet, teach some of the young people a few lessons in logic.
Who can argue with that?