A Polonius Prattling About Parisian Pleasantry

“Trying something new makes you feel like an artist again.” This quote comes from our most recent cultural adaptation workshop. I do not feel like an artist during this three week study abroad session…well that’s not entirely true. I don’t feel like an adapted Parisian artist. Which I’m at peace with as we have learned so much information in so little time and my journaling started slacking when I wasn’t so passionate about doors anymore. As I look back at my notes to find some shred of inspiration of what I want to talk about for Parisian culture I come up short. There is so much to talk about and yet I can’t find the right words.

Words.

A memory of the Hamlet posters that paper the Metro’s walls

hamlet-paris

Polonius and Hamlet: “What do you read my lord?” “Words. Words. Words.”

Ah here we go.

Words are important to Parisian culture. The French are very proud of their language like every country should be. The only place you don’t hear someone talking is the Metro. There’s always polite conversation. You enter a store and you greet the store owner. Similar to an American experience, but where American customer service includes a barrage of:

“Hi. Hello! Welcome to the store! How may I help you? What are you looking for? Okay my name is Kelsey let me know if I there’s anything you need. Also check out these special items today that my manager said I needed to sell so you should really buy them because they’re amazing.”

Parisians are content with a simple:

Bonjour madame/monsieur.” Followed by a silent walk through the store and finally an end transaction with a merci or two or three depending on how long the transaction goes for, a s’il vous plait  from you, and a final au revoir.

That’s the bare minimum for an American who’s trying to act Canadian or British (anything but American because without fail once they find out you’re American and want to make conversation the first universal word is “Trump?” And no one wants to get me started on Trump Parisian or American.) This said American who also doesn’t want the world to know that in public she’s probably spoken a total of 20 minutes in public.

A food metaphor for Parisians and Americans would be Parisians are hard-shelled coconuts with open, malleable cores, while Americans are malleable peaches with hard pits in the center. Our cultural adaptation leader presented that with the idea that Parisians are closed off to strangers, they find no need to smile and let everyone know their feelings and inner-most thoughts until they forge a relationship with you. Whereas Americans let you know their entire life story as small talk and go on for ages speaking nonsense, but won’t even let the closest of their “1,000+ Facebook friends” know what they’re truly thinking and feeling. (Granted my grandma could sit in a waiting room with a stranger, strike up a conversation, and then exchange letters with them for the following three years after the one conversation. But I guess Texas charm is a little deeper and different than Southern California customer service “friendliness.”)

Parisians respect politeness and a pardon as the most you say to a stranger. Americans put on a show and offer smiles all around.

This all makes sense, spatially at least. I mean if Parisians smiled at and made life story conversation with every person who got in their personal space they’d be friends with every single person they’re crammed against during the morning Metro madness. That’s an amount of friends that could rival any sorority girl’s Facebook friends list.

 

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