Saturday, November 28, 2009

French Stereotypes

I've lived here for four years and have found many of the French stereotypes to be at least somewhat true. I guess like most things, there is a grain of truth to be found in the continuing existence of some stereotypes. For example, most French people do drink a lot of wine, though usually not at once; a large percentage of the population can be seen carrying a baguette at the end of the day; stinky cheese is usually served at the end of dinner; it seems as though more than half of the population smokes and for the most part, body odor seems to be the norm here. Of course, there are a lot of good stereotypes which are true about the French: they enjoy a heated debate, love art and philosophy, are well-versed in the art of conversation and relaxation and have a fantastic relationship with pleasure (food, wine, appreciation of leisure, etc.).

However, there is one stereotype I find to be particularly true and absolutely annoying. The French are undeniably rude. Certainly not everyone is unpleasant all of the time and I am sure that there are lovely people floating around who never, ever have a rude moment, but I have found an overall disregard for the normal politeness to be the norm here. Perhaps I am too sensitive (after all I was raised in a place where politeness is the ONLY art form), but I am not the first, nor will I be the last to point this out; as a generalization, it seems the Froggies go out of their way sometimes to be particularly unpleasant.

Two recent examples come to mind (the first of which prompted this post). The other day, a new friend and I were on the stationary bikes at the gym. We were talking, in English as we are both Americans, about random things. I would like to point out that we were having a quiet discussion about completely non-offensive things, like exercise and traveling. An older French woman sat down on the bike next to us, looked at us, smiled and then proceeded to tell us that we talk too loud, that she hates our accent and would like us to stop talking and that every Saturday we bother her, basically insisting that we immediately stop speaking. There were about 20 other available bikes, but she sat next to us so she could spew forth this anti-social poison. She even went to the trouble to involve a trainer, ineffectively tattling on us in order to get her point across. Oh, and my friend and I had only met the previous week and had been to the gym together twice, so the crap about us always being rude was a total load of poppycock. I've traveled a lot and I can honestly say, France is one of the few places where somebody would go out of their way to sit next to me in order to tell me I was bothering them.

The second thing was a bit more painful because it involved people I actually know and like. Last week in an attempt to celebrate Thanksgiving with my students (all of whom are older than 30), I made four pumpkin pies to take to work. I handed out 30 slices of homemade (from scratch) pumpkin pie. To be perfectly frank, it was one of the best recipes I have ever tried. Nothing fancy, just fresh pumpkin, condensed sweetened milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and vanilla and eggs. Well, out of the 30 people I gave the pie to at work, two thanked me. TWO PEOPLE said thank you. That's it. I woke up at five in the morning, baked four pies individually in my little microscopic oven and I got two mercis. Even that wouldn't have been so bad if it had just ended like that, but no, the French can't keep opinions to themselves. I had eight people tell me it was disgusting, four people throw it in the trash in front of me and most of the rest ate a bite and looked at me with a pained expression, like the idea of eating something so different from what they are used to would kill them.

I've not always had the best relationship with the French. And if I am completely honest, it has been a supreme effort on my part to remain open-minded (at times failing miserably) through this strange journey of mine. But I try because I do believe there must be some reason why the French lifestyle is respected throughout the world. However, sometimes it just doesn't seem worth it, like maybe there are just personality types that do not belong in certain countries and maybe I have the type of personality that just doesn't sync with France.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eiffel Tower Celebrates 120 Years

Normal, nightly light show

For some reason, the city of Paris has decided to celebrate the Eiffel Tower's 120th birthday. I don't really know why the powers that be chose this particular number to celebrate, but they have, and boy, what a show!

I've read different accounts as to how many lights are used, but the number I have seen most frequently is 400. Apparently, they are using LED lights to spotlight the different colors on the Eiffel Tower.

Normally, the show lasts for ten minutes every hour on the hour at night. There are tons of twinkling lights and it is really breathtaking to behold. But until December 31st, there will be an additional 'show' of colored, patterned lights four times a night, on the hour, beginning at 8.

Unfortunately my pictures do not do it justice. Let me just say, it was cold and windy and I had to pee really, really bad but I stayed until the entire show was over (5 minutes for the regular lights and then an additional 12 for the special display).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day

Thanks to all the brave men and women serving their countries throughout the world. Of course, I want to express special graditude to the Americans but don't want to forget the sacrifices other make either. So a big, heartfelt thanks to all those in uniform!

I honestly had every intention of going to the Arc de Triomphe today to see Sarko and Merkel lay a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier but a very rich dinner (raclette: fatty, stinky cheese melted in an awesome table grill, served over potatoes and a multitude of hams-none of which does my tummy any favors) eaten late last night prevented me from keeping my schedule today. Instead of being up and out the door by 8:30, I slinked to the gym at 11:30...not a productive morning for me. Although on the way to the gym, I was pleased to several bouquets placed on historic plaques in remembrance of those who died during the country's several wars.

I have to admit, the relationship between German and France surprised me when I first arrived, considering the recent history of the two countries. I expected the Frogs to hate the former invaders but haven't found that to be so. For the most part, the Germans and French seem to like each other very much. Culturally, there is at least one television station which promotes the Franco-German relationship through joint ventures and politically they agree on almost everything. I guess it is normal to try to get along with your neighbors but it seems to me that the French and Germans go out of their way to heal the wounds of the past. Bravo!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Fun With Pornographic Cake Toppers

Warning: The picture is at the bottom of this post so if you don't want to see it, you should NOT scroll down.

So I've been carrying around my camera the past few days because I have the lofty goal of catching the celebratory light show at the Eiffel Tower. I've seen pictures and it looks really awesome but since I have until the end of December to see it, I've managed to find an excuse every night to go home before the 8 o'clock show. I know, lame, but it is so cold these days that I just can't seem to make myself stay out just for the purpose of taking pictures of ol' Tour Eiffel. Hopefully this will be the week.

Anyway, in the meantime, I've gotten some, um, interesting photos of Paris. I do a lot of walking and by that, I mean close to 2 or 3 miles a day outside the gym so I see various things a lot of normal folks miss like: the space invaders on buildings all over the city, crazy street art, homeless people fornicating (where else are they going to?), all sorts of demonstration/manifestations, etc, but this is the first time I've seen the crazy cake toppers pictured below. And just to be perfectly clear, this store is on a major street, at a major intersection. I walk by it all the time and never, ever have I seen the wares that were in the window this weekend. Mickey, Hello Kitty!, Barbie yes, but the very accurate genitalia on the second shelf, no.

Now I realize that I am exactly the type of person who would buy stuff like this for a prank or to shock someone, but I absolutely expect to go into some dark, dank, seedy room to buy such an item, not stand in front of the window and point it out to the nice old lady who hand crafts them (okay, I am sure it is a mold, but still!). I just can't help but wonder, is there such a huge market for them that they have to be in the front window right next to St. Nick?