If you’re looking for glamour today, you’ve come to the wrong place.
But wait . . . Don’t sign out just yet, you might like this even better.
First the background (you know the story if you drop in regularly; you have no idea if you don’t): Jean-Aelia of the stunning blog Through The French Eye of Design and I have a transatlantic “conversation” every Monday on the vagaries, values and vicissitudes of our parallel lives.
She’s French married to an American; I’m American married to a Frenchman, which places us on opposite sides of the Atlantic and often right in the middle of cultural curiosities that sometimes make us shake our heads in wonder or wrath.
This week we’re delving into some controversial conventions that when applied in the wrong country can lead to odd, impolite or embarrassing situations.
This is how the game is played: For each installment we agree upon four subjects, return to our computers and go to work. Neither one sees the other’s opinions and observations until they’re posted for you.
This weeks topics include:
2.) Doggie Bags.
3.) The other kind of doggie bags (pooper scoopers).
4.) Bonjour Madame and Bonjour Monsieur (I’ll explain).
And we’re off. . .
Money, Money, Money
Many of you may know this, but if you’re not au courant, allow me to save you from an enormous faux pas: one does not talk about money in this country. Banter never turns around how much one makes, how much one has or how much something cost. According to the French (and often they do have a point) that’s all we Americans can talk about.
Cash and what it can, could and has purchased is taboo. However, lightly veiled allusions to the family chateau, the house in Corsica, the little place in Provence, the chalet in Gstaad, grandmother’s silver, great-grandmother’s jewels, tante Anne-Charlotte’s 200-year-old crystal, etc. is the French code for we have history; we’re tres, tres comfortable. And the really, really lucky ones have titles which of course are priceless.
We were invited to a dinner party some years ago when suddenly the host, a vicomte, took my elbow and pranced me around his 16th arrondissement apartment pointing out the art, the objets and various other family treasures. I did the appropriate ooohing and aaahing. When we walked out the door I asked my Reason-For-Living-In-France why he took me on the grand tour, his response was: “probably because you’re American.”
Certain things can be cher or pas cher, but nary a Euro is mentioned.
Note: Pictured above is the Chateau de Thoiry where the owners, the Compte and his American wife, the Comtesse de la Panouse live. The grounds feature an extraordinary animal park and many of the rooms in the castle are open to the public. (I can only assume the rug pictured in one of the salons died of old age — in his sleep.)
It’s simply not done.
I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable asking for one in the States — and I have dogs for heaven’s sake — but one wouldn’t dream of asking for one here.
Also one must concede, the portion sizes are more human in France and more bestial in the States.
(Art by: Ted Crow)
Ummm, The Other Doggie Bags
Have you ever noticed those green contraptions zipping up and down the wide sidewalks on the Champs Elysees? They’re sophisticated pooper scoopers. The large vacuum-like sucking machines take care of what one plastic bag and a civic minded Parisian could do without costing the citizenry untold thousands of Euros in taxes.
Signs are starting to appear warning of fines, but I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve watched owners patiently wait for their dogs to relieve themselves and move on as if they hadn’t noticed. I see it in the town near ours and just about everywhere. I once spoke, politely, to a woman who participated in this charade of nonchalance and I can assure you it was the first and last time I’ve gotten involved in this unsavory situation. She spat more vitriol at me than her dog left on the pavement.
Then people blame the poor dogs, not the owners. Now I ask you, does that make sense? (Well, whose side would you expect me to be on?)
Bonjour Madame, Bonjour Monsieur
From the earliest age, well brought up children address adults with this phrase. It continues for the rest of their lives. One never simply says “bonjour” and the equivalent of “hi” which is “salut” is slang and is sometimes used among young friends.
I’ve heard children of three say “bonjour madame” and “bonjour monsieur” and proffer a kiss on each cheek to the adult who bends waaaay over to receive the gentillesse. It is so adorable. Sometimes, with parental coaching, a little boy may offer his hand for a grown-up handshake.
Of course one never enters a boutique or the boulangerie or any small shop without the proper greeting and au revoir Madame or au revoir Monsieur as one leaves.
Since rarely is anything simple in France, neither is the bonjour issue. With men and boys it is always accompanied by a handshake — every day — on seeing friends at school, in the street or co-workers.
We generally save handshakes for introductions or perhaps greetings in social or out of office business situations.
I can’t wait to see what Jeanne-Aelia has to say chez elle about these cultural conundrums.