March 29, 2010

An American in Paris, On How to be French

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You can make fun of the French for just about anything, the protests ranging from petty to substantial. On the serious end of the spectrum, you have the occasional display of racial backwardness, the undeviating tendency to go on strike and the labyrinthine bureaucracy (try procuring a visa from the consulate; you’ll think you’re being ushered through the Château d’If).And then, on the other, more lighthearted end, you have the accents, the weakness for abstruse art, the disregard for personal health and the pop-star doubling as a First Lady.But there’s one thing for which you absolutely cannot make fun of the French, and that’s their women — or, more specifically, Paris’s women. Parisian women have a grace, an edge, a style, a certain je ne sais quois (that’s quelque chose très alluring, for those of you following along in Frenglish) matched by the women of no other city.While the rest of you were at home this past week watching bad television, or still at school slaving away at theses or on the beach in Cancun obliterating brain cells, I was in Paris devoting myself to bringing home one of these bombshell sophisticates (or, as it turned out, imagining what it would be like to bring one home).I was at a disadvantage from the get-go. For one thing, my French, honed to near fluency during a summer in Paris two years ago, was rustier than I ever could have imagined. Speaking the language again felt like one of those dream sequences where you’re trying to outrun a pursuer hot on your heels, but no matter how hard you exert yourself you still feel like you’re trudging through three feet of mud. I was deep in, practically gulping, the mud.After botching a task as simple as ordering a cut of steak, it became clear I was not going to be able to seduce a Parisian girl by conversation alone, which actually wasn’t too much of a problem, because — disadvantage number two — smooth conversation isn’t really my thing to begin with. I don’t so much “spit” game as dribble it out of the corners of my mouth.Indeed, the more I thought about it, the more I realized the prospect of approaching a sharp, beautiful Parisian woman and making a strong enough impression — in French, nonetheless — to get a number out of her was patently absurd. I could barely order a sandwich without eliciting an awkward silence; how was I to woo a Carla Bruni-in-waiting?The answer? I wasn’t going to. Blame it on bloated expectations, dismal execution, or whatever else you may, but a Parisian girlfriend was not in the cards this week. Furtive looks on the metro? Yes. Smiles from female passersby? Mais oui. Weekend trips to Giverny? Not then, not now and probably never.Perhaps, I considered on the plane ride home, my problem is I’m simply not French enough. So for the benefit of other guys smitten with les belles femmes de Paris, I decided to map out a quick three-step program for transforming yourself into a Frenchman for the next time you’re in Paris. And also because there’s no such thing as too much fun at the expense of the French.

Step One: Destroy Your BodyIt’s one of the world’s biggest mysteries how the French — who slather their baguettes with cheese, eat buttery chocolate-filled bread for breakfast and individually smoke more cigarettes than entire city neighborhoods  — manage to live so long. The French have an average life expectancy of 81 years, longer than all but nine other countries’. And they barely exercise!This piece of advice is tricky for Americans, since we tend to think the opposite (healthier = more attractive), but don’t let that dogma fool you: rail-skinny, choking down chèvre and coughing up a lung is the way to be!

Step Two: Create Impenetrable ArtIf there’s a surefire way to a Parisian’s heart, it’s by crafting an opaque piece of artwork — preferably performance art — and labeling it a commentary on capitalism, corporate culture, western hegemony and, for good measure, torture. Some possible suggestions include: pissing into a Gatorade bottle while singing along with Elvis; blowing up a Big Mac in a dog cage; stapling a dollar sign onto your midsection, etc.Step Three: Embrace PDAIf you’ve followed steps one and two, by now you should have found that French girlfriend. But in order to keep her you’ll have to be brazen in public.The French aren’t exactly shy about expressing their romantic affections, and neither should you be. Make out in parks, on the subway, at cafés. If bored, try throwing her up against a public restroom and sticking your hands up her shirt, as I saw one guy do this past week. Experiment!

If, after all this, you are still sans French girlfriend, well then at least grab an Eiffel Tower figurine before you leave. You’ll always have Paris.

Original Author: Liam Berkowitz