You know how most of us imagine that the French, particularly the Parisians, really have it together? Well I’m here to tell you: they do. These people look great; these people sound great. Then, in stark contrast, there was me. On my recent trip to Paris to attend an interior design trade show, though I did my best to squeak by with even a shred of “together,” well, it wasn’t pretty.
The language of love:
I “studied” French in junior high school. Basically, I was all accent, no grit – meaning, because my teacher loved my guttural “r,” I thought I could get by on accent alone. Au contraire, mon frère. Jump forward a few decades and there I stood at the front desk in my posh hotel. As I chatted up the super chic young woman checking me in, I spied a tempting bowl full of bright green apples. Thinking I would rid the Parisian staring at me of the misnomer that Americans don’t have the courtesy to try to speak to them in French, I asked politely, and in my best French accent, if I could have an apple. My chic Parisian smiled, answering in English “You just asked me for a potato, but yes, you may have an apple.”
Getting Your Paris Chic On:
I was vehemently warned NOT to bring my own blow dryer to Paris, regaled with stories of burned hair and shorted out dryers due to faulty electric volt converters. “Use the hotel dryer,” everyone counseled. I complied. Thus, my problem quickly became this: How does a self-respecting American woman in Paris with combination wavy/curly hair straighten and style her hair using a hotel supplied blow dryer that blows air with the same gusto as a post-opp patient exhaling through a paper straw. Add to this mess Paris’ perpetually humid, breezy and drizzly weather and I finally gave up trying to make myself look even remotely normal. I let my half wavy, half curly hair go au natural, only now with a franco-climate induced frizz. As I roamed the Paris streets amidst the chic and coiffed Parisians, I looked like my hair had been carefully styled with a blender on the puree speed. Very humbling. Pass me a potato.
Hey buddy, that’s me you’re poking:
Have you read the book French Women Don’t Get Fat? I did. For me, it was like a trip to Mars, a glimpse at how the other half lives, that iron-willed half that doesn’t really eat. Looking around Paris, I saw this other half. They looked good. I tell you this first so you understand the mortifying undercurrent of my story which is this: SO, I’m in the Louvre museum, sort of lost. My travel companion, key staffer, and yes, college friend Alison began innocently chatting up this very talkative museum guard. Before you know it, he’s inching closer and whispering to me in hushed tones about his great skill behind closed doors. Suddenly his arm is around me. (Um…Alison…can you ixnay with the talking-ay and let’s keep moving please?). Next I see unaware Alison backing away, happily chirping “Let me take your picture with Donna.” My Frenchmen’s grip tightened and I realized that my garcon was clearly used to those Non-Fat French Girls from the book. Why? Because in this photo with his arm around me, I know you think I’m smiling.
No, I’m flinching because Louvre-Man had just found my…back fat, thank you very much. Worse, he starts poking it like he’s sending out Morse code! What you actually see in that photo is my mortified tense smile the very nano-second before I blurted out, “Hey buddy, stop poking my back-fat.” “I like eeet,” he purred… “More of you to luuuuve.” Wriggling free of his grasp I stammered, “Yes, well, I’ll be sure to share that with my husband. Enjoy man-handling the other tourists… Alison get me to the Mona Lisa.”
I love Paris. I do. However before my next trip, note to self: Pack a hat, speak as little French as possible, and…figure out how to suck in the back-fat.
Vive La Potato.