Monday, January 5, 2009

The Paris Blues

There is a formal way of interacting in Paris. You begin every conversation, entry into a store or cafe' with the requirement of formal friendliness. Bonjour madame. Bonjour monsiuer. If you enter and do not say these things, or bonjour, comment t'allez vous? Or some variation of the same, your interaction goes nowhere. It is a way of introducing yourself or your presence to someone.

In America, the formality seems pompous, extraneous, corny, or extinct. I miss this formal friendliness though. While in Paris, i never witnessed harsh words between shop owner, customer, restaurateur or customer or employee, or between people on the street. Only the bums around the palais d'royale metro shouted and yelled at each other while they sat on the grates streaming with warm air, sucking on cigarettes and admonishing each other. only there.

I was not back in America for one hour when i went to the counter of a seven eleven in the detroit airport and i said hello to the cashier. I asked her, "if i bought a coke, could i have a cup of ice to go with it?" She looked at me askance and asked if i wanted the USA TODAY in my hand. i said yes. "that is one dollar," she said. I gave her the dollar and then I asked her again if i could have a cup of ice if i bought a coke. She looked at me and did not answer. She pointed to a Diet Coke on the counter and asked me if I wanted that coke. I said no. She pointed to the cooler in the back and she said if you want a coke, they are back there. I said, " I am not asking you a trick question. Do you understand? If i buy a Coke, may I have a glass of ice? That is a yes or no question." She stared at me as if i had a third eye materializing from my forehead. I went back to the cooler and grabbed a Coca Cola. My thoughts were if she did not answer me or provide me with a glass of ice that I would pour the coke on her counter or throw it at her. I brought the coke to the counter, laid it down. She said that it would be $2.25. I paid her and she began walking away. I was just twisting the cap off. She strolled down to the far end of the bar, and yelled, "glass with ice!" She left it at the far counter, about 20 feet from me. i went down and picked it up.

My point is that in France, i did not know the language, did not understand the language, but in every transaction I had, there was a cordiallity, a friendliness that was exhibited in even the most trying conditions. I bought chestnuts from a girl in the freezing cold on the Champ D'Elysee who had her arm in a cast. she was serving chestnuts with one hand! She laughed as we stared at her cast. One hour back in America and i am treated like a impudent child. That is all I will say.