Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Of Summer Lulls and Endearing Parisian Snobbery

Apologies for the lack of content. In addition to the normal summer posting slowdown due to typical summertime family activities and the sense of miserable torpidity brought on by 100-degree heat, most of my work time has been consumed by finishing up a few assignments for which I have looming deadlines as well as a writing project I hope will eventually pan out into something more substantial than an idea.

An appalling number of years ago this very month, my wife and I were in the midst of our first visit to Paris (and my first trip to Europe), a wonderful 10-day stay with expat friends who lived there. Some days were designated as typical tourist destination days; the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Montmartre, Latin Quarter, that sort of thing. Other days we'd spend walking and exploring the rest of the city, assiduously avoiding visiting and/or eating all things tourist.

It was great fun, and one day as we were walking along a Parisian side street I noticed a window lined with guns. Not knowing anything at all about French gun laws, nor even if it was lawful for me to enter, I asked our friend if she'd ask the proprietor if I could come in and browse. She did so, came back out with an affirmative and informed me that he even spoke English. Guns. Paris. Dude who speaks my language. How lucky could a guy be?

I walked in the door and right up to the patrician-looking gentleman, gave him a slight, world-weary shrug and said, in passable French, "Bonjour, monsieur, I see that you and I share a mutual love of fine guns and existential philosophy. I, too, find that a world without shotguns is a pointless world, indeed. May I please handle this beautiful Darne? Merci."

At least that's what I recall saying. What I've been told I actually said is a bit less world-weary intellectual, a bit more, uh, Gomer Pyle, or perhaps redneck Clark Griswold...

"Hello (in English)! I am a loud, overbearing American ass who enjoys invading your personal space and proffering opinions, loudly, where none have been asked for nor desired. Thank you for letting me browse your store. I will now stomp around, again, loudly, for a few minutes, taking pictures and getting fingerprints on your guns. I will then proclaim, again, loudly, that my old 870 will kill a bird just a dead as any of these fancy guns. I will then inform you that you need to to stock a few more 3 1/2-chambered guns. I will then ask for directions to the nearest McDonald's because I've been wanting to try one of those Royales with cheese. And before leaving, I will also ask to use your bathroom while complaining about pay toilets."

Or something to that effect.

The man glanced up from the copy of Sartre he was reading (OK, so I made that part up), slowly looked me over like I was a NASCAR-edition Big Mac with extra sauce and super-sized fries that had somehow made its way onto his plate at a Michelin-starred restaurant, shrugged, shook his head, then indolently went back to his book.

I then tried my patented Inspector Clouseau French-accented English (if you want more info on that, click here) thinking this might help. Again the shrug and head shake, but punctuated this time with a condescending sigh. There would be no international meeting of shotgun minds this day. I wandered around the shop for a few awkwardly silent minutes, snapped one or two hurried pics, then quickly exited in shame.

Back outside, the only thing we could figure out was that he got pissed off when I walked in the shop and started speaking English without first attempting French, or at least a French greeting.

That's just one reason of many why I love the French. I really do. You've got to respect and admire that kind of attitude. It was a funny, yet damn effective lesson in international etiquette, and one that has stuck with me.

Since then I've never forgotten to start off any conversation or question with a proper French greeting, and in turn I've never failed to have anyone in France go out of their way to help me after that first halting, painful butchering of the French language to show my due respect. And almost always in English, of course, because bilingual is how most of the rest of the non-Murkan world rolls.  If I'm ever lucky enough to make it back to Paris I'd love to find that shop again.   


  1. Thanks chad, you made me feel better, better about my school boy French, and even a little better about my awful Spanish which by rights (I live with two Spanish girls) should have gotten a lot better after a year.


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  3. Sartre! Way funnier than Camus.

    P.S. According to Empire Google, "a robot" posted the previous comment.

  4. My French experience was almost as funny though friendlier. Around '97, I was staying in northern Provence working on a project with friends who had long attachments there, when i stumbled on a gun shop in Orange. At the time I had an actual Darne, and I went in to discuss guns.

    It was an emotional success but not a linguistic one. The couple who owned it, the woman more vocal, loved Americans, but there were two problems. They were from Burgundy and spoke with an accent that resembled to my ear Cuban Spanish as opposed to border or classical, gargled deep in the throat, so we had an impossible time understanding each other, given my far from fluid bad Parisian French; and they hated EVERYBODY, Parisians, Provencals ("sale paysans") and above all German tourists. I was treated to a tirade about how good Americans were for helping in WWII ladled on top of a correction in their funny accent of "Darne" which they agreed was a good gun but pronounced bearing down so hard on the final consonant that it practically became "DarnERR". After a while I just left, confounded by French particularism. I like the Kazakh gun stores better (you know that is a setup for more)...

  5. That was hilarious. Thanks for the chuckle. Kirk @ River Mud