Friday, October 28, 2011

France, the French, and Love/Hate

Almost nobody feels neutral about France or the French.  Many people adore France but hate the French.  There are probably a few who feel the opposite.  Some people love or hate both.  Whatever the case, it is rare to anybody say, I went to Paris.  Nothing special.
I am among those who love both France and the French, but not enough to want to live there.  France is a country where living is an art, whether it concerns food, clothing, or conversation.  By contrast, making a living is a necessity and a bit proletariat in the negative sense of the word.    Parisians constantly talk about restaurants, vacations, and movies or books.    So, while French emphasis on living may seem rather decadent to more protestant-thinking people, it is rather attractive and even addictive.
By contrast, to be diplomatic, the French themselves are not always appreciated, even by themselves.  Many people are quite offended by their arrogance and rudeness behind the formal level of politeness.  Being half American and half French, I have no problem understanding their attitude and even enjoying it.  There is a sociological concept called a zero sum world, typical of peasant societies, in which a finite, fixed limit exists for everything, material and immaterial.  There is only so much money and love in the world.  Therefore, to ostensibly show one’s money means that the people watching have less, an unpleasant feeling.  Similarly, in friendship, people have a limited space for love, i.e. childhood friends and close family.  This is creates an us and them world.   Friendship is total for the us group and basically non-existent for the them group.  Fortunately, Paris has a high percentage of non-French.  I belonged to the both to the us and the them.  As any obnoxious attitude was not personal against me, I found it amusing at time, like live theatre (of the absurd).  It is like watching a bunch of children trying to act like adults, ultimately very entertaining.
Of course, living in Paris is another story.  Paris is a small, dense, tense, and intense city with too much air pollution, strikes, and bureaucracy.  Also, for people used to seeing the sun most of the year, the weather is depressing.  Maybe Paris is like New York: a place for young people with lots of energy.
Still, I visit Paris at any opportunity and feel sadness each time I  part from it.   My fantasy wish would be the ability to transport myself instantly to Paris and enjoy a baguette, a good piece of cheese, an old dusty chaotic book store, and petit pain au chocolate or chocolat liegoise.  Ah, sometimes, la vie est dure sans confiture.

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