So as I was wandering the city yesterday, trying to find a friggin’ post office – they’re everywhere when you don’t have time to stop, but the second you actually NEED one…they’re nowhere to be found – and exchanging a belt at H&M, I saw her.
Like Baudelaire’s Une Passante, she was walking toward me with that French – nay, Parisian – attitude of “I could be wearing a meat dress and I’m still better than you” when it happened.
Her 4″ mules came down on the cobble stones…those damned cobble stones – you know, the ones they chitter over in stilettos all the time like it’s nothing? The way New Yorkers do in the winter with all the ice? How the hell do they do that?! – at a bad angle and she stumbled…
Then caught herself – looking around quickly to see if anyone saw – as her other foot was just about to touch the ground. But it was no use. The first foot couldn’t sustain balance on the uneven ground and her ankle couldn’t support the differential placement.
Wo. Man. Down.
Right in front of me. In a matter of two seconds. This glamazon – this stereotypical Parisian betch – was knocked from her ivory tower and straight onto the pavement of Rue de Rivoli.
She waited there for a brief second, Supermaned out on Haussmann’s perfectly straight streets, trying to become invisible for once in her life.
By this time I was just beside her, holding out a hand to help her up. A hand which she looked quizzically at for a second; unsure if she could trust it. Unsure. A French woman…unsure!
When she finally took my hand her face softened and a shy “Merci” exited her Chanel lacquered mouth.
“Bien Sur” I replied.
And as I continued walking, allowing her some privacy to gather her things and herself – as much privacy as can be afforded in public – I thought of the mystique of Parisian women. Why they have been built up as these untouchables, and why I, as an American, have allowed the negative comparisons to overshadow the positive ones.
In a city of 2.2 million people, on a Saturday, during high tourist season, with hundreds of people swarming Les Halles for a bit of shopping, the multitudes stared, I stopped.
The stigma that both of our nations have created is completely stupid. No, I’ll never be French. I used to think it was a shame that I would never be French, but if it means I could eat shit in the middle of the day and none of my fellow Frenchies would help a girl off the friggin’ pavement then do I really want to be French?! If being American means I’m too nice, too trusting, too happy, and sometimes too – for those of you who have ever consumed a cocktail or five with me can attest to – loud. So be it.
I love my French friends, the “exceptions to the rule”, but it’s starting to make more sense that there really are no rules. Stereotypes exist because there is enough of a bad taste in society’s mouth to perpetuate it. And there will continue to be stereotypes, I’m sure, because how can we possibly get to know everyone? How can we learn all of their stories? “Well that’s just silly. Have you met everyone on the planet?”
The French hate loud, obnoxious, Americans. And Americans hate that the French are snotty, and stuck up, and rude. I’m sorry, but I can tell you from experience that Italians, the Spanish, and even my crazy French house mom are way fuckin’ louder than any American I’ve seen on this trip thus far, or ever in the past. And from my experience in the past, and especially on Rue de Rivoli yesterday, the French are not stuck up, or snotty, or rude. They’re guarded. They don’t trust anyone. And without a carafe of wine on the table, they walk around this city seemingly miserable.
So stereotypes be damned. I’ll be the hybrid change I wish to see in the world. I will be an American girl who can assimilate into French culture. Who speaks multiple languages (and on a slightly snotty note, for those French individuals I HAVE encountered who don’t like Americans…which one of us is bilingual? Oh yea, I win.) and who can adjust her volume based on more than just the amount of alcohol in her system. I will rock the confidence that I am a woman. Period. Nationality aside. And that I am worth the effort of getting to know, slowly. I will keep my American work ethic, and adopt the French leisure aesthetic. I will not give in to fashion trends, but instead understand how to dress my own body in my own style with the mysterious ability to mix past and present. I will stop trying to escape my past, and I will stop letting it dictate my future. I will hold myself to my own standards and expectations, no one else’s. I will keep my outer walls high, cherishing those who are within my inner circle – for they truly are my family – while keeping my “American” approachability. I can walk in both worlds.
Balance, life is all about the balance. Even on Rue de Rivoli in 4″ mules.