Saturday, September 18, 2010

Virginia is NOT for lovers when Paris is the alternative

I was forewarned and thus expecting a certain degree of culture shock upon moving to Paris, but never did I think I’d be so shocked and appalled.  In America, public displays of affection are frowned upon unless they occur during a wedding ceremony; sexual education classes devote one course—if that—to instructing kids on methods of birth control; and one must be at least 17 years of age to see a sexually charged film in theaters unaccompanied.  In France, pornos are on display at every street vendor, usually at eye level next to the Pariscope event guide and if one doesn’t feel like paying the euro to buy the magazine, one merely needs to turn on the television and wait for a commercial break.  I may exaggerate slightly—but only very slightly.  Of course, I’m not appalled at these cultural differences the way, for example, my grandmother was when I showed up for Thanksgiving dinner with an eyebrow piercing.  However, I have noticed a difference in the way that intimacy and affection are conveyed in the public domain between the Motherland (America) and the City of Romance (Paris).
me creepin hard core on the creepy lovers
Along the same vein, in my French class last week, we were discussing the stereotypes implicit in a scene from the movie Paris, Je T’aime—a film composed of 18 shorts, each set in a different arrondissement (area of the city, larger than a neighborhood but smaller than, say, a borough of NYC).   As we debated whether it’s fair to assume all Americans are fat and wear cowboy boots and that all Frenchies wear berets and are in love, the conversation evolved into one addressing the difference between America and France in manifestation of sexuality.
In fact, there are certain seemingly banal habits in France which allow for the mood within a social sphere to be more accepting of overt displays of affection.  For example, to greet someone in France—anyone, really, even strangers—one leans in and gives a peck of a kiss on both cheeks.  This is the equivalent of the American handshake.  There should be a button or bumper sticker: You had me [confused] at hello.  Many of my fellow boggled American peers also feel as though it is commonplace here to lean in very close when one is having a conversation with someone else.  What is normal behavior here would be considered a serious invasion of one’s personal bubble in America.  I shouldn’t be so surprised really, I did move to the city where the mom in the grocery store makes conversation over green-beans, the university tech support crew talk your ear of in the elevator, and the metro is designed with pairs of chairs facing one another, as if begging for their own dialogue.  It is simply French tradition to pop a squat and have a quick talk, be it with a colleague, a student, a friend or the neighborhood bird feeder.  If anonymity or privacy with strangers is impossible, conceive of how forward someone might be if he/she actually had feelings—other than those of nationalist fraternité—for me!
So, if and when you all come to Paris for a visit, refrain from packing any residual pre-teen animosity towards love-birds.  Instead, bring your sweetheart or your teddy bear; and if all else fails, grab a bottle of wine upon touchdown and go to bed with the Eiffel Tower.

nappin by the Tour Eiffel


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  2. Virginia still wins because it sounds like Paris is for lusters. It sounds like a lovely time and your writing is superb as always. Check Plus Plus from Nate Sha.