saturday, march 22
Ever courageous, hard-working and intellectually brilliant, the Reporter went to have a work breakfast with a friend yesterday morning.
So their meeting was, how surprising, at La Grande Epicerie, where they would order " un café"
which of course is a coffee, a freshly squeezed orange juice, " une orange pressée " [ move over tropicana ]
and then they sat down and worked very hard.
This gave the Reporter a new vision on the way the french sit down and work.
When the french sit down for work at breakfast, in a public place, unlike their american counterpart, they do not just get in, and sit and plunge into the menu and start conversation.
The french sit, never look at the menu, but first evaluate the guests around them. Do they know anyone sitting there yet ? Do the guests have some social affinity with them ? If they are sitting with you, they will bend their head towards you, still looking around and say in a low voice either , " Le public est bien" which roughly means, " audience is fine, we can sit here " or it's a negative and they whisper even lower,
" pas très relevée l'assistance " which means literally " not very refined the audience."
Considering this is coming from the french who find most people not quite up to their own standing, the negative comment prevails. Then they look at the menu.
Then they order, then you start to talk and work hard. Then they stand up in the middle of a sentence because Guillaume has just come in and they exchange loudly things like " Guillaume, I didn't think you were here [ meaning ' in town ' ] what's up ?" then they make Guillaume known to you, then they will whisper about the audience, and check if they don't see anyone that the other knows sitting there.
Then you can sit back down, all is well, Guillaume has added himself to your small table where you meant to both work, and everyone sits until the next person they know will come into the cafe, and join the table. This is roughly how the french work at a business breakfast. The table becomes too small, everyone ogles the neighbor's table checking if they will leave soon, and the neighbors shoots them back a really mean look.
Cafe territory is very complex in france. In America, you will smile a friendly smile, engage the conversation with the neighbor, apologize and ask when by chance they might leave, if you want to expand, but no pressure, everyone is happy, it's all very friendly and open. That is why the french think the americans are very rude.
Which is why, when you walk through the Grande Epicerie, you can check a dish towel which says :
" PLUS D'AMOUR S'IL VOUS PLAIT"
Yes the PL are hidden by the tag, [ photographer had too much coffee ] but that's really what is says, which means,
"MORE LOVE PLEASE"
but that applies to the person who dries the dishes, not to the people sitting in a cafe.
So let us go back to how and why the french sit down, elsewhere than in a cafe. First about cafes, if you arrive in Paris and expect to just drop in a Starbuck, just be aware there are 3 Starbucks in Paris, and that is all. So it is not like New York or Los Angeles where Strabucks just pop out like buds in Springtime.
Now the french in fact do sit down, and stay sitting and working in public places in Paris, other than in cafes.
The standard place for a Parisian to sit down and do serious work is the public garden bench.
This is the i-pad bench :
These three gentlemen were all on their i pads and all working pretty hard for at least twenty minutes which was the range of time the Reporter was observing this.
No Guillaume or Marcel came to interrupt them. When french are working on their e pad or i phone, it is very rude to interrupt them.
Most french work on their i phone all the time, which makes you rude anyway any time you would like to have with them a human interaction.
Then you have the bench conversation :
This one takes place near Le Grand Palais, where all those very proper french went to see the last show from Bill Viola, and they are all deep into conversation about Bill Viola's aims and methods and points of view and private life.
This type of sitting, you do not interrupt either if you do not want to be rude :
First you will notice there's not much place left on the bench, then you do not interfere into a conversation which is about art and private life. That is a no no.
First you do not know anything about Bill Viola's private life and they do. Second, your view on Bill Viola's art and methods are most probably not the view of these very proper gentlemen and ladies, and they already do not quite agree on Bill Viola's methods and aims between themselves, so imagine if you came into the conversation like a rude American, about something you completely ignore when they don't.
This by the way is the entrance to Bill Viola's, just if you are interested.
The Reporter needed to buy a book so to the bookstore, and there, they were other french sitting down,
and they were two proper persons, unknown to each other sitting down and reading in that book store, and those two also, you do not interrupt because they are reading in a public place which is not a cafe, so you do not interrupt at all, you rude American.
That is because when a french reads in a book store this is what it means :
Then the courageous Reporter went on her way and she met Suzy,
who is an Australian and lives in London, but she is lovely, and doesn't mind being interrupted rudely by the Reporter,
Suzy is delightful, she has this basket in the shape of a beetle into which she confines her handbag from the sun rays, it's very handy.
Then the Reporter had another meeting in another cafe because the Reporter is very busy, so she sat there at this Trocadero place,
you will notice there is that young Francois standing up on the right side of the pic, in deep conversation with young ladies who are having a late lunch [ 6 pm ] and he is not about sitting down.
This is the other way a proper french will not sit down in a cafe, as he is just having a quite small exchange, he doesn't have time to sit down, so he is in fact standing there for like about twenty minutes in deeply serious conversation, before straddling his vespa.
A french waiter should get normally aggravated by the fact that he is taking like half the width of the aisle to talk of deeply serious things for twenty minutes, but in fact that is where the waiter will just shrug and say " Non, c'est un bavard." which roughly means " no, it's just a windbag."
And that was like the end of the day for observing the way the french sit down, and are all so polite while the rest of us is so rude.
With all Love,