Monday, January 29, 2007

Here, let me help you with that

That's something you don't necessarily hear very often from strangers in France, at least not in the area I live in. As a country girl, I've had a bit of a hard time adapting to the "Every man for himself" attitude around the Parisian region -- especially when it comes to driving. The good news (well, I guess that's debatable) is that after getting trampled on enough times I've managed to dig deep down and find my inner beeyatch. The real trick is knowing when to be evil and when to plead for mercy in order to get what I need.

At the moment, however, I'm just too tired to think about it. I'm not mentally capable of choosing the right attitude to take and so I'm pretty much at the mercy of others at the moment. On my birthday I showed up to my yoga lesson without my whistle thing (big no-no and I got publicly scolded for it) plus one of my socks was turned inside-out. Unfortunately, it was a pretty obvious mistake, and other people noticed although they were polite not to mention it. Don't ask me how all the other French pregnant women manage to look all beautiful and together in their little black outfits and stockings, but I tend to look like a big, fat mess with hair sticking out in all directions, dark circles under my eyes, and mismatched socks. So far I have managed to wear true pairs of shoes, but the day is coming when I will walk out the door with one clog and one slipper...I just know it.

Anyway, I feel like a sleepwalking mess and I apparently look like it as well, because all of a sudden French strangers have been overwhelmingly nice to me in the most delightful way. Mostly men, actually, so it's possibly some kind of collective guilt related to pregancy on their part. In the parking lot the other day, a complete stranger stopped me from putting my groceries in the trunk of my Twingo. That's right -- he came right up to me and said, "Oh, no, madame, let me do that," and proceeded to empty out my cart. Last week a man insisted that he let me in front of him at the non-priority checkout line and that has NEVER happened before, not even when I am only buying one tiny thing and the people before me are doing a week's worth of shopping. The trick, however, is to be alone -- when my husband is with me I don't get any special treatment.

The shining star of French kindness of late occurred at the Prefecture on Friday, where I've never experienced anything but contempt and disdain from the people behind the counters. I had just walked a mile from the train station and was out of breath, plus my pregancy britches were riding dangerously low. (I seriously need to get myself some suspenders, because regular pants are impossible but my pregnancy ones don't stay up very well.) Anyway, I half-waddled up to the window and had to hitch up my pants and catch my breath before asking for a renewal of my carte de sejour. If you know me, I'm sure you can easily imagine the state I was in...not a pretty picture and I'm not proud of it, but I just have to live with it. The woman at the counter looked at me with sympathy (maybe more like pity) before actually asking me if I needed to sit down and was in general helpful to a degree I've never experienced in France. In fact, she was so nice that I'm a little suspicious of it (Dear God -- am I really becoming French?!). But never mind, I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. She was very nice, I didn't have to wait in line and I got back to the train station in good time and with the information I needed. I don't think it can get better than that.


Angela in Europe said...

As one southern girl to another-Congratulations! I wouldn't believe it if it happened to me! I am glad the French nation is finally being somewhat considerate. I know that "screw everyone else" attitude is the thing that gets under my skin the most.

Riana said...

I swear the other day, we got five miles from home before I realized that I still had on my slippers! I said screw it and went to town in my slippers! I have been getting those nice people lately too at the post office (wow!) its the big belly for sure!

I never found any maternity pants that didnt slide down, suspenders is a good idea! I am constantly hitching mine up.

p.s. DH has to do a shoe check with me before we leave the house now,lol.

Erica said...

Hi, I just found your blog and I find it very interesting!! My hubby and I are going to move to Paris in about two years from London where we are currently based, so it's fun to hear all the stories about the 'French way' and your experiences!
Lovely blog!

Pardon My French said...

Angela -- Thanks! I think I may even do another post on all the gallantry because it's really nice. I think I'm now seen as definitely non-threatening so people turn on the charm. It's very sweet.

Riana -- Well, there you go! I've got a sewing machine (not that I know how to use it well) so we can start our own maternity suspenders company. On the other hand, I guess we'll be pretty occupied so maybe there really isn't time to pursue it. It's definitely a need for me, though, along with a way to remind me to put the same pair of shoes on. :)

Erica -- Thanks for your comment! There are plenty of nice blogs on France around so you'll certainly get your share of the French experience from them/us. Mainly women, as I've noticed...don't know what the men expats are doing with their spare time but I guess it's not blogging. Anyway, welcome!