Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Day in Paris

There are a lot of drunken, indiscrete Americans on this street (rue Mouffetard)... a LOT. Usually, I look out of my window and shake my fist at them like the crazy old French person that I aspire to be.

But yesterday, I stopped being ridiculous and started embracing my Americanism... Obama just does that to me. In celebration of the inauguration, a very clever friend suggested that we all go out and "get Mouffetarded"--an excellent idea.

All day leading up to the broadcast, I had a familiar giddy-idiot feeling... Oh yes, it was the same one I'd had on election day back in November. That was the day I stood in the metro with a crazy look on my face, hoping someone would ask me what was wrong with me just so that I could declare, "I helped elect Obama!" Sadly, no one asked, but it still felt good. And yesterday felt just as good, as if the world was tilting towards sanity.

So I got together with my American friends. We pranced up the cobblestones of rue Mouffetard and finally settled in a cafe on the Place de la Contrescarpe. I felt like a young Ernest Hemingway, minus the talent and the desire to shoot big game.

It was pretty radical, though, to feel the history happening.

And it was fun to do so with a group of really fun, sane, interesting Americans who, in another time, might have been part of Hemingway's "génération perdue," but who are now, as far as I can tell, feeling much better about their place in the world.

P.S. I got published--and called a luddite!--on Businessweek.com: click here. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's True Because They Say So

Happy New Year! A list of resolutions might be in order, but I think it may be wiser—and more thematically appropriate—to begin the year with a list of French Old Wives’ Tales. You know, just a few perfectly logical rules to live by.

When I was preparing to move to Paris last summer, a friend who had once lived here warned me to beware of certain "rules" that govern the behaviors and attitudes of most, if not all, French people. While the French are notorious for their skepticism, their cynicism, their avant-gardism, there are certain "codes" from which they will not deviate because, if they do, they will inevitably die. Take heed: if you break these rules, utter disaster will ensue. We don't know why this is true, but we know that it is, because it always has been.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2009:

1. Never eat cooked butter in the morning. Cooked butter is the reason that Americans are fat. It is fine to slather raw butter all over your tartine, but—God forbid you try to fry an egg in a pan with butter—you will die, or at least become instantly obese. After noon, of course, feel free to eat as much rendered fat as you wish.

2. If you are pregnant and want to tell if the baby will be a boy or a girl, do not waste your time going to the doctor. Simply string your wedding ring onto a lock of your hair and hold it above the pregnant stomach. If it swings in circles, it's a boy. If it swings like a pendulum, it's a girl. And if you don't have a wedding ring, I guess you're screwed. Stop contemplating the gender of your love child and brace yourself for some serious Tsk Tsk-ing from your French grandmother. The good news? Pregnancy--legitimate or otherwise--does not preclude drinking.

3. Never put food that is still warm in the fridge. You. will. die. It is fine, however, to leave it uncovered on the counter—or, better yet, outside on the windowsill—for days at a time.

4. Salad “cleans your stomach.” It doesn’t matter how much foie gras or camembert or eau-de-vie you consume… a few sprigs of lettuce will undo the damage. (This only holds true after noon… see rule #1).

5. You must wear a scarf at all times. If you go outside without a scarf, you will not only violate the rules of French fashion, but you will also risk your life and the lives of any children you may plan to have someday. NB: scarves cure not just the common cold, but nearly all known ailments.

6. Exercise is for foreigners and the misguided. If you must do it, be sure to wear ridiculous-looking, non-supportive clothing (denim is encouraged) in order to give the impression that you are not actually exercising. Look disinterested, as if this was not your idea. Note: many believe that sitting on a gyrating plate for half an hour twice a week is more than sufficient.

7. If you are a girl, try to marry a doctor or a lawyer. They look nice and know how to take care of themselves. Engineers are pale and filthy and should be avoided.

8. My friend’s grandparents say: if you drink beer before 2pm, you are a brute / ivrogne (drunkard). Obviously, wine, pastis, or champagne are perfectly acceptable at any hour.

And a friend said she regularly encountered these during her years in France:

9. There is great suspicion surrounding air-conditioning… it is to be avoided at all costs. Anyone who has suffered through an August night in a Parisian garret can attest to the fact that the French take this rule seriously.

10. There is also substantial fear about the likelihood that lightning will break the television.

So there you have it. I suggest we all begin 2009 by aligning our lives with these--and any other--codes, and by the end of the year we will inevitably be... more French.

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