Monday, July 16, 2007
Idiots Without Borders
For those of you wondering if France has a military, the answer is bien sûr. And last weekend it was out in full force to celebrate La Fête Nationale. Don't let the wimpy equipment fool you; these photos were shot in the 14th arrondissement long after the ceremonies had broken up. There was a ton of action on the Champs Élysées. We watched a bit of it in on T.V. It was bizarre to see the beauty of the Arc de Triomphe and all the crowds and realize that it was just a short metro ride away. Although I’ve fallen into a routine (which we’re trying to shake-up), when I take the time to appreciate my surroundings, I’m still awe struck.
Seeing the French soldiers reminded me of two encounters Fred and I have experienced with American tourists in Paris over the past year.
Most recently at Legrande Filles et Fils, a quaint wine bar tucked away in the Galerie Vivienne, a lovely consortium of restaurants and boutiques. It was early evening and Fred and I were the first customers. We grabbed two seats at the corner and ordered our wine. Shortly thereafter, two middle-aged American women walked in and plopped themselves and tons of shopping bags down on the stools next to ours. They picked up the wine list and made a big production about not knowing where the different regions were and whether Saint Emilion was in Bordeaux. I finally told them yes, mainly to shut them up, and then Fred politely explained the different regions to them.
This small conversation quickly led to an interview about who we were, how we met, etc. Fred explained that he was in the U.S. doing his military service (a requirement for all Frenchmen at the time), but before he could even finish the more obnoxious of the two facetiously blurted out: “Oh, does France have a military?” I haven’t met someone this funny since Kathy Bates made a cameo in my French class. She went on to reveal her stupidity with comments like: “Well, if it does, it must be small because I’ve never heard of it.” Fred kindly, without any sarcasm, explained that relative to the U.S., the French army is small because France has a much smaller population and geographically is smaller than the State of Texas. She continued to taunt him. Her friend, embarrassed, finally said: “I’m sorry you don’t know her; she’s really nice and is just trying to be funny.” Exactly. We didn’t know her and she didn’t know us. Before she laid down her “zingers” on Fred, she might have wanted to establish that connection, or at least learn how to say it in French. And reading an atlas on the plane flight over wouldn’t have hurt either.
The other encounter happened at La Fontaine de Mars. While waiting for our table in a cramped space, we started talking with an American couple who was on vacation. Again, the conversation quickly turned to how we met. Fred explained that he was at Berkeley National Lab in Northern California completing his mandatory military service. The woman quipped: “What do they teach you in the French military? Surrender Lessons?” Just prior to this, she was telling us about her 19 year old son who was studying abroad at a prestigious private school and who was fluent in three languages. She’s hardly the type of person that should be throwing around jokes about “surrender lessons” when her pampered son was studying languages in a foreign county; unless, of course, he planned on using those languages to be a windtalker. (Oh, and she was asking Fred how to say things in French, and to recommend touristy things for her!). Her husband was far too sweet for her, he hushed her and looked very apologetic. She was a doctor, he was a school teacher. I suppose he viewed her as a retirement plan, as there’s no other explanation as to why he was still with her.
As for the wine bar and the restaurant? The wine bar is mostly looks. It’s a beautiful dark wood bar in an arcade. The service is mediocre. If you plan on going, don’t order the cheese plate. The woman, who I suspect is the mother of the Filles et Fils, leaned down behind the bar and picked at her toenails, and then rubbed her eye, all in plain view. Disgusting!) As for the restaurant, La Fontaine de Mars, it’s a nice restaurant with good French food in a beautiful area of Paris (near the Eiffel Tower). It’s a good call for when your parents, or their friends, are in town. However, they stick the nonsmokers upstairs in a small room without a whole lot of charm, but that should end in February 2008 if the nonsmoking ban takes effect. Don't hold your breath!
For all the moaning I do about annoying French people, I have to say that the rudest encounters I've ever experienced in Paris involved Americans. Ironically, Fred was treated much better by the Americans he met in the U.S. during the 5 years that he spent there than he has been by tourists in France that he's been trying to help!