In Paris, “carpe diem” seems to mean “complain all day,” even in gorgeous weather.
I think the French get an unfair rap in the national stereotypes department. They’re supposedly rude, snobbish, overdelicate, cowardly and indifferent to hygiene. Obviously, none of these things is true across the board. There is, however, one preconceived notion about the French that I am tempted to corroborate, namely that they are incorrigible grousers.
I’ll cite an example. We all know that it’s pointlessly unpleasant to gripe about bad weather. But consider this conversation I overheard at a bus stop on Rue Custine one beautiful spring day last year:
Well-dressed elderly man: “The bus is late again. It’s always late, but 22 minutes?!”
Well-dressed elderly woman: “Well, at least we have nice weather.”
Well-dressed elderly man: “Nice weather! Nice weather?! I’ve had it with people going on and on about the nice weather! Maybe it’s great when you’re young, but I’m sick and tired of nice weather!”
Where else but in France would a cloudless 77°F day be a grievance? But one of his countrymen topped him just a few weeks later.
It was a nice (again!) Saturday afternoon and a lot of people were out shopping, including me. At one point I was walking up a side street near the big Boulevard Haussmann department stores, which were swarmed that day — which made it all the more unusual that there was no one else on the block except two youngish guys about 30 yards ahead of me, walking in the same direction and having a very animated conversation. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but they were both ardently involved in the discussion, which apparently required lots of gesticulating, and perhaps as a result they were moving more slowly than I was.
As I gained on them, they abruptly stopped talking and one of them looked back, glaring incandescently at me as though I should know perfectly well that I was butting in on their private reserved members-only sidewalk. Maybe they were plotting a murder, I don’t know.
In any case, they remained dead silent until I was well past them, which took a good 20 seconds or so. Then just as I pulled out of earshot I heard one of the guys hiss to the other, “Goddammit, if there’s one thing that really pisses me off, it’s pedestrians!”
For those who prefer their French quotes in the original, what he actually said was, “Putain, qu’est-ce qu’ils sont chiants, les piétons!” With the word “piétons” (“pedestrians”) spit out the way Nicolas Sarkozy says “labor unions.” And the way union members say “Nicolas Sarkozy.”
Hmmm. So the fact that people walk on sidewalks really gets this guy’s chèvre. You see what I mean about the French being grousers? I’ve been complaining about this almost every day ever since I moved here.
Reader Ronald Hurwitz writes: “Don’t you think that calling those jerks ‘grousers’ is an affront to the poor, defenseless little birds, the grouse?! And they’re also quite delicious.”
© 2010 Paris Update
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