Like any other fashionable woman, I try not to let my roots show in Paris. Only I’m not talking about those of the follicular kind. The roots I refer to are the things that make me stand out as an American.
Besides the fact that I just can’t seem to master the effortless style of the Frenchwoman, there are certain characteristics that make me stand out like a baguette at an Atkins support group. Many take place at the dining table. The French, for instance, pierce their food with their forks held upside down, and then keep it in that position as they lift the food into the mouth. I can’t do that. I’ve tried, but it usually results in dropped food or a fork on the floor.
Then there’s the matter of what to do with my hands while sitting at the table. In the U.S., we’re told to keep our hands off the table and on our laps. But in France, that’s just bad manners. The rule is hands on tables, elbows off. Trying to maintain this stance, however, doesn’t come naturally. I have to remind myself at least a dozen times throughout the meal, by which point it looks like I’m doing upper body calisthenics.
I’m also a very finicky eater. Very. And that makes accepting dinner invitations … terrifying. In France, it’s rude not to eat everything that’s prepared by your host, and since I don’t like a lot of things … well, you see my problem. “What do you mean, you do not like mushrooms? Crazy American.” The last few times, I’ve gotten lucky. A handsome Frenchman invited me to his place for lunch, and he actually prepared a meal I liked. And a French couple invited me to her Paris flat, but it was a brunch buffet, so I could help—or not help—myself at will.
Finally, the thing that probably sends an American bat signal into the sky is the fact that I do not like to complain. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a stand if someone tries to take advantage of me or doesn’t provide me with a paid-for service. But Parisians love to complain. About everything. The weather. The government. The food. The wine. Atmospheric conditions on Saturn. Gravity. Oxygen. Me? Not so much. If it’s good, why complain about it? If it’s not, laugh it off. And that’s what makes me eternally, unforgivably American. At least in Paris.
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