10 Feb 2014

“Paris is a Snooty, Unfriendly City’

Simon Kuper
, last year, in the Financial Times, pondered the reasons behind Parisians’ notorious rudeness and concluded that being Parisian takes so much effort that everyone is perennially in a bad mood.

It’s the eternal paradox of Paris: why is the world’s most charming metropolis also the most unfriendly? As the universal phrase goes, “I love Paris. I just hate Parisians.”

When I moved here in 2002, I rejected that view. I was determined to learn Parisian codes. I knew this city has a complex etiquette. I thought that once I’d learnt the importance of saying bonjour at every encounter, or of not walking into a restaurant demanding dinner at 6pm while wearing shorts, I would gradually break through Parisian rudeness.

It was my mission. More than a decade later, I can say: beneath the snooty unfriendly façade, Paris is a snooty, unfriendly city. I can even explain why. …

[T]he strongest explanatory variable for Parisian rudeness (and I’m aghast it’s taken me a decade to work this out) is Paris’s very perfection. If you overlay an intellectual capital on an artistic and fashion capital in a former royal capital, all of it in the country that invented how to eat, there are so many codes governing so many behaviours that the demands of sophistication become all-encompassing. No other city makes so many requirements. Every moment of their lives, even at family breakfast or in bed, Parisians must observe the rules that govern eating, talking, thinking, dressing, making love et cetera. There’s even a generally approved life-long pose: never seem surprised; bored is much better.

In Paris, Big Brother (often in the form of oneself or one’s spouse) is always watching to see if you commit a faux pas. Whenever you do, he’ll let you know – perhaps with a silence, or a pained glance away. There is no intimate Paris where you can slob out in old underpants. (Admittedly, Parisian dress codes are less strict than in, say, Italy. Most of the time here it’s OK to look dowdy – though never weird.) In all, Paris is a nightmare of sophistication. Only in one field of local endeavour do no rules apply: driving.

Nor are Parisians allowed to laugh off their codes. My native informant Sophie-Caroline de Margerie – top civil servant, writer, fashionable Parisienne et cetera – says: “I’ve never met a bona fide French eccentric.” There is a right way to do everything in Paris, and it was probably decided before you were born. All the French provincials, Africans and romantics from everywhere who land here battle to adapt, sometimes forever. You try to be Parisian, to meet all the standards of perfection that mark this city, and so you sneer at anyone who falls short – for instance, by sitting down at the next restaurant table wearing the wrong jacket. Paris is a sneer. This attitude was summed up by the definitive Parisian film, Dîner de Cons (“Dinner of Fools”, 1998): a bunch of stylish Parisians hold a weekly dinner to which they each invite an unknowing con, “a fool”, in order to crow over their cons’ appearance, tastes, conversation etc. Parisian life is like a dîner de cons except that nobody would ever really invite the poor cons to dinner.

Via Ratak Monodosico.

3 Feedbacks on "“Paris is a Snooty, Unfriendly City’"


“dîner de cons “, an interesting idea. But isn’t that what the show Duck Dynasty was supposed to be?


Ten years in the merde? The man is a hero!

Lazarus Long

Sounds kinda like Burlington, VT.


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