Excerpt from Sex, Cheese and French Fries
"Ooo, you're French!" most people say to Pierre when they find out he's from France. "I took French in high school! I only remember a little bit, but I just love the language. It's so romantic! I think I can still say, 'Parlez-vous français? Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?'"
Pierre is nonplussed.
"Why do they always feel this need to tell me the only three French words they know? What am I supposed to do about it?"
"Je ne sais pas," I say. [ I don't know in French.]
Loving the French
Pierre's extreme French-ness is a bonus with clients, sometimes. They love him and that accent. All his idiosyncrasies seem so cute; his strange ways automatically forgiven because he's French, after all; plus he's an artist! Exaggerate your accent! I remind him as he leaves to meet with a wealthy female patron. Be extra charming! I'm just kidding, though. It would be cruel for him to inflate his accent, since people barely understand him to begin with; and charm toward the female gender is a given, since he's Parisian. It is not unusual for him to bow when complimented, kiss a hand upon introduction, and offer "working for a pretty lady" as inspiration on the job. And he means it, too. That's why he can take six months to deliver a simple piece, and the client will brush aside my apologies, reminding me that it's the artistic process at work.
Hating the French
But the flip side of it is that people also love to hate the French, their superior attitude and arrogant ways.
Pierre hangs up the phone one day, smiling and shaking his head. When I ask why he looks so smug, he tells me that upon hearing about our upcoming trip to Lisbon, his brother Jean-Marc noted that getting impressed with other cities is hard when you come from Paris.
"And he's right, too," he adds.
"I think Paris is beautiful, too," I say, "but if I were you, I wouldn't say stuff like that in public.
"Why not? If it is true?"
"Because it sounds obnoxious," I say, "and you know everyone thinks the French are obnoxious."
Because he's French, my husband likes to argue for argument's sake, but he can't argue that one with me. He knows it's true.
Pierre is on the telephone, having a conversation with a new British business contact. At one point, the guy wonders about the accent.
"I'm French," he answers. "Don't hang up."
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