The French Art of Peeing in Public – A Popular Parisian Pastime

This is inbedwiththefrench’s Happy  Spring podcast and I probably should address a topic slightly nobler than urine, but I can’t.  I saw something on French television recently that absolutely blew me away.  It was one of those “info-tainment” features and the lady reporter chose the subject of “How to Pee in Public and Not Get Caught” – with video footage to boot.

This was part of “Le Grand Journal”, a very popular prime time program that is as close to “The Daily Show” as the French can get.  The sexy, cute, tongue-in-cheek  presenter did her thing, or rather, showed the men in the audience how to do their own thing – right under their own noses (and ours too).

The “star” of the video was a young gentleman with a cell phone explaining his 3 best techniques for relieving himself in public in broad daylight.  They all dealt with distraction – that is to say, he would talk loudly on his cell phone while holding a Starbucks cup over his

Guess what he's doing?
Guess what he’s doing?

you-know-what and doing his own personal refill.  The second method involved a rolled up newspaper (the paper kind; not a digital one) directed downwards – like some sort of funnel. And the last method was walking quickly and urinating proudly along a side of a wall while pretending to have an animated discussion with an imaginary accomplice.  I don’t know what shocked me more – was it the fact that French television was encouraging public urination (for men only) or was it the fact that this Parisian male was probably paid a hefty sum just to pee?

Public urination has been a problem in Paris for ages.  Any tourist who has taken the metro or walked down alley ways recognized the odor and/or has probably been a witness to the actual act.  In French, the act itself is called urine sauvage, which means wild pee.  The government has tried to deal with this issue in an orderly fashion.

In 1986, a Brigade des Incivilités, (roughly translated as a Bad Behavior Brigade), was formed to enforce sanctions for crimes against hygiene.

Who you gonna call?
Who you gonna call?

There are more than ninety agents who roam the streets of Paris trying to catch offenders in the act, and I mean really “in the act”.  The fine starts at 35 € but repeat wrongdoers might have to dish out as much as 450 €.  It’s interesting that the French agents are trained to be considerate when they are giving an offender a ticket.   They allow him to finish his business before they begin their discussion.  (I doubt if they shake hands though.)
The Bad Behavior Brigade hands out over 2000 tickets yearly but that does not seem to diminish the practice.  Fining dog owners though has made a difference in the amount of dog poop you find on the streets.  It looks like Parisian poodles are more disciplined than their male owners.

Here's the Sanisette, the free public toilets in Paris; not as much fun as peeing in the gutter though.
Here’s the Sanisette, the free public toilets in Paris.

In their continuing “anti-pipi” effort, the government has also installed over 400 public toilets in the city.  Since 2006, they are absolutely free to use. These chocolate-colored pods are called Sanisettes, a very hygienic sounding name.  They are modern, spacious and bright.  They even recycle rain water.  I know that tourists use them, but I have yet to see a “native” actually “go” inside.
What’s more is that Parisian sanitation workers clean and spray thousands of square meters and sidewalks daily.  But that does not seem to be effective at all.  In fact, I actually saw a sanitation worker urinate in a gutter while he was working! (This is where I would make a pun about hoses, but I’ll resist the temptation.)
So, the moral of this story?  There really isn’t any.  In the end, we can surmise that Frenchmen are bound by some cultural imperative to relieve themselves in the street.  They are following ancient rules that are embedded in their DNA; nothing can stop them – not even Bad Behavior Brigades or Sanisettes.  This is their story and they’re sticking to it.  The rest of us can just watch – and wonder.

How Lean and Mean French Ladies Stay That Way

That French women are stylish, slim and simply beautiful is painfully obvious when you walk around the streets of Paris. They make looking good look easy but, believe me, it’s not. In the 25 years I’ve lived in Paris I have met many French women and indulged myself in countless conversations with them about how they stay so thin.

Just saying no - a simple and efficient gesture.
Just saying no – a simple and efficient gesture.

The overwhelming response is that they “Just say No” over and over again. And they actually mean it.

Let me give you an example. One of my work colleagues, Catherine, was complaining about the three kilos she had recently put on. (Of course, I couldn’t see those kilos; she was as svelte as ever. But, she knew they were there and she was not happy.) Catherine went to the doctor’s for a series of tests and, when she was convinced there was no medical reason for those extra kilos, she went to work on getting rid of them. Lunch was a daily litany of vegetables only–no cheese, no bread (!), no soda, no dessert. Snack at break time might be hot water for a change but no chocolate, no nuts, no nothing. It worked–the pounds quickly melted off her; her self-denial got her where she wanted to go.

I know some people think that French women eat balanced meals and that’s how they stay so fit.  They probably do – about two-thirds of the time.  However, during holiday season and vacations, they eat just like the rest of us – too much.  But then they use negativity to handle the situation.  They have a strong self-denial mindset.  We Americans, however, are trained to be positive.  We don’t go on diets; we don’t deny ourselves.  We don’t say no to second helpings.  We try to eat balanced meals for a while and then slip back into old, fatty habits.  We also encourage each other; we publicly acknowledge that it’s OK to be a “little” overweight – let’s say 5 to 10 kilos over our ideal weight.  For a French woman’s standards, one kilo over the line is akin to going out in public with a cold sore – totally unacceptable!

These lean ladies are also mean ladies.  They will make remarks when you’re getting fat (or fatter).  They will tell you that you “should do something” about it.  They will giggle sarcastically when you drink a Coke since you are enforcing the stereotype of the fat American.  They will make comments about your fat kids too and go into warning mode about it’s your responsibility to make sure they don’t turn out like you.  They are ruthless in their fight for skinniness.

French Health Minister
The ever-so-skinny French Health Minister, Marisol Touraine

French women also get weight-watching help from the government, even without asking.  A law was passed last week which bans free unlimited soda refills in public restaurants.  The fast food chain “Quick”, the first hamburger restaurant brand of European origin had installed a soda fountain in their establishments and will now have to dismantle them.  Marisol Touraine, the French Health Minister (herself a very skinny lady), said the law was created to fight against commercial measures which “entice customers and encourage them to consume unhealthy products excessively”.  In France, water is the only essential drink and the only one allowed in school cafeterias (soda vending machines were banned in French schools way back in 2004).
You might remember when, in 2012, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban soda servings larger than half a liter.  It was ruled unconstitutional; a hindrance to our freedom to choose.  France is taking away that choice altogether in their country and no skinny French citizen is even blinking an eye. That’s because it actually helps mothers keep their children away from sugar, sugar and more sugar.  Just one more statistic – the average Frenchman drinks 45 liters (quarts) of soda a year; whereas the average American gulps down 170 quarts per year.  Given the new law in France, that statistic will most certainly decrease – but the American one will most certainly keep rising.  We just can’t say no.

And that's all there is to it.
And that’s all there is to it.

So, if you’re looking for a French lesson in losing weight, look no further.  Just do as the French ladies do – start saying no and keep repeating it until you’re at your ideal weight.  Take a lesson from Coco Chanel who coined the phrase, “Elegance is refusal.”

How One Frenchman Mixed and Matched NOT – Internet Dating at Its Worst

I had to go in for minor knee surgery in January and I knew I would be out of romantic circulation for a while. And I also knew I would have time and a computer on my hands (with free wifi in the Parisian clinic). So, I decided to sign up with an internet dating service and have a go at dating Frenchmen. I had been married to a Frenchman before but I nixed that nationality out of my dating pool once the divorce was final. Paris is full of foreigners so it was not a problem finding other sources for amorous activity. But, I told myself, maybe it was time to turn the (digital) page. I chose “match.com”, one of the older sites; I just couldn’t see myself tindering, happning or adopting a French guy. I felt safe going with the old, traditional one.

A love computer - ready to ride.
A love computer – ready to ride.

I started navigating through tons of profiles – some completely ridiculous (like a scary looking guy in front of his webcam saying he liked “round” women) – and some less ridiculous. I liked leafing through the photos and seeing guys in their “Speedo” bathing suits since you really don’t see many of those on US beaches. I corresponded a lot in both French and English but I preferred to write in English so I naturally favored those who did the same.

Then I started meeting guys for a drink. The rendezvous’s were close to my apartment but not too close. I met a few who were “OK” – nice but not romantic material. I met a couple of guys who were so full of themselves their ankles were swelling (as the French would say).  And then I met one who I was actually interested in and I thought the interest was mutual. I’ll call him “Jean” – but, you should know, that’s his real name and I really hope he’s reading this blog right now.

I liked Jean because he smiled a lot. He had travelled quite a bit and had an apartment in Paris and a vacation house on some island in Brittany. He was retired, energetic and he was one of those “Speedo” guys. I also thought he was a generous character since he offered to cook a meal at my place for English-speaking friends. I should have been a bit suspicious right then but I know many French people who like to practice their English socially and I assumed he was one of them.

The white wine sealed the deal.
The white wine sealed the deal.

And then he said he would bring the food and the wine and that closed the deal for me. We picked the date for the dinner and I invited some American friends and family. Jean and I both agreed that 6 was a good number for people at the dinner table.

Jean brought the fresh sea bass and wine to my apartment on Friday for the Saturday dinner. I was taking care of the “aperitif” and dessert. What a team. On Saturday evening, one of my American friends cancelled on the dinner, so I told Jean there would be only five of us. I asked him if he had another friend who spoke English who would like to join us and he said yes. I got a phone call at the same time he was on his phone with the mystery guest so I don’t know what he said to her to explain the last minute invitation. But it worked. She was supposedly in her pajamas but she was dressed to the nines when she showed up at my place an hour later. Oh, and Jean told us her name was “Helene”.

Helene’s name was really Marie-Helene (I am not using her real name) but Jean somehow didn’t know that. Anyway, she was an interesting person with a medical background who also had travelled a lot. But, as the evening progressed, it became obvious that they did not know each other very well. Finally, when I was in the kitchen getting the fish ready with

Look what he brought to dinner.
Look what he brought to dinner.

Jean, my friend asked Marie-Helene when she had met Jean. And the wonderful answer was, “This morning – we had coffee together. We met on match.com”.

As the evening progressed, it was obvious that they were getting all hot and bothered for each other – and I was sitting right in the middle of this heat, smoldering, but holding my tongue. She thought I was an old friend or colleague of Jean’s and I had thought the same of her. Only he knew what was going on since he had set it up. I had nothing against this lady so I just let the evening flow by and kept drinking the wine he brought (which was wonderful – at least the evening wasn’t a total waste). My friends left before the newly-formed couple did but not without whispering to me what a shameless jerk they thought this guy was.

Jean and Marie-Helene left in their uber together, both smiling and thanking me profusely. She gave me her email address to keep in touch but I threw it away as soon as they left. I let twenty minutes go by before I texted Jean in a drunken (but legitimate) haze. I think I wrote something like “Don’t contact me again. Your behavior tonight was rude, improper and unacceptable.” About ten minutes later, he texted back with “I thought it was a good night”.   No doubt about that – from his point of view.  He got two matches for the price of one. And all I got was angry.

The next day, I deleted my profile and ended my tryst with match.com. I can find enough shameless people in real life – don’t need to go looking for any on the internet.

 

How, Where and When to Kiss Hello in France

A simple thing like saying hello and goodbye can be a daunting experience when you are a stranger in a strange land. In France, greeting rituals are complicated since they are both verbal and non-verbal and might include kissing (if you’re lucky). It’s interesting that the French have an expression “simple comme bonjour”, meaning that something is easy, obvious, clear. But when it comes to kissing hello, nothing is clear or obvious. Let’s look at some kissing guidelines so you know what you have to do the next time you come to France.

First of all, spoken greetings are important in France. You will notice that when you walk into a bakery or a café or any kind of store. Everyone says the proverbial “bonjour” before anything else happens. Even bus drivers say hello and goodbye to their passengers. They don’t kiss them, though. That’s reserved for family and friends.

"Simple comme Bonjour" may not always be that simple in France.
“Simple comme Bonjour” may not always be that simple.

The family part is easy to figure out. I have a French family and when I met them all more than twenty years ago, I just followed their lead. Their kissing system is cheek-to-cheek; right side first and stop at two. You kiss when you say hello and you kiss when you say goodbye and you should be very careful not to forget anyone since that can be seen as a real “faux pas”. Sometimes, at a big family dinner, saying goodbye to all the guests can take a while, so give yourself some extra kissing time if you have a train to catch.

Now, in the workplace, things are clear in the beginning, but they start to get a bit more complicated when your co-worker becomes your friend. First off, it’s a handshake and then a verbal “bonjour” and “au revoir” every working day. Some colleagues “make the rounds” greeting everyone on their floor before they settle down to work. There is something very endearing about the way the French see greetings as a duty, a sign of respect. They need to acknowledge your presence in a polite way.   That part is very clear.

The gray area is the passage from handshake to kiss, and how many kisses to give when you get to that stage. Tradition varies, depending on where you come from in France. The people I have met from the Normandy area and northern France tend to plant four kisses on the cheek.   The ones I have met from Brittany stop at three. That’s fine if you know it ahead of time. But it can be pretty awkward if you are going for two kisses and move your head away while the kisser keeps going.   It is also awkward if you start on the left and they start on the right. To avoid head-bumping and lip brushing, I suggest starting on the right. It’s easy to remember since it’s the same side you would use for a handshake and it works, nine times out of ten.

But when, exactly when, do you kiss? That’s a hard one to answer. The younger generation tends to kiss a new acquaintance right off the bat. That is not true for everyone. You might be invited to someone’s house and shake hands when you say hello but kiss when you say goodbye since you have gotten to know the person over the course of a meal and a couple of bottles of wine. Your best bet would be to do what they do.

To kiss or not to kiss -- now that's a good question.
To kiss or not to kiss — now that’s a good question.

The only excuse for not kissing hello to a friend is related to health. You can excuse yourself from that social gesture if you have a cold or feel one coming on. A few years ago, when the swine flu broke out, I did notice some air kissing in France – where people would pretend to kiss by smacking their lips but there is no bodily contact that could spread germs. That did not last too long (thank goodness).

In France, men kiss men, women kiss women, men kiss women, the young kiss the old and vice versa but everyone who uses kissing in their greeting does so on the cheek. A kiss on the lips, even a brief one, is a sign of romantic love, intimacy.

People who witness a kissing greeting on the lips of a couple can immediately see that they are a couple. Greeting hugs are rare in France – I have actually only seen them at funerals and weddings. The traditional social gesture is a kissing, with facial contact only.

France was one of the first countries to allow public displays of affection. That is a surprise to no one. Paris, the capital city of romance, is full of park benches with people showing off their French kissing skills. No one yells at them to “Get a room!” – lovers are just part of the scenery here along with the Arc of Triumph and the Eiffel Tower.

Eh voila! There you have the basic guidelines for meeting and greeting the French. So, what’s the next step? Come on over and enjoy the wonderful social ritual of kissing hello and goodbye. We all know the French love to demonstrate.

The French Animalistic Side to International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day today, March 8th, and Paris is hosting many activities ranging from races to exhibits; films to flash mobs. The theme this year is “Make it Happen” and the Parisians seem to be doing just that. At least, that’s what I thought when I looked up the ambitious program on paris.fr. But soon after, I also picked up a copy of the women’s magazine “Marie Claire” and was a bit surprised to see an article about International Women’s Day with the photo of a prominent young French politician holding a hen (that’s right, a live hen, the rooster’s female counterpart) and posing very seriously for the camera. Huh, what’s that all about?

I knew the French had a difficult time understanding Obama’s Presidential pardon of a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. I remember trying to explain that tradition to my colleagues, only to have the discussion finish with yet another, “You Americans are crazy” comment. So, what was this? Some kind of statement connected to the cock being the symbol of France? Was the politician rooting for replacing the rooster, a male symbol, with the hen, a female symbol? Was it time to make this happen? Were the French the crazy ones now?

The man in the photo is Jean-Vincent Placé, a the president of the Ecologist Party in the Senate. It seems this photo was staged as his personal statement against sexism and, specifically, against sexism in politics.

The Ecologist protecting his hen.
The Ecologist protecting his hen.

It directly relates to a recent incident where an extremely impolite UMP (French center-right political party) politician “clucked” at a woman speaker, a colleague of Mr. Placé.  She was insulted and retorted with, “I am not a hen!” And that’s how this French version of Animal Farm started.

Mr. Placé also states in the article that the French political world is primarily old and macho – a bunch of unenlightened sexagenarians (think Dominique Strauss-Kahn). Is he right about that? Oh definitely. Will holding a hen change any of the old geezers’ way of treating women? I doubt it.  Even though there are quite a few women in the French government, they are not respected by their peers. A few months ago, a female minister was actually whistled at when she addressed the Senate because she was wearing a dress – that’s right – an unprovocative flowery dress. Mr. Placé does have some work to do.

However, getting dressed up in a nice suit and holding up a hen in a protective gesture is just as ridiculous as clucking in the French Senate. This Senator is actually part of the legislative system. He can propose laws; lobby laws; change laws. He can introduce sanctions for politicians who disrupt their colleagues and the business-at-hand. (There is nothing like a hefty fine or a suspension to make anyone think twice before he opens his beak.) Mr. Placé can find a legislative solution and, in doing so, demand respect for everyone – men and women alike. He can leave the hen in the farmyard and show us a law that deals with this problem. That’s part of the job.

Let’s hope that this hen party is the last one for the French government. Let’s hope that in 2016, on International Women’s Day, we can see a photo of Mr. Placé holding up legislation that sanctions disrespectful and unproductive public behavior on the part of  politicians. We can all cluck to that.

What Happens When French Politicians Use the “F” Word

Hollywood Comes to Paris

Since last Sunday, Paris, and France in general, has become the backdrop for a political sitcom and, suddenly, every UMP politician who is interviewed on television says the “F” word loud and clear.  I have witnessed a lot of political drama in France over the past twenty years, but no one has ever gotten dramatic enough to use the “F” word.  Americans, on the other hand, use it all the time.  President Obama used it in his acceptance speech on Nov 6th.  Mitt Romney spit it out regularly on his campaign trail.  And now, it’s here in France.  That “F” word is Family – a new political concept for the UMP and one which is not holding up well at all.
Funny Family Guys
You see, it is common practice for the UMP, the conservative right-wing party, to elect a president, a leader.  The 2 candidates were Francois Fillon, the former Prime Minister under Sarkozy and Jean-Francois Cope, rumoured to be a candidate for the 2017 presidential run.  The elections were close (actually reminded me of the Bush/Gore debacle of 2000) and have not yet been officially settled.  UMPers are taking sides and shooting each other in the foot at the same time.  But they keep talking family – saying they have to find a solution that works for everyone so that the family stays united.  But, the way I see it, this family is getting more dysfunctional by the minute.
How They Got There
Here’s a quick overview of what the problem is.  The vote was close; Mr. Cope said he won before all the votes were counted.  Mr. Fillon protested and continues to protest the

and the winner is ….me!

validity of the election.  Mr. Cope said, “tant pis” (too bad), “I’m the president of the UMP and thank you very much.”  He offered Mr.  Fillon the VP position but that went over like a cold day in hell.
Who’s in Charge Here?
Mr.  Fillon officially filed a court order to review the results.  That is happening today, but the majority of the members of this Commission are friends of Cope.  So, one of Mr. Fillon’s supporters left the meeting – slamming the door behind him.  There is a mediator, Mr. Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux, who is supposed to sort this all out, but he might just throw in the towel. Now Mr. Fillon is talking about separating and

we’ll just see about that …

starting a new political party with his friends.  And Mr. Cope still says he’s the man in charge of this wonderful family and he will do everything in his power to keep it together.
What about Instant Replay?
A simple way of solving this would be to insist on another election and throw that supposedly-biased Commission out the French window.  It seems fair.  One poll says that 67% of UMP members advocate this step.   It would be a simple enough event to organize; everyone could wipe the slate clean and start over.  And no one should speak up until all the votes are counted.  But both family guys have to agree to this and, only one thing is sure at this point, they are not agreeing on anything.
Clowning Around
As this blog goes to press, I can’t tell you who won since the name-calling, finger-pointing, sulking and whining are still going on and on and on. The only thing I am sure of is that the “F” word doesn’t work in France.  The typical values associated with that word – such as support, love, sacrifice, teamwork – are nowhere to be seen.  In fact, the “F” word has actually turned the whole political scene into a show – a full-fledged, unprecedented circus.   What we need now is for someone to send in the clowns – quickly.  Oh wait, they’re here.

Presidential Speeches in Paris and Chicago – Vive la Difference

Politics Everywhere

From May 6th to November 6th, as an American living in Paris, I got to follow two political adventurers in their bout for their respective Presidencies.  For the French election of François Hollande the campaign, the debates, the hype and Election Day coverage were omnipresent.  For the American election of Barack Obama, the campaign, the debates, the hype and Election Day coverage were also omnipresent – and I live in Paris, France, not Paris, Texas.  Why the French follow the US Election almost as closely as their own is beyond me.  I was just happy to be able watch it live from this side of the pond.

Declaration of Love
As I listened to President Obama’s acceptance speech and heard the words “love”, “family”, “spirit”, “hope”, “God”, I thought about the wonderful differences between France and the US and started smiling away as I imagined President Hollande accepting his new job using the same buzz words – especially the love buzz. Barack made a public

Obama and his family – up close and personal.

declaration of love for his wife, Michele Obama.  He said he wouldn’t be the man he is today without her.  He even said how proud he was that America had fallen in love with her too during these past four years.  The President mentioned family as well – his view that Americans are all one, big American family.

Stand By Your Man – Maybe
As an American, this habit of using one’s wife as part of the political platform didn’t surprise me.  But, in the French mindset, that just wouldn’t happen.  I saw flashes of all of Mr. Hollande’s women during his candidacy, but they were always in the background, not in the forefront.  And, since Mr. Hollande is not married, and his girlfriend tends to be outspoken in a bad way, he would just not “go there.”  In France, the wives and/or

Here’s the French President’s girlfriend, close but not too close.

girlfriends of politicians are not running for office with them.  No one cares what happens behind closed Presidential doors.  This is so NOT true in the US where the wrong companion choice can make or break a candidate.

Family Guys
Calling the nation an “American family” may sound a bit corny but it did get a huge round of applause from the public at Obama’s acceptance speech.  I cannot even imagine the President of France addressing his constituents as a “French family” – it would seem ludicrous to the Parisians.  Such a remark might be greeted with shouts and tomatoes.  French families are blood-related, not ballot-related – no exceptions.
One interesting thing I noticed as I re-read Hollande’s acceptance speech is that there is a bit of flag-waving (but no French flag pin on his lapel) as he says, “we are just not any nation on this planet, or this world, We are France.”  He had also mentioned that all of Europe was watching the results of the French elections – for Obama, of course, it was the whole world (but who’s counting?)

Happy Endings
The difference in the endings of the speeches was striking, even if predictable. I think Obama was really over the top with “Together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.  Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.”  I mean seriously, “the greatest nation on Earth?”  Now who says the French are arrogant?
However, I re-read Hollande’s last words and noticed they centered on serving his country; enforcing the values that were made clear by his election.  The French President emphasized that these values will be heard all over France, Europe and the World.  And then he repeated the traditional “Vive la République et vive la France !”  It was a bit boastful, as close to patriotism as a Frenchman can get but subtle compared to Obama’s declaration.
Divine Separation
There was no mention of God, since there couldn’t be – one of France’s cornerstone values is the separation of Church and State.  They actually enforce that belief in their political system.
The political roller coaster ride on both sides of the Atlantic is over for now.  It’s funny how wives, girlfriends, family, flag-waving and God can be such relative matters in a Presidential election.  That’s why I say, “Vive la Difference.”

Paris Hosts a Creative Condom Competition

Rubber Art
Last year I had fun writing my blog about “The Best Baguette” contest in Paris – but that was last year.  This year, I found another contest, “Paris Condom Creation” which is so much more exciting!  That’s right; the city of Paris has launched a graphic challenge to find an inspiring design for the packaging of the 35,000 rubbers that it will distribute for free in 2013.  The official objective of this competition is to incite young people to enjoy “sexuality without risk”.  I think that the unofficial objective is to incite young people to enjoy sexuality – period.  Remember, we are talking about Paris.

Rules of the Game
The contestants are to create the pouch, packet or envelope that will house the condom; not the condom itself.  Since this is definitely a “young” contest (you have to be at

Calling all Condom Creators

least 16 to enter), the contest is an electronic one which uses a facebook application both for contest submission and voting.  The deadline for submission was November 2nd, but there’s still time to vote for your rubber wrapper until November 9th.   Voters count of course; but there is also a jury of 10 professionals who will ultimately pick the arousing winner.

The Winner Does Not Take All
Even though I think the contest is an amusing idea, the prize for the Best Rubber Wrapper is really not that motivating.  The winner gets a 3rd generation iPad and that’s it.  That seems a bit “short” for an original sex-a-sketch.  The 2nd and 3rd prize winners, however, get a year’s supply of condoms.  Give yourself a minute and take a guess at how many that would be (remember, I’m talking about Paris).  This official number comes from the Harris Interactive Institute.  Ready?  Well, the number is 120 – that’s right; the average number of times a Parisian makes loves during one year is one hundred and twenty times.  Do the math – there’s nothing average about that number.

France’s Got Talent
I took a virtual tour of some of the entries and couldn’t help but crack a smile over a few of these “Pocket Picasso’s”.  My third-place favorite was a facebook “I Like” thumb covered by a condom.  Second-place for me was one in English – the slogan “Sex We Can” drawn on a hot-pink heart.  But the one I really prefer is entitled “Orgasm Donor” – short, sweet and to the point.
The “Paris Condom Creation” contest is a whimsical, amusing way of approaching the serious subject of safe sex.  I like the idea but somehow, I just don’t think it would fly in the US.  I was thinking about my native city of Boston, Massachusetts and trying to imagine Boston City Hall giving away anything that has to do with sex and/or sponsoring a sexual-related contest that 16 year olds can enter!  That would be a “cold day in hell” as my Aunt Harriet used to say.

Inspired by Bread
I also wondered how the winning artist would incorporate this coveted condom packet in his portfolio.  Would he include the whole thing or just the sex-a-sketch?  Would he collect empty packets from all over Paris to show how much his artwork was appreciated?  Would he exhibit a framed condom wrapper in his high school’s Art Show?  Would he sign autographs?  How exactly?
Anyway, since I am having so much fun, let me tell you about my idea for a condom pocket creation.  It’s actually a combination of two of my favorite blogs:  this one and last year’s best baguette in Paris blog.  I would put a baguette and a rubber together – are you getting the gist of this idea?  Then I could call my design “inbreadwiththefrench”!
Too bad the Paris Condom Creation contest deadline has passed – oh well, there’s always next year.

Office Erotica – Frenchie Shades of Grey

A Different Kind of Monday

I never, in my wildest dreams, could have imagined that the coffee break conversation at work (on a Monday morning no less), would center on erotica. The week was slowly getting underway – at this point we usually talk about sports, movies or politics – or the actual work that needs to get done during the current week.  So I was a bit surprised when one of my male colleagues, with a snicker of anticipation on his face, asked for my opinion on handcuffs.

I Got the Hint
I knew what he was talking about immediately.  The modern-day erotic trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey” had already hit unprecedented popularity in the US.  The French edition made front page news – they all must have read the same newspaper on the subway on their way to the office.  So there was a simple explanation.
Jean-Jacques actually brought out the newspaper so everyone could see.  He showed us the handcuffs; I mean the picture of the handcuffs.
“You Americans are real masters of porn,” he said.  It’s funny because you’re all so repressed sexually – can’t even go topless at the beach.”

The Proof is in the Spelling
“E.L. James, the author, is British, not American,” I said.  “You can tell by the spelling of the word grey in the title.  It’s the UK spelling.”
“I bet you already read it then,” he said.

Grey – with an E

“A little bit, I read it over a lady’s shoulder on my flight from New York to Paris a couple of weeks ago.  I read something about a blindfold too – is that what you’re getting your wife for Christmas?”, I joked.

Blindfolds and Bragging
The four male colleagues all laughed and bragged that their wives didn’t need blindfolds or handcuffs.  French men know what a woman wants but, if their partners did express a desire to be bound to the bed post, that wouldn’t be a problem.  The French lover aims to please.  Jean-Jacques offered us all a second cup of coffee so that we could have time to continue this conversation.  No one was in a hurry to go back to their desk.
“What about toys?  Would you use sex toys too?”, I asked.
“Of course!  No problem with anything our lady desires.”
“How about a three-way?”
“This country invented the “ménage a trois” before you were even born!  Before your country was even born!”

Proud of Being French
We then got into a general discussion of whether or not this book would be a success in France.   My four colleagues all participated in the debate.  (They are usually very quiet, almost docile when they’re sitting in front of their computers.  Sometimes I jokingly pinch them as I walk by to make sure they’re still breathing.  I didn’t have to pinch anyone this lively Monday morning.)
They talked about Brigitte Bardot, the 1974 French erotic film, “Emmanuelle” and the swinging “free sex” clubs that are all over Paris.  In the end, these guys all agreed that that “Fifty Shades of Gray” wouldn’t do as well in France as it has in the USA simply because there is no need for it.  Their collective opinion was that French women were sexually satisfied – thanks to them.

A Friendly Wager
I didn’t believe them.  But, instead of saying that out loud and damaging any fragile male egos, I challenged that premise with a wait-and-see attitude and a little friendly wager.  I suggested that we go review this same topic four weeks from now and see how the French version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is doing.  If it is as successful as they assured me it would NOT be, they lose and I win.
“OK,” agreed Jean-Jacques, “what happens if we lose?”
“That’s easy,” I said.  “If you guys lose, you all have to buy the book for your wives – just think of it as marriage insurance.”
“And if we win?” they collectively asked.
“I’ll buy you all coffee – and an extra set of handcuffs.”
I’ll let all you readers know in a month how this works out.  I hope they lose since I have no idea where to buy handcuffs in Paris!

Working Out in Paris – Physical Fitness with an Attitude

Attitude with a capital A

Attitude, attitude, attitude – the French sometimes have so much attitude that it can show up where you least expect it.  This week I found it in a Pilates class in Paris (absolutely not kidding).  It was not directed at me so I could handle it.  I just stretched back; watched the show and helped to console the victim in the dressing room after the lesson.

Educating Sue

The French Pilates teacher, who I will call Isabelle (not her real name) was the one with the attitude and, during our Saturday morning class, she subjected a confused American student to what could be seen as public derision and humiliation.  The woman, Sue (also not her real name) was in her forties (this was an adult Pilates class) and she mentioned at the beginning of the hour that she had not done any physical exercise for the past two months.  I think that’s all Isabelle needed to hear.  She got ready to “focus” on Sue and focus she did.

Now, it is the teacher’s job to correct her students during the Pilates mat exercises.  I am not denying that.  She has to watch them and ensure they are performing the exercises correctly.  However, she can choose to correct her students in a positive way by using encouraging, helpful comments.  Well, Isabelle was light years away from “positive”.  I’ll show you what I mean.

The scene of the “attitude”.

Focus, focus, focus

All the following remarks were directed at Sue.  For some inexplicable reason, she left the rest of the class alone – I was happy about that.

“I said exhale, not inhale – you do understand French, don’t you?”

“Did you forget everything I taught you?  Come on, get with it, this isn’t your first class.”

“The knee should be pointing toward the ceiling; you are really not listening to me today – if you don’t listen you might as well stay home.”

At one point Isabelle even told the rest of us to relax and stop our exercises for a few minutes as she twisted and turned Sue’s body into a Pilates pretzel.  I couldn’t bear to watch.  I just listened to  Sue’s tormented sighs and wondered why she didn’t just get up and leave the class.

Words Hurt

When Isabelle talked to Sue, there was a “tone” in her voice.  It reminded me of my fourth grade teacher, Sister Mary Humilitas.  She spoke with a vocal, demeaning, parochial school-like snarl.  This scene also brought back memories of endless bi-lingual arguments with my French ex-husband.  I was constantly repeating, “It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it.”  He never understood what I meant and I’m sure that Isabelle wouldn’t understand either.

Later, in the dressing room, Sue and I, the only Americans in the class, talked about it. Sue asked me, “She was on my case today, don’t you think?  I just wanted to come and relax and start to get back into shape after vacation.  A little positive reinforcement would have been nice.  I don’t like paying so much money to get yelled at.”

“I know.  She did that to me for a while too.  I think she’s afraid to be nasty to the French students and only hassles foreigners.”

Just then a French lady came into the changing room.

Two Sides to Every Fitness Story

“Ah Sue, you were so lucky today.  Isabelle gave you so much attention.  I think you are her favorite student.  I am jealous.”

Sue and I looked at each other and laughed.  There it was again, another cultural difference rearing its ugly head.  What we Americans interpreted as a negative action, the French saw as a positive one – and were even jealous of it.  Just another example of how everything is relative – even attitude.