Mitt Romney and the French Dis-Connection

Presidential Dis-Connection

The US presidential campaign is blowing over to the European side of the pond bringing with it a recurring theme that I can no longer ignore – the French Dis-Connection. It seems that a candidate’s ability to speak French is seen (once again) as a slimy, unpatriotic and subversive act.  John Kerry got tons of negative publicity for being schooled in this romantic language back in 2004 when he lost to George W. Bush.  Maybe that’s why Mitt Romney, who is really into singing his own praises at this point, is not singing a French song.  He never lets France come up in the conversation.  He never talks about speaking about the fact that he speaks French; likes France and even spent some time in France.  I wonder why.

Even back in February of this year, during the Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich, one of the more-famous “losers”, paid for an ad calling Romney all sorts of unfavorable names, but left the best for the end with the phrase, “Romney speaks French, just like John Kerry.”  The ad then flashed to John Kerry giving a speech which concludes with the French (actually, Cajun) phrase, “Laissez les bon temps rouler”, or “Let the Good Times Roll.”  There’s a bit of political justice in there since Gingrich’s “good times” ended quite abruptly – in English and in French.

Parlez-Vous Francais?  Mais Non!

Why would speaking a foreign language be a reason not to vote for someone? Is it any language or is it the French?  And why would having a good relationship with a foreign country and appreciating its different culture and way of doing things be seen as a political handicap?  I was brought up to believe that speaking foreign languages was a sign of intelligence.  Do we not want an intelligent President?

I investigated a bit and found out that Mitt is refusing to speak French on camera.  He is making a conscious effort to downplay the darker, “parlez-vous” side of his life.  Back in the winter, he is even accusing Obama of “cozying up to Europe and ignoring American values” – another example of vagueness that tries to equate Europe with socialism, the antithesis of what America stands for.  However, whether he wants to admit it or not, Mitt does have a strong, personal attachment to France.  Let me tell you about it.

Mitt on a Mission    

From 1966–68, Mitt Romney spent 30 months in France (that’s right, 2 and a half years!) on a proselytizing mission for the Mormon Church.  This missionary assignment gave him a deferment from serving active duty in Vietnam.  So, as you can see, while he was converting souls in France, France was giving him an excuse for his own military

Mitt Romney doing his own private “tour de France” during the Vietnam war.

salvation (a win-win operation).  His team was responsible for 200 Mormon baptisms while he was in France – that means about nine conversions a month, not a bad track record for a 21 year old.  (He probably would have converted more Frenchmen in Bordeaux if the Mormon religion allowed its members to drink red wine.)

France was important in Mitt Romney’s life – something to acknowledge and not hide from, right?   Really, who cares if he speaks French or not?   Some Americans dislike the French, but some actually honor them.  A case in point is this year’s Golden Globe awards.  The movie “The Artist” won for best film and best actor.  And that’s a French movie with a French movie star – ah, but I forgot, it’s a silent movie.  The actor doesn’t speak French; he doesn’t speak anything.  Just like Mitt Romney

The Supremacy of the French Lover – Fact or Fiction?

Romantic Priorities    

I was thinking about tackling the “Journee de Patrimoine” for my topic today (the day when French people get to visit national monuments that are usually closed to the public) but I decided to go with a different kind of French legacy, the romantic kind.  I got to thinking about why the French have a global reputation for being the best lovers on the planet.  I had a  discussion (somewhat heated)  with French friends, men and women alike and came up with a list of reasons why that reputation just might be well-deserved. Food for tender thought.

1.  The French Lover is a gentleman.  You could even call him gallant, chivalrous.  He knows how to flatter his partner.  He might not open the car door, but he will probably pay for dinner, the first dinner that is.  What happens later is, well, up to you.

2.  He cooks – with love.  The Frenchie cooks because he loves to, not out of obligation.  It seems that watching your apron-clad French boyfriend get all happy and excited in the kitchen is a real turn-on.  I don’t know if watching you do the dishes is as exciting.   In any case, at least you won’t go to bed hungry.

3.  He kisses – a lot.  The name, “French kiss” is no accident.  It seems that the French lover beats all European records for kissing duration.  And, don’t forget, almost everyone here kisses to say hello, goodbye and lots of other things in between.  Heck, it’s almost a national sport.

Kisses galore

4.  He knows how to dress.  Yes, clothes do make the man.  And the devil is in the details as you can see by the Frenchman’s shoes.  Even if he is dressed in jeans, the jeans are ironed with a crease down the middle and the shoes are gorgeous.  In a suit and tie, everything matches with a subtle, gracious taste.  He’s got style, a very seductive style.

5.  He doesn’t need Viagra.  Why take Viagra when France has more than 365 cheeses?  It seems that smelly, unpasteurized French cheese acts like an erotic booster shot.  Experts recommend the super-strong ones such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola.  They say cheese stimulates endorphins and encourages couples to couple (after brushing, I imagine).

6.  He likes older women.  I’m not speaking about cougars here; it’s just that French lovers appreciate sexual maturity.  Supposedly, they are still attracted to their partners as they get older – comparing them to wines that get better (not older) with age.

7.  He enjoys culture.  Your French boyfriend does not have to be coerced enhancing his cultural intelligence by visiting a museum or two, he actually likes it.  If not, Paris itself is a living museum with plenty of exciting nude statues and beautiful artwork everywhere.  Not to mention bridges, towers and other national monuments that are the perfect backdrop for a romantic kiss in the moon (or sun) light.

8.  He will say “Je t’aime” (“I love you”).  He will also call you “ma cherie”, “mon amour” or other lovely French romantic nicknames.  If he does stick to English ones, saying “darling” with a French accent is a real winner.

No Romance in Numbers

I could have gone into statistics in this article – you know writing about how many times the French “do it” compared to other countries, but there’s nothing romantic about numbers. Let’s keep the romance in the cheesy kisses and chocolate – and let’s keep it in France.

Tasting Tips for the French Wine Connoisseur Wannabe

Tilt and Swirl – Gently, very gently

A Fair Paris Tradition     

Now that parents have depleted their school supply budget and the kids are safely back in their respective institutions, the Parisians are ready to party.  The first sign of this is the hype for the traditional “Foire aux Vins”, or “Wine Fair” which starts in mid-September and lasts for two weeks.  There are wine tastings everywhere – private homes (beats a Tupperware party), supermarket retailers, wine store chains and farmers’ markets (my favorite).  A wine consumer really gets to consume before they buy at this time of year.  It could be overwhelming for those of you who aren’t used to the many facets of wine. So, here are some tips for the wine-tasting neophyte.
1.    Look before you leap – Take a good look at the wine you have poured into that glass; observe and enjoy its color.  Look beyond the usual suspects of red, white or pink.  Is it ruby, maroon, purple or brownish?  For white wines, is it pale, yellow, golden, straw-colored? Is it opaque, cloudy, translucent?
2.    Tilt and Swirl – Tilt your glass slightly and give that wine a gentle swirl.  Look for traces of sediment, which is a sign of an aged wine.  Older reds might have more of an orangey tinge on the outside as you swirl; older whites would be darker.  The swirling aerates the wine, which will release its aroma.  The secret of the perfect swirl?  Be gentle and don’t stand near anyone who is wearing white.
3.    Smell and Sigh – Well, maybe, just smell.  The aroma of the wine will conjure up fruity memories of raspberry, blackberry, gooseberry or black current.  You might also smell vanilla, oak or citrus.  Enjoy it – smell once, smell twice.  Your nose will remember.
4.    Taste and Savour – Now, taste the wine, really taste it.  Remember, you drink water but you taste wine.  So, take your time.  If the wine doesn’t stay long enough in your mouth, you cannot appreciate its magnitude.  Sip it first, letting the wine spread across your tongue.  Swish it from front to back and side to side before finally swallowing. Let its acidity, tannin and depth explode in your mouth.  And let it linger.
5.    After-taste – Once you have imbibed the wine, it’s time to pay attention to how long it lingers.  Can you still taste it on the back of your mouth or throat?  Is the taste sweet, acidic?  Like butter, fruit, flower or oak? Do you like it?  Do you want more?
6.    Discover your preferences – There is no wine that satisfies everyone’s palate so it’s to time to pay attention to yours.  Know what you like.  Tastes can vary from fruit, leather, wood, spices, nuts, vanilla or any combination of these.  Pick your favorite flavor from the wonderful range of options.
7.    Write and remember – I can’t tell you how many times I have tasted a wonderful wine only to forget its name the morning after.  So, keep a paper and pen handy when you embark on your wine-tasting adventure and write down the ones that you liked and want to buy again and again.
8.    Buy It – The Wine Fair in France in September is a great time to buy – in wine store chains or even in huge supermarkets such as Carrefour or Auchan.  At a supermarket, you might not be able to taste everything you would like to so here’s a little hint.  Buy a bottle that you think would be a good bargain; drink it the same day.  If you like it, go back and get a case or two before they all sell out.  Have a party or get a wine cellar.  Whatever you do, enjoy it.  Wine and dine your lover, family or friends – or yourself.  You know you’re worth it!

Back to School in France – Where The Teacher Rules

“La Rentrée” is looming over Paris this week, that fabulous time of year when everyone goes back to school and most people go back to work.  School starts on September 3rd for the teachers and September 4th for the students but the headaches associated with this event have already started for the parents.  Just visit the school supplies section of any department store – you’ll see several parents with lists in their hands and children at their feet trying to make sense of just what they are supposed to buy for their child for the first day of school.

Stress and Shopping for Supplies Go Hand in Hand

The stress factor in this shopping aisle is high, extremely high.  This is attributed to three things.  First of all, the List is extremely complicated and precise.  You cannot just buy any old notebook – Mom or Dad has to check the number of pages, the color, the binding, the size, and the squares or lines that are depicted inside.  It’s the same story for pens, pencils, bookbags, markers, scissors, calculator – even the glue!

Secondly, the parents cannot usually find everything in one place.  Either the store is out of stock already or the super-creative, impractical primary school teacher has requested something that is nearly impossible to find.  There is not much standardization in the area of school supplies so each teacher can pretty much ask for what he or she wants and the parents had better provide it from Day One.  No substitutes allowed.  (Let me just mention that, here in France, the teacher rules, not the parents.  They literally dictate what the students have to bring to class.  Nothing is up for discussion.  Teacher school supply rules are meant to be followed by children and parents alike.)

Here’s who really rules when the French Go Back-to-School

French Government’s Role in School Supplies

Thirdly, every little thing that is thrown in the shopping cart adds up – often to a substantial amount – money that families who are just returning from vacation simply do not have.  Fortunately, the French government does help out with the school supplies allocation.  With the newly-elected Socialist president, Francois Hollande, the subsidy has even increased by 25%.  That means families who meet the income limit (23,300€ for one child; 28,554€ for two children and 33,908€ for 3 kids) will receive from 356€ up to 388€ per child to help pay for their back-to-school clothing and supplies.  Eligible families automatically receive the check on August 21st, plenty of time to go shopping before the first day of school.

If you don’t have school-age children yourself and want to have fun in Paris, just go to the school supplies section of a big department store between now and September 4th.  I was there by accident this past weekend (didn’t stay long though) and was amazed to hear how loud and ludicrous the debate could be about something as simple as paper.  Couples were arguing in front of their children and befuddled clerks; angrily waving the school supply list like a flag they wanted to burn.  It was sad and a little scary.

Is There an Easier Way?

I don’t understand why some graduate student has not yet put a website together that would save all this hassle.  Wouldn’t it be great and oh-so-modern if parents could just submit their list; pay online and the supplies would be delivered magically to their doorstep.  It is 2012.  It is possible.  This could probably save a lot of marriages.  But, on second thought no, it would take away all the fun of watching how the French teacher rules – even before school begins.


French Farmers Looking for Love – on Prime Time TV

True Confession

I am only admitting this because I can’t see all of you out there in anonymous, electronic blog-land.  I would never say this to anyone face-to-face.  I am a fan, a real fan of a French reality show called, “L’Amour est dans Le Pre”, which means “Love is in the Meadow”.  I usually stay away from these types of programs in any country, (feeling like they are way below my intellectual capabilities), but I happened upon this one on a lazy Monday evening in Paris and I got hooked.  But, in my own defense, I got hooked on this romantic saga for aesthetic reasons only, really.

Here’s the logo of my favorite reality-tv show!

You see, this program takes place in some of the most beautiful, idyllic corners of France.  In this seventh season, there are 14 French farmers (11 men and 3 women) who are looking for their soul mates.  Geographically, they pretty much cover the whole country, including Corsica.  The eye-candy in this love show is in the scenery – it’s just drop-dead gorgeous.  The farmers come from several different agricultural worlds – raising cows, making wine, keeping bees, brewing cognac, breeding horses, growing wheat.  They are all are very passionate about what they do for a living – and that’s what I’m interested in – honestly.

Lovey-Dovey Rules

“L’Amour est dans Le Pré” is a French copy of a British show called, “The Farmer Wants a Wife.”  In January, the candidates go on the show to paint their personal portraits and talk about what they are looking for in their ideal mate.  They then receive thousands of letters of potential candidates who are interested in sharing their tractors and milking their cows.  During their long winter nights, these farmers select about eight of them who come to Paris for a speed-dating session.  After the session, they narrow the competition down to two lucky contenders who are invited to spend up to six days together with the farmer in his home and participate in his daily activities.  That’s when the fun starts.

It is a set-up for lovey-dovey disaster but the participants know the rules.   They can’t pretend to be surprised.  They all start out in an awkward mode – like fish out of water – but eventually get the hang of it and start entertaining the 5.5 million French spectators who follow their romantic endeavors.  There could be scenes of jealousy, tears, premature departures, desperate phone calls to their mothers, stolen kisses, guitar or accordion serenades, serious philosophical discussions and, sometimes, a genuine broken heart (from the farmer or the “farmee”).

City Folk in the Country

It’s funny to see city-folk try to milk cows and do physical labor.  And it’s even funnier to listen to the improbable conversations that arise.  One candidate recently asked her respective farmer why he never cleaned up the meadow where the cows graze – she was serious.  He didn’t answer. I’m betting her question was a deal breaker and he was trying to be polite.  The cow next to her rubbed his head against her behind as if to nudge her off the TV set – she did eventually leave.

Change of Scenery

But, like I said, I pay more attention to the scenery than to the drama that’s going on inside the stables and wine cellars.  France is such a magnificent, agriculturally-blessed country that it’s a feast to get up close and personal to citizens who actually work the land.  “L’Amour est Dans le Pré” supposedly has a 40% success rate in its matchmaking attempts.  Those aren’t bad odds.  Maybe someday I will write that letter – and get my own personal  change of scenery.

If you want to practice your French – watch this farmer on a real double-date!


Just When Will French Male Politicians Grow Up?

Macho Macho Men

Male chauvinism roared its ugly head here in Paris this week and this time it showed up in the National Assembly, the political home of France’s elected officials.  Here, in the gold and red sumptuously decorated meeting room, these guys (and a few women) are supposed to handle serious debates about the present and future of the French citizens who respected them enough to choose them as representatives.  Well, this week, they really blew it. With just one whistle (literally) they blew all that respect out the National Assembly window.

The scene that inspired this macho manifestation was a simple one; it was really business-as-usual.  The Minister of Housing Equality, Mme Cecile Duflot, rose to address the Assembly.  As she approached the microphone and tried to speak, she was greeted with whistles and jeers from masculine members of the Assembly, from the right and left alike (but mostly from the right).  It seems Mme Duflot was wearing a dress – yes, that’s correct.

Adolescent Angst

Here is the outfit that rocked the National Assembly in Paris

The Minister was fully clothed in a modest dress that covered everything that needed to be covered.  So why all the fuss?   Well, my own personal opinion is that, in their childhood, when French politicians hit puberty, their growth was stunted.  By growth I mean the part of their brain that governs dignity, respect and honor.  That part stayed in the seventh grade.  They manage to hide it most of the time, but once in a while, when you least expect it, the 13-year-old stupid adolescent they thought they used to be, shows up and embarrasses the entire country (not them remember, they’re 13 – they don’t care).

And the Point Is…?

What’s the use of France putting more women in office (half of the country’s ministers are female) if the rest of the Assembly members are going to treat them like children?   Does it fill some kind of entertainment quota?  Are the men listening or laughing when the female ministers speak?  How can they possibly get down to matters at hand and rule the country if something as commonplace as a flowered dress tickles their funny bones?

There was even a deputy who defended the hisses by saying that there were “admirative” ones.  He added that if the Mme Duflot was that sensitive and couldn’t handle it, then she should stay out of politics.  Wow!  Let’s just add a bit of macho arrogance to their adolescent behavior – the true colors of French male politicians are not pretty.

By the way, these men, these same men, are the ones who are deliberating and voting on the sexual harassment legislation that will soon become effective in France.  This is a pretty scary thought, scary because it’s true.  If they can treat a Minister so lightly and laugh right in her face, then I’m guessing they are not highly motivated to come up with a fair and just sexual harassment law.  What 13-year-old thinks everyone is created equal?

Order in the House

The President of the Assembly had to use his gavel to call the legislative body to order.  He hammered it on the table saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, actually gentlemen, silence please.”  Mme Duflot was astonished, but kept her cool.  She spoke but I’m sure no one was listening.  (They were probably already tweeting their mistresses about the incident.)  One critic said that a high percentage of male French politicians are still living in the 19th century.  I disagree.  Like I said, they didn’t stay in the 19th century, they stayed in 7th grade.


Worshiping Woody – Ten Reasons Why the French Love Woody Allen

Everyone Loves a Mystery

Woody Allen was on French television this week promoting his new film “To Rome with Love.”  The journalist who was interviewing him, and who obviously felt blessed in his presence, asked the filmmaker if he knew why the French loved him so much.  Woody was honest.

“It’s a mystery”, he said.

Woody Allen, the French’s favorite foreign filmmaker

The “mystery” description inspired me and I wanted to solve it.  So I asked every French person I knew why they liked Woody Allen and I made a list of the Top Ten Reasons.  I must be honest too – not every French person I asked liked this famous New Yorker and his movies.  But the positive reactions heavily outweighed the negative ones and here they are in a cinematographic French-influenced nutshell.

Top Ten Reasons for Woody Worship

1.  By far the major reason for Woody’s popularity was his intelligence.  (Remember, France is home to the philosopher Descartes, the renowned “I think therefore I am” man.)

2.  His films are cultural and intellectual at the same time.  They make people think.  (There we go again.)

3.  He laughs at himself constantly in almost all of his films.  (I was surprised at this reason since the French do not practice the Art of Self-Derision at all.  I guess they can appreciate it in others though.)

4.  Woody Allen is an American who understands more than one culture, which, according to quite a few Frenchmen who answered my survey, is a rarity.  (I so wish that wasn’t true – the “rarity” part I mean) but what can I say?

5.  He is inspired by European literature and cinema.  Woody likes Europe and passes that idea along in his movies – at least the most recent ones which take place in London, Barcelona, Paris and now Rome.

6.  Woody’s Women – he loves women and does a brilliant job of portraying the never-ending problems and awkward situations that happen in relationships.

7.  Woody is funny and sad at the same time.  (Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship can certainly identify with that).

8.  Woody’s love affair with jazz music and the use of it in most of his films is right up France’s alley.  They love jazz here too and have a profound respect for American jazz musicians.

9.  Woody Allen is a good marketer, actually an exceptional marketer.  Just look at the opening of “Midnight in Paris”.  It resembles an ad for the Parisian Office of Tourism with its picture-perfect postcard shots of famous monuments.  “Midnight in Paris” is Allen’s biggest monetary success ever.

10.  He’s complicated and so are the French.  Many American fans stopped going to Woody’s movies when he started a romantic relationship with his partner Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, who is 34 years his junior.  Ronan Farrow, Woody’s only biological child, has said, “He’s my father married to my sister.  That makes me his son and his brother-in-law.  That is such a moral transgression.”   Woody’s is estranged from his son and the other two children that he and Mia had adopted.

Woody’s Heart-Management

Woody’s personal situation upset many ex-Woody Allen fans in the United States but the French do not care about famous people’s personal lives and they do not judge.  They believe what Woody believes, summed up in a famous quote from Woody himself, “The heart wants what it wants.  There’s no logic to those things.”

Well, judging by the answers to my Worshiping Woody survey, France’s heart wants Woody – as illogical as that may be.


Twitter and Tweets Invade French Politics

Junior High a la Francaise

The Presidential Kiss

I’m sitting here in my Parisian living room watching the French legislative election returns on television, and, for some strange reason, am having painful flashbacks back to junior high.  This is extremely disconcerting but when I explain to you what’s been going on in France this past week, you’ll understand (and you might start dreaming about your junior high school as well).

The biggest subject on campus is the electronic cat fight that started with a tweet and ended with the cat swallowing the canary.  So, the “cat” who won is Valerie Trierweiler, supposedly the first lady of France.  She is the “companion” of Francois Hollande, the newly-elected president of France.  She used her smart phone to scandalize the country this week by sending one simple tweet supporting the Socialist candidate who was running against Segolene Royal.  Now, Segolene Royal is Francois Hollande’s “ex-companion” and the mother of his four children and was also publicly supported by the president.  Are you following this?  I warned you – junior high.

What a Difference a Tweet Makes

As the week wore on, the tweet got more publicity than anyone’s political platform.  Insults were thrown all over the place; one of the girls had tears in her eyes and everyone had an opinion about who is really running this country.  The Prime Minister even publicly announced that this new first girlfriend should find her place and stay in it.  The French population had elected Francois Hollande, not his girlfriend, so she should just zip it and let Segolene get elected to the National Assembly so that she could hang out with Francois again.

In the end, Segolene lost – it could have been because of the tweet, but it also could have been because the voters liked the other guy better.  We will never know.  Segolene used the word “treason” in her concession speech.  Journalists asked her if she had been in touch with Francois Hollande to discuss her political career.  She avoided answering.  They asked her about the tweet; she avoided answering once more.

The President’s Avoidance Policy

But you know what I want to know?  Where in hell’s name is the president?  Is he watching the returns with the Tweet Queen hoping that she can wipe that smirk off her face?  Is he secretly texting sympathetic messages to Segolene from the presidential bathroom?  Why isn’t he on TV claiming victory for his party since they did a pretty job good in winning a clear majority in the legislative elections?  Is he afraid of the questions the journalists would ask him?

The fine line between public and private is all messed up in France right now.    The new girl in town might be modern and highly skilled in social media but she seems to be lacking in socio-political integration skills.  The old girl in town (sorry Segolene) seems to be lacking in political clout, especially after today’s significant loss.  It looks like there’s a serious chance that she might fade off into the sunset.

Who’s Afraid of Valerie Tweet?

And the new guy in all this?  Is he really running the show?  Is the President the one wearing the designer pants?  Is he going to go public and tell the whole junior high of France which girl wins his heart?  Or is he going to keep playing ostrich and wait until the tweet passes over?  Someone should tell him – one tweet can hide another.

Euro 2012 – A Champion Conversation with a Parisian Waiter

 What’s in a Stereotype Anyway?

I had promised myself I would stop stereotyping French waiters as arrogant, nasty and oh-so-not-helpful pillars of Parisian culture.  It had been years since I was verbally insulted by one and I was convinced that that era was gone, over, fini.  Then it happened.    A waiter, a perfect stranger (or should I say an “imperfect stranger”), wearing a white shirt and a black vest decided to teach me a lesson.  I decided to teach him one too.  I challenged myself and him to a verbal duel; I would not leave the restaurant until I could get him to talk to me — nicely.  The night was young; I had time.

Championship League
Here's the symbol of a great conversation starter in Europe (for the next 3 weeks that is)

It was a sunny, warm evening and I thought I would stop for an “aperitif” at a corner café.  I was near the rue de Bac when a very pleasant older man (probably the owner of the bar) suggested that I stop and have a drink there.  He was smiling so of course I said yes.

I nestled myself in a corner and started to watch the world go by.

Capital “S” for Service

“Have you decided?” a young gruff voice sprung on me from behind.  He sounded like he was in a hurry (afterwards I understood he was in a hurry to get rid of me).

“What kind of red wine do you have?” I asked this question in perfect French since I have had a lot of practice in ordering wine in Paris.  He threw the menu at me – really, honestly, truly – he threw it.   Its fake leather cracked as it hit the table.

“Everything’s in there,” he said.  And then he added, “That’s what menus are for.”

He disappeared and gave me at least ten minutes to find the red wine page and decide between Bordeaux, Brouilly or Cotes de Rhone.  I chose the Cotes de Rhone in the first minute and then thought about how I could get him to be nice to me in the next nine minutes while I waited.

He plopped the glass down in front of me with a little saucer full of peanuts.  I smiled a great big “Merci” but got a snarl in return.  He was a tough egg to crack.  However, I had been an English teacher to French adults for years; I could get a stone to talk if I had to and tonight I had to.

Very Small Talk

“There are a lot of tourists in Paris,” I said, a lame attempt at small talk, even I can admit that.  I could have thrown in some comments about the nice weather we have been having in Paris but an ad on a  passing bus gave me a great idea.

“Euro 2012 starts tomorrow – who are you for?”

There, he stopped in his tracks and actually looked at me for the first time.

“I’m Polish”, he said, “I’m for Poland of course, and you, who are you for?”

We All Need Somebody to Love

           His question threw me for a loop since I had no idea of who was actually playing in the 16 nation soccer tournament.  But I had to answer quickly; wouldn’t want to lose this conversational door he just opened for me.  A blonde lady walked by.

“Sweden, I’m for Sweden this time,” I answered, crossing my fingers that they were actually in the tournament.  They were.

“Good choice,” he answered.  And then went on and on with a detailed summary of each team and why they would or would not win.  I finished my glass and asked for another.

This was going to be a long night.  We had lots of stuff to talk about and he suddenly forgot he was an unhappy waiter.

To tell you the truth, I don’t like soccer.  But I certainly like what it can do to people – actually get them talking to each other.  Too bad the big tournaments only happen every four years.

Here are the sixteen finalists who are participating in the Euro 2012 are (just in case you want to impress your waiter when you come to France):

The French Get Happy at Roland Garros

Here's where it happened

Paris is oozing tennis again – it’s that time of year when the Roland Garros Tournament (also known as the French Open) descends upon this city with its old stars, new stars and star surprises.  It is also the time of year when, at least for the first week of play, while there still are plenty of French players in competition, the local tennis fans become extremely patriotic.  They don’t wave French flags but they use their vocal prowess and hand-clapping skills to show their support and national pride.  I was lucky enough to be present at one match that was a prime example of a French “pep rally.”  However, the truth be told, it was an extremely lonely experience as I was rooting for the American.

The Second Longest Match in French Open History

You see, it was the record-breaking match of the “Marathon” tennis man, John Isner versus the Parisian favorite, Paul-Henri Mathieu.   The match lasted over five and a half hours – it was extremely close with so many moments where it could have gone either way.  In the end, Paul-Henri Mathieu (the cute guy with 3 first names) won (18 -16).  In those long five and a half hours, I got to watch various demonstrations of French national pride, which was fine.  I can totally understand why the fans would be for Mathieu; he is an incredible player.  But I was for the “other guy” and there were only about four other Isner fans hidden in the enormous “Court Central”.   I had to be very discreet.

Holding Court All by Himself

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for John Isner to psychologically go it alone out there.  If he challenged the call of a line judge, the crowd booed and hissed at him.  I even heard someone yell “On est chez nous ici” meaning that they were on home territory, as if that had anything to do with anything.   I wanted to say something snappy and nasty to that fan (he was sitting right behind me); but I was clearly outnumbered.  I just screamed my support for Isner in my inner mind, where it was safer.

Another thing that the French fans criticized in Isner was his amazing ability to mark up those aces.  He was hitting them often and powerfully, most of them at over 200 kms an hour.  The lady next to me said that was not “fair play”.  I couldn’t let that one go by and I asked her would it be “fair play” if the French guy was hitting aces like Isner.  She smiled smugly – of course she would have been thrilled if Paul-Henri was hitting those babies.   He did hit a few too, and no one complained when he did, but he was nowhere near the 59 aces that John Isner had in only two matches.  Incredible.

If You’re Happy and You Know It…

Isner and Mathieu are both outstanding players who gave an unforgettable performance for the thousands of lucky fans who were there at Roland Garros.   The sun was shining; the pigeons were smiling and the French were shouting “Ole!” and doing one group wave after another.  They chanted the French player’s nickname in unison at least a hundred times, “Allez Po-Lo, allez Po-Lo!”  And they did applaud John Isner when the match was finally over – that was generous of them.

I admit I was disappointed and would have preferred to see Isner win but it was fun to see so many happy French people cheering in one place.  Paul-Henri Mathieu made an amazing comeback and this marathon match is now engraved in Roland Garros history.  That’s just the way tennis ball bounces.  In the end, it’s all good.  And the US Open is just two months away.

PS If you want to check out a little bit of French tennis happiness, here’s a video of the matchpoint.