“THE MOST FAMOUS PARISIENNES ARE FOREIGNERS. YES THE PARISIENNE OFTEN COMES FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE. SHE WASN’T BORN IN PARIS, BUT SHE’S REBORN THERE.”
I’ve always felt an affinity with France (French men in particular) before I ever visited. Possibly even before I learned the phrase ‘Voulez-vous coucher avec moi? Ce soir?’
Despite l’ennui of six years of French class in secondary school where we seemed to spend all of our time reciting les temps - le passé composé, l’imparfait, le plus-que-parfait - writing essays and very little time actually learning how to hold a basic conversation. I can tell you je m’appelle Gemma et j’habite a New York maintenant. And that I’ve been miraculously fluent on occasion. Mostly after the consumption of copious glasses/bottles of champagne (as my Parisian ex boyfriend can attest to). And impressing his fancy Parisian friends with my jokes at The Moulin Rouge.
I’m reading the book ‘How to be Parisian (wherever you are)’. A Christmas present from my sister received the month before I moved to New York. A curious choice you may think? She figured that everyone else would be buying me New York guide type books (so obvious and so true) and seeing as how I excel at being different, she deduced that the methodology behind this book choice would be appreciated. Right again. She knows me so well.
Because, rather importantly, ‘wherever you are’, includes New York.
As I’m reading, I feel like a challenge is being presented to me. And I’m not one to shy away from a challenge. Can I really be Parisian in New York? Can I become the next famous Parisienne? I decide to put it to the test.
Much like the French language, rules are set out and almost immediately contradicted. Don’t get me started on regular and irregular verbs.
I start with the fundamentals:
“Parisian women never try to appear to be something other than what they are.”
Okay this I’ve got on lockdown. Have we met?
“...more than wanting to look young...they want above all to become the best possible version of themselves outside and in, at any age.”
AMEN my Parisian sisters. You’ve got it sussed. The reign of Kardashian Kulture is so crass. I’m feeling a relocation is on the cards. Paris! Je viens!
So far so good.
“Not too much make up, too many colors, too many accessories.”
Okay this could be a bit of a challenge. But I’m up for it. I’m paring back. For Paris.
Introducing Le Scarlet Bob.
Je porte des vêtements. Not by Vêtements.
A most tasteful color palette of black and white and red with an accent of yellow. Culminating in a look reminiscent of a Parisian Cruella De Vil. Stacey Bendet’s face emblazoned on my Alice and Olivia knit dress and faux fur coat. Bonjour Stacey! Sweating fabulously in Topshop vinyl trousers and hobbling amply in Steve Madden fashion bitch killer sock boot heels. Yes they look like Balenciaga but they’re not sending me things yet, so in the meantime...
My choker and earrings are courtesy of the one and only ISLYNYC (the earrings are custom scarlet bobs).
And this yellow LZL pyramid bag. Not quite a minaudiere, but it put me in the mind of Le Louvre and so has vital role to play in amplifying that Parisian feeling.
The look is a contradiction. But I’ve learned that’s probably okay because it seems to be part and parcel of being Parisian.
“What you won’t find in her closet “Nylon, polyesters, viscose and vinyl…”
“Three inch heels - why live life halfway?”
Phew! The vertiginous heels are saving me.
There are no jeans. No white shirt. No black blazer. As recommended by the book. But this look is already pretty low key for me.
Also, I’ve reprised my role as smoker. Just for the day. For the sake of my art.
God it’s taken me so long to get ready. As for le maquillage. I randomly woke up like this. Is that weird? Not complaining though. C’est tres artistique, non?
Sherpa reads an excerpt aloud “She’s Parisian, which is to say she’s melancholy...this particular mood takes her away from the world and gives her that absent-minded absorbed look she has every now and again.”
He makes me practice this look. Again. Again. Again. Mon Dieu! He’s a hard taskmaster. But I nail it. By the time we’re ready to leave the apartment dans le banlieue de Bushwick, I’m not sure if I can ever serve another look. It may just have mastered the Parisian version of Blue Steel.
Maintenant, je dois quitter la maison pour manger du déjeuner (avec Sherpa and Jenna) et pour fumer. We’re still adhering to the smoking ban in the apartment, even though it’s not very French.
We hit the street. Where else would we go but my local French restaurant which happens to be just around le block. You know it’s proving much easier to be Parisian in New York than I thought. We go to Mominette and are transported to a café jardin in Paris. I'm spectacularly ignored by everyone who is dining there. I reckon my hard work is paying off. I must be fitting in.
What to order? I read the menu, smoking furiously. Un café. I’ve had to compromise on my Barry’s Gold Blend in the name of art. Et du croissant. This is something I’m particularly excited about because according to the bible The Parisienne “has the right to eat croissants without anyone giving her shit about how many calories they contain. Merde alors!”
As an eater and enjoyer of food, is it any wonder I feel so at ease with French culture?
I order des pommes frites. Et l’omelette Parisienne (purely because of the name). Shamelessly smoking and eating at the same time.
“She eats a four-cheese pizza but puts stevia in her coffee.”
I haven’t even bothered with stevia.
It’s a good time.
On mange. On rit. On prend des photos. I serve melancholic looks au chocolat for dessert.
Our waitress comes back to the table pour remplir notre café. She’s French and has been really great. Ma langue seems to be coming back to me relatively effortlessly and so I ask her
“Ah! Tu parles Francais?!”
“Un petit peut.” I lie. Thinking that at this moment my fluency level has reached about just one degree below my personal best of two-bottles-of-champagne-later. Du cafe must have the same effect. Who knew?
“Je viens de Paris et c’est mon premier jour.” She says shyly.
“Ah! Bienvenue a New York! Tu t'en sors très bien.” Sherpa and Jenna observe the interaction in amazement.
“Merci, merci.” She laughs.
We all smile.
“Maintenant, je dois pratiquer ma langue! Can I get you anyzing else?”
Glancing at la table,I notice that some croissant has gone undevoured (which apparently is not a real word but you catch my drift).
“We could do with some jam.”
She looks at me quizzically. “Jam?”
“Oui,” (I say scanning the French compartment of my brain quickly for the translation) “du préservatif?”
Her eyes widen. “Tu veux du préservatif?”
“Oui” I say proudly. I think I may actually just be fluent. “Il est bon!”
Her eyes dart towards Sherpa, back to me, then to the ground.
She smiles and says “Okay, une minute.”
I translate for Sherpa and Jenna. That means she’ll be back in a minute.
A few seconds later, notre serveuse comes back with le gérant. I notice they are pissing themselves laughing. They lean in to the table and inform me that instead of asking for more jam 'because it's good', I’ve just asked for some condoms, declaring that Sherpa is great in bed.
‘’PUTAIN DU MERDE!” I exclaim dramatically (because that’s how a Parisienne would do it).
I check if I’ve got that expression right, they nod while still laughing their heads off. In fact, we’re all laughing our heads off at this point, because it’s pretty hysterical.
(Silently I’m lamenting the loss of my temporary illusion of fluency, evaporating in a puff of double-direct-English-to-French-translation-faux-pas.)
I tell le gérant that I’m trying to be Parisian and show him le book. He laughs and says “but you’ll never be Parisian with your artificial hair.” Still laughing.
This statement is followed by a noticeable reduction in laughter. Sherpa and Jenna look at each other awkwardly.
I’m looking at le gérant intensely.
“I’ll have you know it’s not a wig. It just looks THAT good.”
“I know,” he says, “but it’s in ze ‘andbook”. Staring intensely back in a smoldering French kind of way.
“Do not dye your hair, or if you do, only in your original color to highlight it or to hide any grey.” Sherpa reads aloud.
”MON DIEU!” I exclaim (again dramatically because that’s how a Parisienne would do it).
“Paris might have my heart but it will never take my hair!”
I storm out of le restaurant and out onto the street. I pull myself together on Knickerbocker Avenue smoking like my perfectly coiffed scarlet bob depended on it.
It’s not too late. I’m still in New York. And just around the block from my apartment. I may have committed a school boy grammatical error but I’ve managed to retain my style aesthetic even within the parameters of my recent Parisian etiquette education. Thank God for that. And I have my limits. Nothing and no one messes with the bob.
There’s a phrase my ex-boyfriend taught me, much to his dismay in the end as it became my mantra for life.
Parce-que je le vaux bien. And in this case, so is my hair.
I think I’ll stick to being The Scarlet Bob wherever I am.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS (in order of appearance)
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi? Ce soir? - French for ‘would you like to sleep with me? Tonight?” This phrase made famous by the words of the song ‘Lady Marmalade’.
L’ennui - French for boredom.
Secondary School - Irish English for high school.
Les temps - French for ‘tenses’ as in past, present and future and all the melty ones in between.
Le passé composé, l’imparfait, le plus-que-parfait - these are all all french tenses the past, (le passé composé), the continuous past (l’imparfait) (this is one of the melty ones I was telling you about) and the past perfect (le plus-que-parfait) that I’d be all day explaining to you if I was to go into it. Sure Google it there if you’re interested.
Je m’appelle Gemma et j’habite a New York maintenant - French for ‘My name is Gemma and I live in New York at the moment.”
Je viens! - French for “I’m coming” or “I’m on my way”.
Le Scarlet Bob - French for ‘The Scarlet Bob’.
Je porte des vêtements - French for “I am wearing clothes” in this context. Also means, “I wear clothes” in general.
Bonjour - French for “hello“.
Le maquillage - French for 'make up'.
C’est tres artistique, non? - French for 'it's very artistic, no?'
Sherpa - friend / helper of friends in need / explorer / human trip advisor / life coach / photographer / performer / estate agent / set designer / read-alouder
Jenna - friend / artist / makeup artist / all-around-cool-girl
Dans le banlieue de Bushwick - French for 'in the suburb of Bushwick'.
Mon Dieu! - French for 'My God!"
Maintenant, je dois quitter la maison pour manger du déjeuner (avec Sherpa and Jenna) et pour fumer - French for 'now I must leave the house to each lunch (with Sherpa and Jenna) and to smoke.'
Le block - French for "the block".
Café jardin - French for 'garden café'.
Un café - French for 'a coffee'.
Et du croissant - French for 'and some croissant' (because you have to say 'some' croissants otherwise it means all the croissants in the world. Which I wouldn't be opposed to.)
Des pommes frites - French for 'some french fries' or 'chips' as we know them in Ireland.
Et l’omelette Parisienne - French for 'and the Parisian omelette' because in this case, it's the omelette on the menu I'm referring to which I think doesn't also mean 'all the omelettes in the world'.
On mange. On rit. On prend des photos. - French for 'We eat. We laugh. We take photos.'
Au chocolat - French for 'with chocolate'.
Pour remplir notre café - French for 'to refill our coffees'.
Ma langue - French for 'my language' as in 'my french' in this case.
“D’ou viens-tu?” - French for 'where are you from?' or 'where do you come from?'
“Ah! Tu parles Francais?!” - French for "Ah! You speak French?!"
“Un petit peut.”- French for 'a little'. I'm being coy in this instance.
“Je viens de Paris et c’est mon premier jour.”- French for 'I'm from Paris and this is my first day."
“Ah! Bienvenue a New York! Tu t'en sors très bien.” - French for "Ah! Welcome to New York! You're doing a great job."
“Merci, merci.”- French for "thank you, thank you."
“Maintenant, je dois pratiquer ma langue! Can I get you anyzing else?”- French for "Now, I must practice my language! Can I get you anything else?"
La table - French for 'the table'.
“Oui,”- French for 'yes'.
“du préservatif?”- French for 'some jam'??? Or so I believe at this point.
“Tu veux du préservatif?” - I think I'm asking for jam for my croissant. As in jam = preservative. That would make sense surely? But in real French, it means 'condom'. I know. Who'd've thought?!
“Il est bon!”- I believe at this point I am saying 'It's good' as in 'the jam is good' in French. But in real French it refers to a person's sexual prowess. So in this case, I'm claiming that Sherpa is a great ride. I mean I've heard rumors but I've never had the experience first hand.
Notre serveuse - French for 'our waitress'.
le gérant - French for 'the manager' as in the restaurant manager.
‘’Putain de merde!” - French for 'fucking shit!'.
"...ze ‘andbook” - English French for 'the handbook'. As in the 'How to be Parisian wherever you are' book that this entire story is based on.
Trousers - Irish English for pants.
Parce-que je le vaux bien - French for ‘because I’m worth it’.
Faux Fur Coat: Alice and Olivia / Oversize Sweater Dress: Alice and Olivia / Red Vinyl Trousers: Topshop / Red Sock Boot Heels: Steve Madden / Choker and Custom Scarlet Bob Earrings: ISLYNYC / Red Gloves: TSB's own / Yellow Pyramid Bag: LZL