29 Apr 2013

Men, Music, Money and Made-Up Menstruation

So I recently spent, or rather endured, one of three clubbing experience in Paris.  I've been to the odd bar which has had a dance floor but Mix Club is the first place (apart from the awful boat party and Halloween disco) that I consider to be a proper club.

We arrived in a pack of six - three girls, three boys - assuming that the girls would get free entry because, let's face it, girls in Paris always get free entry.  But apparently not this time.  We paid a whopping €15 entry fee each, having shown our IDs to the rather hefty bouncers at the door.  I was already starting to regret my decision.

Once inside, we walked down the staircase onto the main floor, dotted with sweaty, scantily-clad individuals doing their sexy moves to horrendous European music.  The joys.  I was about to walk through the second entrance before I was pushed away by a bouncer who told me I had to put my bag and blazer in the cloakroom.  Perhaps I'd find this understandable if I were attempting to carry a large suitcase brimming with illegal drugs onto the dance floor, but quite the contrary - it was a little handbag which contained the usual suspects: phone, wallet, lipgloss, keys...nothing out of the ordinary.  Still, the man was adamant that I check my bag in.  I told him I didn't want to but this was irrelevant: he wasn't listening.  I got pretty frustrated so I went off on a rant and said in French "firstly, this jacket has no pockets so I'm hardly hiding anything.  Secondly: you expect a menstruating woman to leave her handbag in the cloakroom? Is this some sort of joke?"  Yes, I threw the word "menstruation" at a French bouncer because any politically correct person would smile and let me through without question.  Most men are wimps when it comes to periods so I thought he'd freak out and let me slip through.  He tried not to look awkward as I repeated "menstruation" about five times to prove the gravity of my point.  (nb: I was lying, but naively thought that making up an excuse about periods might work.  He's clearly never had a girlfriend.)

I was adamant that it was all a scam to turn us into penniless paupers.  They charged me €6 to use the obligatory cloakroom and to say I was infuriated would be an understatement.  I didn't have any money left in my purse to buy alcohol to desensitize myself from the emotional trauma.  I noticed that even those not carrying bags were also being ripped-off; forced to remove their jackets and pay the cloakroom fee.  I saw one guy having an argument with the bouncer after he told him to remove his waist-coat.  Apparently we're only allowed one layer of clothing; guess I'll be going braless then.  Netherless, I waltzed on through with my blazer firmly on before he could grab me and throw me back into the queue.  I saw him do a double take as he noticed me but just as he was about to open his mouth, he got distracted by some rather "chesty" women trying to complain left, right and centre.  Either way, I'd have told him I had a contagious skin disease and that I'd take him to court if he didn't let me keep it on.  Of course I soon took it off in front of him and smirked evilly at him as if to say "ha! gotcha!"

When I arrived at the bar I did my best girl-next-door impression and asked the bartender for a glass of water.  "That'll be €8" he replied.  €8?  €8?  You're telling me that after paying €21 for entry and the cloakroom that you have the cheek to charge €8 for a glass of water?  I complained that I had a headache and that I couldn't afford it.   Water is a right after all, not a luxury.  Aren't their laws about this?  He scowled and said "here's a cup then, and go get your water from the toilets".  "But can I drink the water in there?" I stammered, aghast.  He shrugged and served the next customer.  So I took my plastic cup, went to the bathroom and filled it up from the tap.  I downed a few glasses and it seemed OK.  Five minutes later I felt like retching over the toilet.

I danced with my friends despite not feeling so great (had to get a slither of my money's worth at any rate), but after two hours of being in the club I'd really had enough "fun" for one evening.   Looking around me I saw girls with microscopic shorts which could definitely have passed as underwear.  Short, greasy men who could have passed as convicts were grinding up to them.  Some of the girls were enjoying it, but I saw one girl slap a man before screaming "get off me!"  He then followed her off the stage and into the darkness.  I also noticed plenty of girls wearing tops with so many slits and cut-outs that there was more skin than material on show.  I didn't really see the point of this "fashion statement" but it seemed to be infectious. 

After collecting my belongings, I left with my friend Hannah and we went in hunt for a night bus. This was the second time I've ever been on a night bus and I wasn't thrilled about the prospect but it was either that or walk home.  I was not going to pay for a taxi after the amount of money I'd already had to part with that evening.  After teetering around in my humungous heels and failing to find a bus map which made any sense, I was on the verge of giving up and camping out in the bus shelter.  Various drunken morons had come up to me to ask if I wanted to join them but I told them to "jog on" in the politest way possible.

But all was not lost because I soon caught sight of an info booth with a friendly man sitting behind it. Thank God - someone who knows what they're talking about!  The man pointed over to the bus stop I'd need to wait at and told me to take the N12.  After waiting approximately 15-20mins, the bus arrived and I hopped on.  I asked the driver if the bus went to Dupleix but he said that I'd have to change at Chatelet.  This wasn't ideal but what was the alternative?  When I got to Chatelet I found another information booth and asked to be pointed in the right direction.  The man pointed to a bus stop and told me to get on the N12.  But I was just on the N12?  I soon found out that I'd originally been put on an N12 going in the wrong direction, and no-one had told me.

Whilst waiting at the second bus stop, I was accosted by a drunkard who was speaking to me in gibberish.  I shrugged and said "I'm English, and I don't understand the bus timetable so if you want my help...I can't give you any".  Another man waiting at the bus stop proved to be more helpful and told me the bus didn't stop at Dupleix (my stop) but how I should get off at Charles Michel which wasn't too far away.  I smiled and thanked him.  The drunkard then started making suggestive remarks about how me and this French guy would be getting on and off the bus at the same time.  He repeated it about four times until the other man said "je suis gay" and then walked away angrily, leaving the drunk man all to me. He was starting to get on my nerves so I said "look, I don't see why me taking the same bus as this other person is so interesting to you.  Your life must be so dull if this is all you have to think or talk about".  He paused and said "you're right" and then he shut up.

There was never a greater feeling than when I finally reached my front door and slammed it shut behind me.  I was safe.  And certain that I was never going clubbing in Paris, ever again.

Watch this space.


22 Apr 2013

Parisians & Bare Legs

So these past few days it's been rather hot.  So much so that I've been tempted to take the plunge and go out in bare legs for the first time since I was sunning myself in the South African bush.  There are plenty of things stopping me from making the drastic change from jeans to "bare-sies" however:

1) Parisians are still wearing coats, scarves and mittens.  With the same weather in the UK, everyone is rushing off to the beach, buying ice-cream and wearing graphic-print crop tops paired with tiny white shorts barely covering their even whiter arses.  Not to mention the return of the flip-flop to show off their newly painted toenails in neon pink.  But no, Parisians are faaar too classy to show that much flesh or be seen in such bold and bright attire, even when the sun is beating down on them. It's all about thick, black coats.  All year round.

Are they actually cold?  Or are they trying to make a statement?

2) My legs are white.  To be honest, my legs are always white so I should really just deal with it.  I'm sure there are many others in the same boat as me but there are times when I look at my body and fancy myself a rather translucent ghost-like figure thanks to my porcelain skin.  Porcelain, yes, that's it.  Way to turn "pasty white" into a compliment - just call it porcelain.   I also get lots more freckles in the sun.  I suppose if all my freckles joined up into one massive freckle I might look tanned.  Or perhaps I'd look like a life-size birth mark.  Either way, I'm certainly no supermodel with legs the length of the Great Wall of China with skin so sun-kissed that it would give Elle Macpherson a run for her money.

3) On one of these recently warm days, I decided to wear a blue dress and skin-coloured tights to work.  The problem?  I was on the metro and everything with a pulse was staring at me.  There was something about showing off my legs in something other than opaque tights or jeans which seemed to cause quite a stir and I felt incredibly uncomfortable.  It's like they'd never seen a pair of legs before. Given the general consensus, I concluded that this was clearly not a Parisian way to dress so I made sure to throw all my skin-coloured tights into the back of my wardrobe until I returned to the UK. God only knows the consequence of bare legs if I received that sort of reaction after skin-coloured tights.  Guess I won't be needing those skimpy white shorts anytime soon then.

4) It may be warm but you never know when a gust of wind might take you by surprise and all of a sudden you're having a Marilyn Monroe moment.  Something to be avoided at all costs.  And sadly for me (or my dignity, rather), Paris seems to be covered with grates and vents blasting hot air out of them.  Many a time have I accidentally stepped over one of them, only to have to plaster my hemline down, having flashed a few passersby in the process.  I'm not sure whether it's better to be wearing small or large knickers at a time like this.  I suppose either is better than no knickers at all. 

5) I still haven't perfected my beach body.  Oh wait.  Earth to Montana - you never will. Guess I gotta make some sacrifices in life if I insist on eating cheese 24/7.

Watch this space,

7 Apr 2013

English Boys vs French Boys

Usually the first question I get asked is "so have you found yourself a French boyfriend yet?"  I respond with that awkward smile and shake of the head as I furrow my eyebrows and say something like "meh, not really a fan of French men.  I prefer English ones!"

French men too seem to be startled when I explain that I'm single (I'd like to take that as a compliment, but in reality that's not what they're aiming for!)  It's like I'm a new sort of species, like there must be something really wrong with me for being 'single' and they always seem to respond with "but why?", as if I need to justify myself.  The phrase "I just haven't met anyone I want to date yet" apparently isn't a good enough excuse.  As far as they're concerned, I should have a boyfriend, period.

I always thought having a boyfriend meant that you were 'exclusive'.  Anything 'extra' was considered grossly inappropriate and you would quite easily get the reputation of being a 'whore' or 'slag' if you were caught cheating, or in some cases flirting, with another man.  That was until I came to France.  "Married, you say?  Makes no difference to me!"

In the UK, girls are persuading men to make things 'official' or as I like to say - 'o-fish' - whereas here I've noticed that men are usually the ones desperate to tie the dating knot after a matter of seconds.  In my experience thus far, a simple drink in a bar for a Frenchman means "you need to meet my Mother".  OK, maybe that's a slight exaggeration but there's something very forward about French men when it comes to dating.  And lest you absentmindedly forget to reply to a Frenchman's text within about 3 hours...you better start coming up with some fabulous excuses because your little games of "playing hard to get", "the chase", and "play 'em mean, keep 'em keen" don't go down so well with the French.  It's all, or nothing.

British journalist Samantha Brick, who is married to a Frenchman, has this to say:

"If you are normally laid back about dating, prepare to change your ways. There is a reason that a 'crime of passion' was recognised as a legitimate form of defence in France's courts. The French thrive on jealously, passionate arguments, bold attestations of love. Even if that's not your style - you'd better get used to it. Sulking has zero impact and neither does 'the silent treatment' - if you have a point to make about a problem in your relationship then make it as loudly and as passionately as you can. Your French lover will worship you even more for it."

Duly noted.

I realise I’ve been rather critical of French men thus far.  I’m sure they’re not all so bad, but I enjoy telling tales so I will enlighten you:

An interesting encounter with a Frenchman on the night bus (first and last time I've ever taken it), resulted in him putting his slimey arm around me and 'accidentally' touching my breasts.  He then asked if I'd be his girlfriend.  Naturally, I said "no".  He said "is it because I'm Muslim?"  Actually, frog, it has something to do with the fact that you're perving on me in a night bus at 3am.  And accusing me of bigotry is hardly going to make me declare my undying love for you.

A few months later I was proposed marriage by another Frenchman after getting off the metro.  Let's just say that the conversation ended in him asking me when he'd be meeting my parents.  My response: Never.

Another encounter was with a French guy at an office party who didn't actually work with me so I have no idea how and why he was there.  He told me he was 25, that his mother was a French teacher and that he could help me with my French.  Of course I jumped at the opportunity because I’d been speaking literally zero French.  We met up a week later, and I noticed his hair was rather on the grey side.  After some coaxing, he admitted he was in fact 35 but he’d lied to me before because he was worried I’d refuse him if I knew his real age.  You bet your bottom dollar!

Anyway, he insisted on buying me lunch in a Thai restaurant which of course I accepted given that I was pissed off at him for lying about his age, and I never say no to free food.  Before long he was proposing trips to New York, taking me to film launches and entertaining me on the red carpet.  He kept trying to hold my arm and I kept pushing him away and gave him light slaps to ward him off.  He just wanted to cling to me and be intimate and I told him it was offensive and we didn't do that in England with strange men.  He was definitely strange.  

French waiters are a new species altogether.  The majority of them are cold and heartless, but you get the odd one who has nothing better to do than flirt outrageously.  And when I say outrageously, I mean outrageously.  There's definitely a difference between harmless flattery and creepy idolatry.  I was in a restaurant with a male friend the other day for Easter Sunday and when it came to paying the bill, we both got out our bank cards.  The waiter looked at my friend in horror when he realised that he wasn't paying for my meal.  Of course I had to explain that we were "just friends", but the waiter remained persistent that my friend paid for me too, before I had to spell out that we were both students which meant we weren’t exactly rolling in cash.  He was still flabbergasted so I said “well, if you’re really that concerned, why don’t YOU pay for my meal?”  He took it upon himself to invite me over for a glass of champagne and dinner that same evening.  I said I had to go to church.  He then attempted to fit 'going to mass' into our plans, before I said “thanks, but no thanks”.  Oh, and I’m not catholic either.

On Easter Monday, a girlfriend and I decided to spend all afternoon sitting in a café with a particularly ‘friendly’ waiter.  When we first arrived he asked whether we wanted to have coffee, wine, food…a massage?  And now you know why the French are known for their charm.  After a few hours (we were there a long time!), the waiter came over with a pen and asked me if I have Facebook.  He put the pen next to one of our many receipts and winked at me.  I nervously giggled and looked at my phone.

Where are all the nice French men that I'm supposed to be falling madly in love with?  Where's my Mr. Darcé?