29 May 2013

Paris Syndrome: Why I Hate Parisians

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Parisians aren't a particularly popular species.  And, I shall hasten to add, not unfoundedly.  The truth of the matter is that they're rude and, well, that sums them up quite nicely.

If I were to throw around some adjectives; words like cold, grumpy, unsympathetic, unforgiving, disengaged and unfriendly spring to mind.  It's interesting to note that many of these adjectives begin with "un".  They're all the things normal people aren't.  Is it bad genetics or a cultural thing? I'm worried too that this Paris attitude (not to be confused with the letting agency of the same name) is contagious. I've already noticed that I don't smile nearly as much.  Although on reflection, this could be attributed to four things: 1) You never receive a smile back, 2) They probably think you're hitting on them, 3) They think you're giving them the go ahead to harass you, 4) The notion of smiling is so confusing to them that you may cause them brain damage.  In a nutshell, smiling is risqué.

And apparently I am not the only one to think this.  There's this wonderful article I read in the Huffington Post about the Japanese experiencing something known as Paris Syndrome.  It is actually considered to be a real psychological disorder and even has its own Wikipedia page.  The cure?  Getting the hell out of Paris, probably with a counsellor sitting beside you, soothing you throughout the 12 hour plane journey home while you flood and possibly sink the plane with your tears of agony.  I kid you not when I speak of hallucinations, depersonalization, extensive sweating - all brought on by Paris and its toxic inhabitants.  Why do the Japanese react this way?  Because they read magazines wherein Paris is painted through rose-tinted glasses. They’ve essentially been sucked into the idealised depiction of Paris prevalent throughout Japanese advertising…and were oh-so disappointed by the apparent romantic illusion they’d conjured up in their naïve little brains.  This is by no means a criticism of Japanese people who suffer from Paris syndrome.  Rather, it is a dig at those who cause it.

Politeness and social graces?  Forget about it.  They’re harder to find than a needle in a haystack.  Want to give the exact change in a shop?  Don’t go there.  They’ll watch you count all your pennies and then refuse to accept them, taking your 20 euro note instead.  And then they’ll get pissed off that you don’t have 10 centimes to make a round figure.  Beats me.  In restaurants they tap frustratedly on their notepads while you place your order, then throw your food across the table, then have arguments about their wages in front of you, then put the bill on your table half way through your meal, then stare you out of your seat so that you feel uncomfortable and leave so their business can “thrive”.  In buses they refuse to answer your questions but instead stare out into the road, hoping you might just disappear like a fly stuck to the windshield.  In supermarkets they chat to their friends as they scan your purchases, refusing to look you in the eye.  

I was once in a café in the Jardin du Luxembourg with a friend when a waiter refused to serve us for nearly an hour.  He gave a typically Parisian, brute response of “j’arrive” whenever we tried to track him down, but he never did arrive.  After this considerably long wait, I huffed and puffed like one would on a cigar, and marched off, friend in tow.  It’s safe to say that they won’t be graced with my presence ever again.

One of my favourite experiences (I’m being unsarcastic for once) was in a US breakfast diner in Paris where they kept asking me if I wanted another refill on my "Cuppa Joe", checked the food was to our liking and made sure that we were happy little bunnies.  But in real Paris, you'll be lucky if the ketchup you ask for twenty times isn’t thrown across your table with a colossal splat.  Talking of ketchup, a waiter once dropped a tray next to me and “accidentally” flung ketchup and mayo onto me and my handbag.  Did he apologise?  Of course he didn't.  He just shrugged and went to clean up the floor as if nothing had happened.  

One time I was in Zara here and I went to the check-out.  I changed my mind last-minute but apparently it was "too late".  But I hadn't even paid yet so how could it be too late?  Are you telling me it's illegal to walk out of the shop empty handed just because you typed a few things into a till and tapped finish?  Not like I signed a contract on entry.  Just use the bloody backspace or start over again...the point is that you're supposed to give me an incentive to return, not a reason to never want to step foot in the store again.  Sheesh.

In the bank they refuse to serve you if you don't belong to that branch.  *Unless you kick up a fuss that is.*  But I'd watch yourself because you might get arrested if you don't stay on your guard.  I found it particularly amusing when a friend of mine recently went to her bank to take out some money - probably something short of 300 euros.  The bank genuinely told her this would not be possible.  The reason? "We don't have enough money to give you."  And you call yourself a bank?!  Point…defeated.
All in all, I am reminded of a scene from the Grinch where, shall we say, the Grinch expresses his contempt for the button-nosed Whos.  Trust me, I'd rather be shacked up with a bunch of Whos than Parisians.  But the sentiment is the same.

And the beautiful irony?  They think you're the rudest of all if you don't wish them "bon appetit" when they're eating a meal.

NB: For the nice Parisians out there (please come out of hiding and introduce yourselves!), I salute you! You're not all rotten :P But for pete's sake, please stop calling us Brits "les rosbifs"! Merci.

11 May 2013

London Tube vs Paris Metro

When we're not talking perpetually about the weather or complaining about French mannerisms, there's something we British expats love to discuss more than anything else: travel.  And by travel I don't mean jetting off to the Canary Islands, sipping cocktails on the Beach in Malibu, CA or telling relentless tales of what we got up to on our Gap Yahs.  I mean that ceaselessly boring system called public transport which involves coexisting in a confined space for what seems like an eternity.  No-one likes it; in fact, we all loathe it.  But in short of splashing our student loans on limousines and chauffeurs, we don't have much choice.

Public transport in Paris has become the bane of my life.  Why? Well, mostly because I rely on it too religiously which can only end in disappointment.  However, if you are in the habit of arriving hopelessly late for rendez-vous' with your friends, it can provide the perfect excuse for being en retard (French word for late, not "retard" à  la "The Hangover") to a lunch date or evening drinks.  I.e.: "Soooo sorry daaahling, but the metro has been at a standstill for the past twenty minutes and it's taking an aaage" - a typical text message written whilst applying that last lick of lipgloss in front of the mirror in your very cosy Parisian apartment.  Not once in the message have you said you are actually on the metro so you can be (slightly) forgiven for lying through your teeth.

But it seems that my British friends in Paris are divided between the Paris Metro and the London Tube, which got me thinking: which one is better?  Or, should I say, which one is the least crap?  The winner is in red!
  • The Tube has been operating since 1863 while the first metro line in Paris didn't open until 1900, with the core underground network completed by 1920.  Tube wins for its ripe old age.  It's so vintage it could pass as fashionable.
  • The Metro serves 33 more stations than the Tube, with an eye-popping figure of 303.  The Metro is also the second busiest underground system in Europe, after Moscow.  Metro wins for quantity of stations but loses to the Tube for being so busy!
  • Since last year, free wifi access has been available to customers on the Metro and using a mobile phone is quite the norm, while travellers in London are scraping the barrel for non-existent phone signal.  If you find yourself caught up in an underground strike or you are experiencing delays, the Tube is your worst enemy whereas the Metro phone coverage keeps you in the loop!  Metro wins for technology efficiency! 

  • The underground passageways in Paris are wider and more spacious than in London which often feels overwhelmingly claustrophobic.  The train ceilings in the Metro are also much higher and there are more places to sit.  Metro wins for space and comfort!
  • The Metro system is better connected and the trains tend to come more frequently (London's circle line via Liverpool Street must come about every 10-15 minutes which is shocking).  In Paris, you also don't get multiple trains heading in different directions on the same platform like you do in London (which can be confusing!)  Metro wins for efficiency and clarity!
  • I know London is much bigger than Paris which might explain why the distance between each station is so much longer, but it seems to take a decade to get anywhere!  Metro wins for speed. 

  • The closing of the Metro doors could lose you a leg if you're not careful because they're automatic and stop for nobody, and I mean nobody.  While they do give plenty of warnings about how quickly the doors shut through use of overhead tannoys and posters, I think the best solution would be to avoid overly violent door closure on the trains.  More than once have I seen someone almost get their head sliced in two and I've definitely had to haul my handbag through the gap on a number of occasions before the door squeezed the life out of it.  It may be irritating when the Tube doors open and close all the time but it definitely wins for passenger safety. 
  • The Metro is always breaking down, whether due to an "unwell passenger" or "technical problems" and the delays always occur at the worst possible moments.  At least they actually warn you in advance with the Tube since more often than not it's "planned engineering works" rather than "uh-oh, Houston we have a problem".  In London it's always the same suspects - for example, between Paddington and Edgware Road - while taking the Paris Metro is always a spontaneous adventure.  I.e. you know the train will break down somewhere, but when and where remains a mystery.  Metro loses for being unreliable while the Tube loses for non-stop maintenance.
  • The Metro stinks like crazy of urine and other foul matter and it's filled with homeless people asking for money, being sick, picking at their feet and rifling through bins.  It also seems to be the hide-out for perves and creeps whose hobbeys include staring at young women and attempting to feel them up or invite them for coffee.  We all know what that means.  Tube wins for classier clientele and cleanliness!
  • The way out signs for each Metro station are numbered and named and there are always close-up maps to help advise you which exit to take, unlike in London where you can waste valuable time waiting around at the wrong exit because they're unnamed and they decided to put a Starbucks at both ends (#takingthepiss). Metro wins for simplicity. 
  • The levels of pickpocketing are much higher on the Metro and bags are regularly getting slashed. Be careful of those little gypsy kids.  They'd make Oliver Twist's Fagan a happy man!  Tube wins for safety.  
  • The Tube is less jerky and you don't need to hold onto a railing for support unlike the Metro where people are always falling into strangers' laps and tripping over.  The French are also much less forgiving of these accidental slip-ups unlike the English who apologise all the time, even when it's clearly not their fault. I was once called a "putain" by a middle-aged French woman for accidentally knocking into her.  This can be translated to mean either "Damn it!" or "Whore!"  I'm hoping it was the former. Tube wins for better train drivers and less bitchy people.
  • To slightly follow on from my previous point, the French (or people in France) don't really understand the concept "personal space".  The Metro may be busy but that's no excuse for sticking your arm in someone's face, plunging your elbow into their back, stepping on their feet or wacking them in the face with your rucksack.  Being spatially aware is important; something a few people need to work on.  Tube wins for spatial awareness of clientele.
  • The Metro is much noisier and often makes horrible high-pitched shrieks when it moves. It's also brimming with annoying musicians who can't sing to save their lives who then attempt to play their out-of-tune instruments which only succeeds in bursting your ear drums.  Tube wins for being quieter.
  • Metro generally closes at 1.30am on weekdays and then an hour later at weekends while the Tube closes as early as midnight or 12.30am latest.  Metro wins for staying open for longer!
  • London's Oyster cards are rubbish compared to the Navigo cards available in Paris.  Travel in Paris isn't dirt cheap, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper than London as you pay a standard weekly or monthly fare which will get you unlimited travel unlike Oyster cards which rack up a hefty sum.  It works out at about £13/week for unlimited travel in Paris with the Navigo card while you can spend the same amount in two days on an Oyster.  Metro wins for value for money!

Metro: 8, Tube: 8

Ground-breaker:  Which one do I least want to have a mental breakdown on?  This is a hard one, but probably the Tube because English people tend to annoy me less than French people.

Maybe if we combined the good qualities from each underground service we'd be able to get a result which wasn't half-bad and we could name it either The Tetro or the Mube.  On second thoughts, the former sounds like an alien aircraft and the latter like a saggy man boob. 

Let me know your thoughts!

10 May 2013

French Bank Holidays in England

Exactly 4 months to go till I depart the belle city which is Paris for good and return to the Land of Eng!  While the majority of year abroad-ers have come to the end of their journey, I am in fact only 2/3 of the way through mine.  And how do I feel about this?  Not best pleased.  All my friends will have left by summer which will leave me with nothing but a broken heart.  I've contemplated various cures but they all seem to involve eating my body weight in sugary tarts and macaroons to get over this abhorrent loss.  But on the upside, I'll be able to epitomise the lone city-goer who has a penchant for visiting museums and art galleries with nothing but the clothes on her back, a map, and a worn rucksack. Cool, right?  And perhaps I'll meet Mr. Right somewhere, drooling over a few paintings of waterlilies.

So I'm currently in the UK because the leisure-loving French have given me quite a few mid-week bank holidays to while away my time!  So tadah!  My current whereabouts (i.e. slap bang in the middle of that notorious place better known as Essex) provides me with a paradoxical universe.  All I can see are fields and the only sounds blasting through my bedroom windows are that of birds chirping and the occasional distant lawn mower.  Sure makes a change from city life.

Earlier this week I went for a trip to the Suffolk coast with my friend Sam and we quite happily found ourselves sitting on a bench soaking up the serenity of our surroundings.  We then drove to a lake and the blissful peacefulness seemed incomparable.  The seething sun simmered the water as it gurgled on the mud banks. The gentle clap of a kayaker's paddles on the lake's surface gave a glorious swish as large ripples of water fell back into the vast body.  The essence of tranquility.  I'd never appreciated the countryside so much until that moment.

But it's not all countryside bliss: I've just come back from London.  The idea was to meet up with friends and soak up the sun in a park somewhere but this particular plan had to be readjusted because the only thing we'd be soaking up was the rain, and lots of it.   Instead we hit Caffe Nero for a panini and a hot drink, trying to perform masterclasses on our frizzing hair which was beyond hope.  So instead we squelched our way over to the British Museum to stare at some old books, Mexican pottery, Egyptian vases and Mummies.  To say I was having the time of my life would be an understatement.  And yes, I'm being sarcastic.  Another reason I was desperate to go to London was because I had to get my hair done.  I know that might seem a little excessive - to go to London for a haircut - but my hairdresser performs wonders and the very idea of trusting a French hairdresser is out of the question.  Wouldn't want to accidentally find myself with one of those risque side-shaves, dreadlocks or purple highlights.  Not that that is particularly common after walking into a French hairdressers, but you can never be so sure....

Watch this space.