The Error of my (Parisian) Ways

At the risk of beating a dead cheval, I had an experience this morning I had to share. It sums up so much about what it’s really like to live here: to educate our kids in French schools, to eat in their restaurants, shop in their stores, partake of their services. So here goes.

Every year, the schools offer after-school enrichment courses in activities like chess, theater and ping pong. (The array of choices is perhaps a subject for another time. Ahem.) Called les ateliers bleus, enrollment is limited, closely regulated and happens only once a year. Miss that one day to submit your application and sorry, you’re s.o.l. After being convinced that what they call “mime” (think Marcel Marceau) is actually what we think of as theater or drama for six and seven-year-olds, I convinced Cole to give it a try. Some of his pals had enrolled and the additional hit of French vocabulary and grammar couldn’t hurt.

So I dutifully completed the registration form, submitted it as instructed to the school director personally and assumed all was well for Cole’s future on the French stage. Mais non, madame. Not so fast.

A morning check of the updated enrollment list revealed no “Cole Frost” among the participants. And yet there were clearly slots remaining. Merde. So I steadied myself, threw my shoulders back and approached the school director.

“Good morning, monsieur. Excuse me for disturbing you but I wondered if there were still places available for mime on Thursdays?” (I knew there were, of course.)

Ah, non. I don’t think so madame. And it is much too late to enroll. Did you submit your form?”

“Well, yes, in fact, I gave it to you personally on Tuesday and from the list it appears that there are still a few spots available…non?”

Hmmm, paper shuffle, paper shuffle. Having not found my enrollment form, he leveled me with a look. “You wrote the wrong day on your form. That must be it. Is that possible, madame?”

So here I had a critical choice to make: Insist I had written the correct date, thereby implying that the error was his or, fall on my sword, agree that the mistake was entirely my own and probably score a spot for Cole in the class.

I did the latter. Why? Because there’s no use in arguing with a Parisian. A Parisian is always right. And unless you’re game for a serious verbal joust (which they adore), it’s easier just to admit defeat, claim errors you didn’t make and leave it at that.

“Well, yes, monsieur, it’s quite possible that I wrote the wrong date. Forgive me for my mistake.”

Bon! Pas de probleme, madame!

Cole starts mime next week.


6 thoughts on “The Error of my (Parisian) Ways

  1. I feel like I've read this in every book written for expats but I'll never really *learn* it till I come face to face with it like you have (and more importantly be willing to fall on my sword as you say). SUCH an interesting culture… šŸ™‚

  2. Hi Lynn – The idiosyncrasies of French culture definitely keep life interesting! I find that as long as I hang on to my sense of humor, life here can be such a joy. It's when I cling to my Anglo expectations that things can get complicated. šŸ™‚ Thanks for commenting!

  3. Hi Nina – A good verbal joust with the French can be great. (As long as we remember the rules and don't take it too seriously!) I do believe it's all a game to them. Wining an argument (or at least not losing) seems a vital part of la culture francaise. Thanks for commenting,

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