What’s With All These Old People?

Ever have that moment at a party or playground when you think, “Everyone here looks really old. What’s with all these middle-aged people?” And then you realize, “Oh right, these people are my age. They don’t just look middle-aged. They are middle-aged.”

And guess what, Paige. So are you.

Yes, I do talk to myself this way. (People would be horrified by how not nice I am to myself.) Anyway, it’s true. Whenever I use the term “middle-aged” with friends, they get annoyed or roll their eyes. “Paige, we’re not middle-aged..” We’re not? Really? How long do you think we’re going to hang around here? I’m staring down the proverbial barrel at my 43rd birthday and if I’m very lucky, rounding the middle of my life’s bend. That’s not bad news. It’s simply the truth.

There are so many ways in which getting older is fabulous. The hard-fought wisdom. The I-simply-can’t-be-bothered-to-give-a-toss-about-that anymore attitude (over things that would have crippled me a decade ago). But that’s not what this post is about. This is about what sucks about it. Sorry. But some of it does.

First, in France, the “madame” thing. I am obviously well within the age territory where being called “madame” (instead of the coveted “mademoiselle“) should be entirely expected. And it is. But here’s the truth: Hearing it still stings the teeniest, tiniest bit.

And on the increasingly rare occasions when someone slips me a “mademoiselle,” oh la la, la joie! It’s absurd. I fall instantly, madly in love with whomever has said it and leave that encounter evaluating exactly what caused the error. Did I dab on extra eye cream last night? Does my leather jacket say “fun and youthful”? Is that poor fool near-sighted?

It’s ridiculous. Particularly when you consider that the moniker “mademoiselle” actually has nothing directly to do with age. It’s intended use is for unmarried women. (Think what you will). Any woman, once married — be she 19 or 39 — becomes a “madameapres le mariage and technically remains a “mademoiselle” until that day comes. And if it never does? She’s a “girl” for life. (There’s practically a whole movement here devoted to abolishing the word. But I digress.)

I still remember my early days in Paris, newly married and ready to shout from the rooftops about my happily wedded status. I was 30 and heard the very occasional “madame.” Back then, I thought it was great. Silly, silly girl.

Of course all this pales compared to the real stuff. The skin that doesn’t fit quite like it used to. The achy lower back that won’t go away. The realization that I might be too old for some trends, like city shorts worn over opaque tights or those Isabel Marant high-heeled tennis shoe things. (Okay, so maybe those are bad ideas anyway).

I take heart in the idea that French women age pretty well. (Yes, I know I’m not French. Details, details.) I’m often awed by the elegant older women I see in Paris, dressed impeccably, hair just so. Rarely dowdy or worse, desperately clinging to looks that are far below their years. They seem confident, lovely and still very much engaged in the French game of life-as-seduction.

                                                   From left: A. Devlin/Press Association; R. Duvignau/Reuters; Kamel Lahamadi. (NYTimes.com)

Not bad role models for a middle-aged girl like me, eh?
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Want to read more about the French game of la seduction? Here’s a post I wrote a while back for the HipParis blog. Hope you like it.


The Apple Store in Paris: If at First You Don’t Succeed…

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When in Paris, never, ever, accept “non” for an answer. Or at least not the first “non” you hear. Why? Because despite what we were taught in high school, a “non” in Paris doesn’t really mean “no” at all.

What it actually means is, “how bad do you want it?”

Here’s what I mean. Yesterday, I spent my afternoon at the Apple Store near the Opera Garnier. Thanks to my seven-year-old, my Macbook started its day in a bath of hot, milky coffee and subsequently refused to cooperate. After a quick Google search (“coffee on Macbook”) revealed a dizzying number of DIY fixes and photos of laptop innards, I opted for professional assistance.

So there I stood, on Apple’s old-Paris-meets-new-millenium threshold, my caffeinated computer in hand. I headed for the “Genius Bar,” having read that this was the place for service and repairs. Dozens of blue T-shirted techies hovered about, toting iPads and chatting with one another. I approached a pair of customer service reps. Could I speak to someone about possible computer repair? Blank stare. Repairs? Here? Non, non, non. You must make a rendezvous online, madame, to speak to someone about computer repair. Oh, I see. So even though I’m here now, talking to you, with my computer in my bag, I have to go online and make a rendezvous to come back to talk to you? Oui! He motioned to a bank of iPads on sleek blond wood tables and suggested I email him for my rendezvous. Oh, and there was a two week wait for repair appointments. Desole.

I felt dazed. Had I fallen into a parallel universe? Why was he forcing me to go online (not five yards from where we stood) to do something we could easily achieve in four seconds face-to-face? I tensed up and turned for the door, picturing my poor Mac in the tobacco-stained hands of the non-licensed repair guy I was sure I could find on CraigsList.

But no! This is Paris, I reminded myself. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

I would regroup, apply fresh lip gloss and deploy my feminine charms (admittedly faded though they may be for twenty-something computer guys). I scanned the blue T-shirted techies anew and identified my target. And this time, I brought a fresh, French approach.

Bonjour! Ca va? I know it’s a lot to ask but I was hoping you could help me? I’m sure this happens all the time but I was at a cafe and spilled coffee on my computer…you must see that all the time, non? I thought so…Oh, me? I’m from la Californie originally. I know, I love it there, too. The beach! And the people are so nice! Really, you think so? That’s so nice of you to say. I’m still working on my accent but I’m glad you like it…

I was shameless. I even grazed his arm as he led me to the Genius Bar.

Twenty minutes later, I sauntered out into the Paris afternoon, my computer in the able hands of my Apple technician, his (modest) repair estimate tucked inside my bag. I wasn’t sure whether to feel proud of myself or the tiniest bit dirty. Mostly I felt grateful for that Balenciaga fragrance I’d spritzed at Sephora before I hit the Apple store. Everyone knows the French are suckers for a little seductive scent.