Sunday, January 8, 2012

Why Paris Hates Me (or, How The French Are Not Like Us)

Paris is full of ghosts.
I think I picked some up when I was over at Pere LaChaise staring at Oscar Wilde’s grave. I think they snuck into my pockets and now they follow me around this gorgeous town, purposely thwarting me at every turn.
First day in Paris, my computer crashes, erasing all of my writing, films I’ve made, music I’ve collected, and pictures of my life.
Yes. EVERYTHING. I stare out the window. I know the Seine River is a short hop away from my borrowed flat.
I will go to the beautiful bridge, the Pont Neuf, and throw myself into the black churning waters below.
I resist the urge of early suicide, and opt, like a proper bartender would, to start drinking as soon as possible.  I go to the bar.  I seek the comfort, the camaraderie, the essential bond between us serving class.
                The bartenders are not like us.
                They could give a shit. As we all know on the receiving end of shitty tippers from Europe, they do not work for tips like we do. Which means they don’t have to be nice to you. Especially if you don’t speak their language, which I do not. In fact, my French is so bad, I get looks of offense merely by speaking.  As a man used to getting by because of the ‘talk’, I am rendered completely useless, a creepy foreign loser, trying to write at the bar, meekly staring at people, unable to communicate. I run into some Americans (which you wouldn’t think would be the thing you want, but after the urge of suicide washes through your blood, it’s nice to shoot to shit with some tourists in English) and we proceed to get fucking hammered. Luckily, they are rich and pay for everything.  
Ah, the essential kindness of the Average American (until we have to bomb your country).       
I wake up the next morning in my borrowed flat, and attempt to use the borrowed computer.
The Internet doesn’t work. Fuck. Barrier Two.
I look at the time on my cell, which also doesn’t work.
Barrier Three.  
I am running out of the initial Euros I took out at the airport. I head over to the ATM machine and try to take out money. The ATM, rudely in French, spits out my card. It explains there is a ‘le probleme’. I go to the next bank. Another ‘le probleme’. Okay, now I’m really losing my shit.
Barrier Four.
No money, no phone, no friends out here, no text, no Facebook, no Internet, no writings, all welling up in my throat, TOTAL DISCONNECTION. I storm around the streets, tears welling in my eyes, about to lose my shit and beat down the first French man that snides in my general direction.
I get back to the borrowed flat and find some Dewers. A bottle. This is also borrowed, and I appropriately kill half the thing. The thoughts come, reflecting how utterly connected we are in America. The phone, the texting, the computer, it all keeps us, like a bosomy Mother, wrapped in her digital arms.
The alcohol soothes me now. I pick up the borrowed landline and call my bank, which I believe I threatened the life of a phone operator (sorry, whoever you are) and demand access to my money. Of course, they explain, in typical monotone friendliness, “Sir, you must alert us to your leaving the country.”
“I’m going to alert you to murder if you don’t give me my fucking money.”  
“Well, Sir, let me transfer you to our credit fraud department and they will help you.”
I imagining the foreign minutes cost I’m charging to this borrowed phone. I imagine my Generous Friend who allows me this flat will want to stab me when he looks at the phone bill.
“Credit Fraud Department, how may we be of service?” Like a fucking plastic voice, Barbie’s on the other end of the phone, twirling the wire cord, thinking about Ken’s smooth, lack of penis, groin.
“Murder,” I tell her.
“Excuse me, Sir?”
They make me answer all of these questions. I know they are just trying to help. That’s how they roll in America. Save you from yourself. In France, you walk near the edge of a bridge, you could fall off, jump, what have you, that’s your ass. The European Way. If you’re an idiot, they will let you be that. In America, on that same bridge, we will build giant gates to protect the idiot from falling off. If you don’t believe me, look at the Williamsburg Bridge next time you’re on it. In Paris, they’ll let you jump.
The French are not like us.
I finally get my money and burst back out onto the streets. I stumble into Le Chameleon. A dive bar. Or at least, as much as Paris has to offer of one. Out here, you couldn’t get a shot and a beer special if your life depended on it. They just look very confused when you drink heavily.
One French bartender, Nora, looks at me with slight disgust when I throw back a glass full of wine down my throat.
“Why do you do this?” she asks, all French and beautiful.
“It’s been a rough day.”
The concept of the drunkard is odd here. Maybe they had 2,000 years to get used to the idea. They don’t really have guns like we do. They don’t leer at women in a bar like the men do in America. It’s FAR different from the reputation of French Men being particularly lecherous. Maybe the lecherous ones are the guys who travel more, the ones we end up meeting in America when they are tourists. Most of the French guys I’ve met here have been total gentlemen. They are a ‘civilized’ bunch. And the women are the same. They have charm. They discuss politics. They are goofy. What a refreshing change from the stoic, man hungry, money obsessed, heavy booted, rigid typical New York Woman! These girls out here expect you to talk, not just ‘be cool’. And much to my displeasure, I cannot speak well here.  
Williamsburg and Paris couldn’t be more different places (which I will save for future blogs).
Nudity is everywhere. In the ads, on TV. They just don’t give a shit. Nora again explains:
“You Americans are all obsessed with Tits and Guns. We don’t care here. Sex is normal.”
She’s not being a bitch. She pretty correct on that front.
I forget my troubles. The nights get wild. I’m drunk by the Pantheon (they bury famous dead Frenchmen there). I’m drunk, pissing near Hemingway’s Doorway. I’m drunk, back at the Pont Neuf, truly mesmerized by the beauty of the Seine, and the night, and the madness I had been through.
Suddenly, it all becomes clear. All that matters is this paper and pen. All that matters is this bottle of wine I’m drinking that costs like 60 cents. All that matters are these beautiful winding, snake-like streets that will make you lost every time and not even care.
Paris is full of ghosts, and they have guided me around this city for weeks now. They come to my dreams, they speak in my ears and hide in my pockets.
Back in Brooklyn, yeah, I know what’s going on. I’ve got some angles.        
Out here in Paris:
The Bartender Doesn’t Know Shit.          





  1. Fucking loved this post. I know, what they call bridges in Europe? That's like a High-dive platform. I tried to explain this in London - "No! I want something I can kill myself with." Again, the confused looks. Dude wouldn't even hold the bottle of scotch while I went swimming. Love that place. No safety net sue, but it's like no safety net in the Ronald McDonald playhouse.

    I just had my first beer for breakfast. Happy Sunday my friend. We should share adventure stories soon.

  2. Though I am laughing (albiet in a braying manner that makes me feel sadist and I am sorry for that) this is a touching and poignant piece. Hope the living essentials are improving. Wondrously Faustian. Here! Here!


  3. Embrace my friend... embrace.

  4. You'll live my friend, laptop or not. Enjoy Europe and learn as much as u can. Few Americans get the opportunity to experience the old world first hand in their lives. Bring back the best of it when u return home. Good luck and have fun. That's why you're there right? ;)