#1908 The facts of life – Paris edition

Waiting for a Métro train at my local stop. Photo: Katherine Lowe

1. We all know that double-cheek-kissing-as-a-greeting is de rigueur in Paris. But that doesn’t mean it’s not confusing. You always kiss friends when you meet them, regardless of gender. You sometimes kiss friends of friends when you’re being introduced, less often if you’re a guy and they’re a guy, but it still happens. You shouldn’t kiss police officers, even if you’re asking for directions. And – this I learned the hard way – you never, ever kiss the cleaning lady when you see her on the street. Cue extreme embarrassment for all concerned. My roommates now call me DSK.

2. One of life’s little pleasures involves going to clubs and watching people sing along to famous American songs. It is literally amaaaaazing what they come up with when they don’t know the real words.

3. Unlike New Zealanders, the French are very, very definite in their opinion of what’s cool or uncool. I’m constantly being told, “Oh, we ate that in France,” or, “In France, zat is so cool.” Lady Gaga, I’m told, is not cool here (not that it stopped the gay pride revelers from enjoying Born This Way 17 times in a row last Saturday). Neither is Inception – I guess the Parisians didn’t enjoy their city being shot through an American’s lens. But in an extraordinarily unexpected twist of fate, every French person I’ve talked to recently loves The Ghost Whisperer. I try to tell them Jennifer Love Hewitt did her best work on Party of Five but they just will not listen.

4. MDR is French for LOL. I use it in text conversation as often as possible and the recipients never fail to tell me how incredibly, unbelievably, insanely lame I am for doing so. MDR.

5. I have no idea how long I’m allowed to stay in this country for (I should probably look that up), but when you arrive from another European city like I did (Milan), the customs officials don’t even check your passport. How is anything monitored on this continent??

6. I’m trying to learn a new piece of French every day. Today’s gleaning: faux amis. It’s when words are spelt the same in English and French but mean two completely different things i.e. pain – in English it means ouch, en francais it means bread; pet – in English it means a domestic animal, en francais it means to bash or fart. Yesterday I learned the expression used when girls wear too-short skirts. I won’t repeat it here because it contains a French obscenity, but one of the words, ras, means borderline. I can say borderline in French! If that’s not an achievement, I don’t know what is.

7. The lady at the bakery downstairs from my house hates me. I’ve been buying baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolats and sandwiches off her for three years now, and every time I walk in the door she shakes her head, gives me a dirty look and forces her assistant to serve me. The reason – the first time I went in there I bought about seven items and asked for a bag. She began lecturing me in French – like only the French can – about how rude it is to ask for a bag. Who knew? I have six weeks to win her over. Sadly, I don’t fancy my chances.

8. It’s no wonder Quasimodo had a giant hunchback. With the amount of dog crap on the footpaths here, you’d be crazy not to spend your life bent over horizontally making sure you don’t step in any.

9. Ce n’est pas Francais, mais écouter cette chanson. C’est incroyable.

10. For a little vintage Isaac Likes action, the second time I came to Paris I stayed with Jordan and Anouk Rondel at their elderly grandparents’ house. Three days into my SIX WEEK VISIT, I broke the front door, locking everybody out for about four hours. It was the middle of winter and absolutely freezing outside. You can’t even imagine the level of awkwardness I felt. Looking back, I would now pinpoint that moment as both the beginning of the end of my relationship with Jordan, and the closest I ever came to murdering a teenage girl (Anouk). Read all about it here.


share on TumblrShare on FacebookPin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter


  1. Thejanelleburger says

    The most annoying thing about kissing on cheeks is when you’re in a big group of people. You then have to kiss each and every one of them on the cheek. If you have 10 people thats 20 kisses all up. I’ve been here 3 years now and I just wave to everyone if its a large group. So much easier and my friends don’t mind it…maybe because I’m not French?

    Also, that lady at your bakery sounds like a whorenun. There is NOTHING wrong with asking for a sac! Just do it, I mean if you have a lot of things to pack and no bag I think its rude of them not to offer.

    If you’re from NZ I think you get 3 months tops in Euroland. The NZ government can track you down if they really wanted to. Or when you come home they could check dates when you arrive home and give you a fine? No idea. See how long you can go without being caught.

  2. Km Marks says

    I’m a new-zealander in France too…. laughed so much at this post… “La Bise” is just so awkward. French people are so peculiar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *