Now that I have had time to settle into Paris, and observe life from the perspective of resident rather than tourist, I want to touch on the effortless elegance and savoir fair that most Parisians seem to be blessed with. This series of tongue in cheek observations by a new comer (Moi!) does not in one bit diminish my love for this beautiful city and its people, I am just in awe of all of the style. Everyone looks pretty damn fabulous almost all of the time, apparently without any serious effort to do so (or so they would have you believe). They are just born with it I guess? “It” being a natural sense of style and taste, confidence and grace, and a certain way of carrying themselves which conveys that being fabulous is their birthright. Next to a Parisian you usually can’t help but feel like one of the ugly, haggard step sisters from Cinderella. I am pretty sure that I have actually started to grow a hump on my back since arriving.
Everyone tends to look at everyone else, sizing them up shamelessly. Men, women and children will all full-on stare at you, look you up, look you down, stare you in the eyes and repeat. If the general population agrees with how you look on a particular day, you can sense their silent approval. If not, you will have to endure a series of shriveling glances – until you go back home to put a little more effort into yourself before you have the nerve to hit the streets again…after all, it is the others who have to look at you, you silly Canadian boy you. What blows me away is that it takes me at least an hour to try to look like I didn’t put any effort into myself. You know, the perfectly messy hair, boots and jeans distressed just right, a scarf “casually” thrown on, the appropriate amount of designer stubble, and maybe I should roll up my sleeves and add that leather Fossil wrist strap? All while trying to make it look like I didn’t put any thought into it at all. Good grief!
When I met with the gentleman who I rented my apartment from early on a Sunday morning, he strutted up the street looking like he just walked out of a GQ photoshoot. He then proceeded to apologize for being so disheveled, as apparently he had just been on an all night bender and hadn’t even been home yet. Well fuck me, I could have sworn he just got back from a long weekend of beauty and rejuvenation at a spa, but apparently he pulls himself out of a ditch looking that way. Even when wearing something dressed down and casual, the Parisian still seems perfectly put together and accessorized, stylish and confident. It might be a wicked pair of boots with jeans and a simple shirt, a funky piece of jewelry or colorful glasses, but together it creates a look that is unique and chic. Another important part of the package is their gait. People here strut with heads held high and swagger galore. They more then “hold” their space…they own it.
One chilly and damp morning while out in the Saint-Germain neighborhood I decided that I should pop into one of the shops and buy a light scarf to keep warm. What followed was an “only in Paris” moment. After I selected a soft grey linen scarf that I wanted and paid for it, I asked the associate who was serving me to cut the tag off so I could wear it out. I then proceeded to put it on, using a European loop. Big mistake apparently. The gentlemen who just sold me the scarf gave me a withering look – along the lines of an expression usually reserved for eating really sour lemons. He then proceeded to come around the counter (leaving a line of customers waiting to pay for their goods) and walked me over to a full length mirror, while explaining that no one from Paris would wear their scarf this way anymore. He then spent a good 5 minutes with me trying different “casual” knots until he found one that he approved of, and only then was I allowed to leave the store with a satisfied “Abiento”.
It is not just about what you wear, but how you wear it and how you carry yourself. I was walking home yesterday when I just had to stop to admire a beautiful woman speeding past on a motorcycle. She was wearing sky-high stilettos and eating a baguette with one hand, while weaving in and out of heavy traffic with the other. Her beauty was about attitude and confidence as much as appearance. A moment later I noticed a woman ahead of me in her mid seventies with perfectly coiffured silver hair, dressed in a smart black blouse and skirt, but what really made it all pop was the sparkly pair of gold platform boots she was rocking with it. And yes, she was strutting. The older gentleman that she eventually met up with was wearing hot pink pants with a gorgeous navy blue suede blazer. As they seated themselves outside at a café, the waiter who came out was statuesque and handsome…does anyone ever look like shit?
Admittedly I have had a few fun moments that make me feel like I am becoming a wee bit Parisian by osmosis. I frequently have French people stopping me on the street to ask directions now – only to become super confused when I blurt out “Parles-vous Anglais?”. There are a few older ladies in my neighborhood who already recognize me, so ask at every opportunity if “they may cross the street under my protection”, happily grabbing my arm and clucking away about what an obliging young man I am. My favorite moment though came one warm evening, when I was enjoying a drink on the banks of the Seine like everyone else in Paris. A young couple next to me had brought a bottle of wine, but didn’t have anything to open it with. I pulled a heavy duty corkscrew out of my courier bag with an “Et voila” and saved the day. Sipping a glass of wine with them as reward for my chivalry, they chuckled at how French I was apparently becoming. I now never leave home without corkscrew, bottle opener and some travel cutlery, because you just never know when there might be something delicious to eat or drink, do you? Mon dieu…there may be hope for me yet!