Everyone told me the French would be rude. Maybe I’m used to rude, cuz I thought they were lovely.
People especially warned me about French cab drivers. They told me that they would cheat me, and be mean in the process. They certainly cheated me. I took three or four cab rides to and from the same neighborhoods during my stay, and paid a staggering variety of fares, but they were very polite during the stick-up.
Here is an example:
Ma Smash and I climb into a cab at our hotel in the ninth district, and tell the driver, a rather adorable and fairly cheerful native Parisian, that we would like to go to the first district, where we’re meeting my Dad and Mrs. Piddlington. The driver is listening to an alternative station. The band he’s listening to sounds familiar, but I can’t place them.
“Hey, who is this?” I ask him.
“It is … the Eels. You know this band? The Eels?”
“Oh, yeah. OK.”
“You like them?”
“Sure. They’re on that big long list I have, of bands I should be listening to but can never think of when I’m shopping.”
“Yes. They’re good.”
“Ah. Oui. Very good. Can I ask you something?”
“You understand what they are saying?”
“Yes. I mean … yes.”
He smiles at me in the rearview mirror. “Good for you!” As if I’ve accomplished something by understanding my native language.
“If they were singing in French, I’d have no idea,” I confess.
He shrugs, and makes that exploding noise that all French people make — like he’s blowing a bubble and a raspberry at the same time. His meaning is clear: Why would we be listening to some French band? We can listen to the Eels!
I’m charmed by this, because I am a sucker. I decide I will compliment his city, to pay him back for complimenting “my” band. “I love Paris,” I tell him, sort of lamely. “I don’t ever want to leave.”
“How long are you staying?”
“A week is perfect. Two weeks? Too much. You would be bored.”
All around us are the most gorgeous white stone apartment buildings with little wrought iron balconies filled with flowers. People on bikes, wearing berets — no shit! — and carrying the world’s happiest dogs in their baskets. Fluffy white clouds in a clear blue sky. Cobblestones. The Lourve looming before us. The Eiffel Tower in the distance. Bored?
“A week is enough,” he repeats, and puts out his palm for his fare, which may or may not be too much. “Enjoy Paris.” This last as though he was saying “Enjoy Des Moines.”
I tell you, no one is happy.