(Published in The Malay Mail on 13 December 2013)
Lifting the lid on Parisian peculiarities was hatched by Olivier Giraud while working in America, where he honed both his impeccable Anglais and appreciation of cultural differences across the pond.
Olivier Giraud was told on countless occasions that Paris wasn’t ready for his one-man show “How to become Parisian in one hour?”. But the aspiring comedian was not one to back away from a challenge. Four years on, the 35-year-old Parisian has notched up 800 performances in Paris and across Europe giving those doubting theatre-managers a legitimate reason to raise their bushy eyebrows.
Giraud’s shameless instruction in English on how to blend seamlessly into the City of Light had everyone chortling in the packed rows of Théâtre des Nouveautés on Sunday evening. And if not laughing, they were squirming, for no part of Parisian life remained sacred under his penetrative eyes, including a simulated female orgasm Parisian-style (a scene that doesn’t easily translate to words), and how les femmes deal with male droop: an unforgiving eye, a “so” and a disapproving “tut-tut”. So rude; so Fren-ccch.
In his trademark black suit, and armed with little more than a contortionist’s face and a leather chair, he scooped up his audience of expats and tourists (from Chicago to Siberia) and Parisians (yes, some locals have a sense of humour), and led them on an eight-step journey on how Parisians conduct themselves in taxis, restaurants, while greeting, shopping, at the Eiffel Tower, in nightclubs, under-the-sheets and more.
Shopping: You have to watch this sketch http://oliviergiraud.com/ to get flavour of the cultural differences between shopping in H&M Paris versus any American based H&M. Don’t expect the “Hello my name is Kristi, how may I assist you today?”. But, if you were that lucky one-in-a-million shopper to receive a: “Can I help you?” here on Rue de Rivoli, the innate Parisian response is to stick their hand in the shop assistant’s face and bark: “Non, Je regarde!”. Or in other words: “Go and **** yourself!” Giraud explained. Ouch.
Greetings: Never hug, unless you are at a funeral when embraces are freely dispensed with the obligatory: “C’est la vie”. Parisians only ever greet with two kisses and the “kiss” involves “cheek brushing”, nothing more. Three or four kisses means: “They are from the south of France; they kiss more as they have nothing to do.” Giraud quipped.
Paris Metro: The key here is to look depressed at all times, ask doddery old ladies to shift out of the way, and “it’s every Parisian for themselves” on the train’s arrival. On no account should you offer your seat to the elderly or to pregnant women — “they fanned, so they stand!”.
Dress Code: How do you tell a Parisian man from a Parisian lady? You can’t. Forget the archetypal stripes Giraud advised: “They dress the same — black top and black or navy trousers. Perhaps if they are feeling a little crrr-a-zy: a grey top.” Scarves are unisex and de rigueur; come rain or shine. See a lady wearing a skirt in Paris? She’s an expat, and if it’s a miniskirt: “She must be from England”.
Restaurants: The only way to get service from the arrogant, grumpy ol’ gits that wait on tables is to match their rudeness with une forêt of hand gesticulations and alarmingly eyebrow gymnastics enough to give Jack Nicholson a run for his money.
Taxis: Any self-respecting Parisian knows the only way to flag down a taxi is to swear profusely and use traffic-stopping hand waving. Swearing reaches a crescendo once the third cab passes by them: “Putain, tu fais chier, merde!” The meaning of which is best left to Google Translate.
The rule by intimidation continues — gesticulating (hands, head, eyebrows the lot) at green lights to ensure the driver’s got his foot on the gas and making it clear they are Parisian: “So don’t cheat me and take me on winding routes”. Tourists travelling by taxis on the other hand, in their dreamy state, particularly when passing the Eiffel Tour (which Parisians mostly think is “merde” according to Giraud), will ask the driver whether they like Paris, to which they’ll reply “Non.” “Why not?” “Because it’s full of tourists…”
Ladies and nightclubs: Parisian ladies never take their purses to nightclubs as the gallant Parisian men always buy the drinks. To illustrate how Parisian ladies gain access to VIP clubs in Paris, he called upon a Korean lady (who, by design or otherwise, complemented the role-play by her very obvious lack of bra and tight top) to act out the essentials: wear heels (read Louboutins), purse your cherry-coloured lips and have your hands hovering over your hips as you confidently stride Parisian-catwalk-style. Then voilà, ma chérie; you’re sipping free Kir Royals within minutes.
And so, if you haven’t just crossed off Paris from your travel wish list, start perfecting your eyebrow-raising, opening your eyelids bush baby-wide and get those hand gesticulations warming up. For the good-old fashioned “Oh la la” ain’t gonna get you far in this city.