Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down [Books]
A self-described Francophile, Rosecrans Baldwin always dreamed of living in Paris—drinking le café, eating les croissants, walking in les jardins—so when the opportunity to work as a copywriter for an advertising agency in Paris presented itself, he couldn’t turn it down. Despite the fact that he had no experience in advertising. And despite the fact that he wasn’t exactly fluent in French.
Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down is a nimble, comical account of observing the French capital from the inside out. It is an expedition into the Paris of Sarkozy, smoking bans, and a McDonald’s beneath the Louvre—the story of an American who loves Paris all out of proportion, who loves every beret and baguette cliché, but who finds life there to be very different from what he expected. At first, it’s just the joy of running across the lingerie section in the hardware store, but over the next eighteen months, Rosecrans must rely on his American optimism to get him through some very unromantic situations—at work (where he discovers a shockingly long-honored Parisian work ethic), at home (where his wife, who works at home, is dismayed not just by his hours but by the active construction that surrounds their apartment on five sides), and everywhere in between.
An offbeat, up-to-date, surprising entry in the expat canon, Paris, I Love You is a book about a young man who witnesses his preconceptions replaced by the oddities of a vigorous, nervy city—exactly what he needs to uncover a Paris of his own, and fall in love with the city all over again.
Part of an excerpt, from GQ:
In a new office, you tried to play it clean. You kept your head down and went about your work while attempting to fit into the groove, pure and cool. Except here in Paris there were rituals beyond my understanding.
First off, I did not know whom to kiss.
Each day I'd wake up at five a.m. to work on my novel, eat a small breakfast with Rachel at seven, and be out the door in order to arrive at my desk by eight-thirty and be ready, fretting with low-lying dread, to give and to receive les bises (kisses).
Office culture in Paris held that it was each person's responsibility, upon arrival, to visit other people's desks and wish them good morning, and often kiss each person once on each cheek, depending on the parties' personal relationship, genders, and respective positions in the corporate hierarchy. Then you moved on to the next desk.
Not everyone did it, but those who did not were noticed and remarked upon.
So first a polite bonjour, walking through the room and repeating it at each chair, bonjour, bonjour, salut, bonjour. If someone arrived late and needed to get straight into a meeting, they might let out a big bonjour for the group. For example, André did this a lot, blazing through the office at ten a.m. with his collar popped, shouting a giant, angry BON-JOUR, like a battle cry. And the room would reply in one voice, BON-JOUR, at the same time that he slammed shut his door.
But then there were the bises, which were conditional.
In French class, I did well in spoken tests, but my written French was appalling. The conditional tense confused me, and the French loved the conditional tense, French conversation practically being founded on relativity—perhaps, maybe, I don't know. In kissing, some people were ripe, others were not. Whole groups could be off-limits.
It definitely wasn't appropriate to kiss your boss, except when it was, though it was correct to kiss your underlings, except when it wasn't. Young men generally didn't kiss other young men, unless they were friends outside work. But older men did, sometimes. You never knew. Also, these kisses were intended not to touch the cheek but to glance it. People kept their eyes locked on the middle distance and seemed, while kissing or being kissed, very bored.
Honestly, I had no idea how it worked. There was one woman, an Italian down the hall, who visited us at ten-fifteen each morning, making loud smooching sounds even before she entered the room; then she'd deliver long-drawn, suction-fueled bises all around: on Julie's cheeks, Françoise's cheeks, Tomaso's cheeks, Olivier's cheeks. Even my cheeks, once we were introduced. But it wasn't always done. Maybe four days out of five, but that fifth day . . .
September found me frequently biseing inappropriately. Male clients, IT support workers, freelance temps. Any female who came within ten feet. They'd return my weird kisses reluctantly, or else back away and attempt to ignore the gaffe. I asked Pierre how he knew whom to kiss, whom not. Pierre said there was no way of knowing this unless you'd grown up in France, then you just knew. He himself preferred to shake hands.
André overheard Pierre saying this and suggested, in that case, Pierre should move "the fuck" back to New York.
Gradually I learned to bise in the local mode. There weren't any guidelines, just intuition. It required months of calibration. I mimicked Pierre and Chloe, the way other young people around Paris went into kissing each other: regretfully, with a forced, resigned air, as if playing out an obsolete ritual. The procedure by which teenage athletes in America lined up to shake hands: nice game, kiss kiss, whatever.