I like to think I'm a nice person. I say hello, I say goodbye, I say please and thank you. I used to smile at people for no reason in the street until I realized that the French think that's creepy at which point I stopped. I move (most of the time) for old ladies in the metro and I always give up my seat for a mother with her child. Even when I'm in a Pepto Bismol Head mood I am friendly to people I don't know.
Some people may call this being nice even when I'm irritated as being faux cul - quite literally, a fake ass. Faux culs have been around since the time of Louis XIV when the women tacked on a fake booty as a means to seduce. Since hypocrisy was the name of the game back in Louis' day, the term has now come to designate someone as a hyprocrite - a faux cul - a fake ass.
To the French, Americans are the worst faux culs in the world - they go to a restaurant in the states and are greeted with HimynameisCindyandIamgoingtobeyourservertoday! And it takes all of their strength to keep down their burger and fries. They think of themselves as being more honest - more expressive of what they are truly feeling. A typical French waiter does not tell you his or her name, they may not even say hello. You come in, you sit down, you eat, and aurevoir. If they are nice they may ask you how the food tasted - but really they don't give a flying cuss.
I have mixed feelings about the faux cul - after six years in France, I beg to differ with the consensus that the Americans are the worst. The way the French faux cul is expressed may be different - but the essence, the hypocrisy, is still alive and well. Most French people (and I notice this primarily in bakeries for some reason) have a strong hold on the concept and have mastered the overly-polite tone that when paired up with just the right condescending phrase creates the ultimate faux cul in all of it's glory. The real masters can even mix one truly asshole sentence into the exchange, hitting you with a double whammy faux cul! You don't even see it coming! They serve you the faux cul on a platter and wrap it up in a sing-songy Merci Madame, Aurevoir! bow at the end of the conversation.
What it comes down to is that the French faux cul is just more complex than the American one. They manage to use a certain tone all while saying words that mean just the opposite - it's almost a wonder to watch them in action. Despite my complete and total irritation with the French faux culs, somehow I wish there were more of them in Paris. For some reason the Parisians don't even have the energy for faux cul-ness - they just get straight to the ugly point:
You want to have a drink? Well sit over there because that table in the nice area is for 4 people and there are only 2 of you! Vous comprenez Madame! C'est comme ça - je ne peux pas faire autrement. You understand Madame, that's how it is and I can't do it any other way.
Where I would like to be able to smile and say something equally as cutting as any well-trained Frenchman, I find myself letting out a big sigh and then an irritated oh la la! mais n'importe quoi! fly out of my mouth instead. This reaction is certainly not American and only borderline French. My friends, I think it might just be Parisian.
The Parisians cut in line, they push each other and they yell at you to open the metro door when you wait 2 seconds too long. They just don't have time to be faux cul.
And so mes amis, I am torn. As an American, I seek out the smiling face. I want to offer to help someone lug their suitcase up the metro stairs. I lend my cell phone to the poor foreigner whose credit card gets eaten by the ATM. I take a moment to savor every random act of kindness that I observe here because they are so rare. And so, in this city where being kind is such a rarity, I appreciate a little faux cul every once in a while - at least pretending to be nice is better than not pretending at all - right?
And yet, there is a Parisian in me just aching to get out! I want the grandma pushing 80 to WALK FASTER through the metro corridor! I want to be the next person served! I don't want the table by the bathroom door at the restaurant!
oh la la! mais n'importe quoi!