Within the clichés were grains of truth. A few of them:
The smile: “Stop smiling,” Emily’s boss, Sylvie, commands. “People will think you are stupid.” Americans smile at strangers; Parisians do not, which helps explain why some Americans find Parisians rude.
The voice: “Why are you shouting?” a colleague asks when Emily makes her first presentation. Yes, Americans tend to speak much more loudly than the French. As a journalist accustomed to yelling on international calls, I had to be reminded by my two daughters to lower my voice on the Métro.
Perfume: Emily confesses that she is “not usually a perfume girl.” It’s true, perfume is integral to French ambience, and to the identity of many women here. “I want to get to know you better,” a female French friend said, after asking me what perfume I wear.
Work: “Are you crazy,” Sylvie tells Emily when she talks business at an evening reception. We are at a “soiree,” not on a “conference call,” she adds. In Washington, cocktail parties and dinners were thinly veiled excuses to buttonhole sources and get scoops. In Paris, evenings are for relaxation and social discourse. Work, if it is done at all, has to be sneaked in and barely noticeable.
To navigate Paris as an American is to be forced to slow down and embrace the process, ideally with a sense of humor.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next week.
To Ali Slagle for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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