I remember on my first trip to Paris, how our wise tour manager vehemently warned us about the Parisian men before our first excursion into the city. You see, she had first hand knowledge. Being a gorgeous blond, French-speaking Australian, she had plenty of experience fending off the natives. She said that they would not be shy and aloof like the men in London had been. She said they would definitely approach us and would probably not leave easily. She said we should seek her assistance if we were having a particularly hard time with any of them. And so, on our night out to the Moulin Rouge and neighboring bar district, we eventually had to employ her services.
However, when that entire tour group was at the top of the Eiffel Tower for an hour and my scared bum was down on the ground waiting for them, she was not there to save me from my potential Parisian suitor. I could not walk away since I was waiting for the group and it was late at night anyway. He clearly wasn’t going to leave. So I had to withstand almost an hour of his flirtation attempts, all in French, which is odd since most of the younger generation in Paris speak English pretty well. I snapped a picture to prove this really happened, thinking that it was some sort of anomaly at the time.
I do not tell this story to brag. For it is actually not that much of a compliment to be hit on by Parisian men. You see they hit on everyone. From you to your friends to your mother and probably your grandmother if she were here. They have made flirting an art form as highly skilled and perfected as Impressionism. They have no shame, no fear of rejection, and probably no expectation that their flirting will achieve anything.
I read an article on the difference between a British man and a French Man, and for the purposes of this article, I will lump American men in with the British. The author said that British men are only taking the time to flirt with you if they have a particular end result in mind. For a French man, the end result is flirting in and of itself. Don’t get me wrong, they would probably love to get more, but do they really expect anything from a busy metro “oooh la la”? Probably not.
Apparently all this confidence and swagger comes from years upon years of practice. Like any fine-tuned skill, they start young and practice regularly. I was on a guided tour of the city a few weeks ago when a group of pre-teen boys began shouting at our group from an overhead bridge. They wanted to send all of their love our way. Perhaps the only difference between the 12 year old flirts to the 22 year olds are that they haven’t learned how to properly flirt with foreigners in English yet. Their day will come.
On another walk, all by myself this time around, a class of pre-teens walked past and every single boy said “bonjour madame” or “bonjour mademoiselle” to me. The girls were stoic and silent. I wonder which girl’s boyfriend got the silent treatment that afternoon? This does bring an interesting question to light. Surely they stop flirting if they are in a relationship, no? Can you really halt something that has been ingrained in your character since birth?
When I started telling friends and family that I was moving to Paris for 2 months, everyone (well ALMOST everyone) had the same response, “You are going to meet a French guy, fall in love, and never come home.” I tried pleading my case at the time, but nobody would listen. Maybe now, with 2 days left in Paris and no man in sight, they will believe me. It’s not that I think it’s hard to find love in Paris. I’m sure with all those immaculately-coiffed, smooth-talking men in the city that prides itself on being one of the most romantic in the world, love comes easy for some. If you want to meet a French man, all you have to do is arrive in Paris and simply walk down the street. Before you know it, you’ll be making out on metros and hanging love locks off the Pont des Arts. But I said it before and I’ll say it again, the French man isn’t really my type. I made friends with several French guys and I hope that if they read this, they won’t take it personally. Just not my style, and certainly I think my friends and family should know me well enough to understand that.
At one point my host parents asked the million-euro question, “So what is the difference between men in France and men in America?” How does one answer this truthfully without being offensive? Luckily, my host dad is Spanish and on more than one occasion has insisted that if I want to find a good man, I must travel to Spain. I’ve been to Spain and loved EVERYTHING that the country had to offer but, alas, this post is about French men, not Spanish. I skirted around the question as much as possible and finally settled on the generic stereotypes that French men care much more about their appearance and fashion than American guys. And that American men are much less confident in the initial approach stage and will often times look for a sign of interest before they come up to talk to you. We have already determined that this is not the case with the French.
What I would have loved to say but didn’t have the guts to is that I like “manly” men and the French just don’t seem to be all that manly to me. At least not in the sense that I’m used to back home in Ohio. No words would have been necessary for this answer if I had just shown my host parents a picture that popped up on Facebook a few days later. It was of my brother and his friends after completing a Tough Mudder. First of all, the fact that they did a 12 mile obstacle course through fire, freezing cold water, and trenches all while voluntarily being electrocuted does not sound all that Parisian. Then you take into account that in the picture they are holding beers and wearing their uniform of choice which includes American flag shorts and t-shirts that read “Back to Back World War Champs.” In this case, the picture might have been worth more than 1000 words.
With my return to America imminent, I only have a few days left of the famous Parisian male attention. While usually annoying and outrageous, I can’t pretend it isn’t slightly flattering at the same time. I’m afraid it will take me a while to realize that just because random strangers aren’t hooting and hollering at me in Ohio doesn’t mean I’ve lost “it”.