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Oxymoron: Lessons on Effective Behavior From Parisians

Paris as seen from the Montparnasse by Ros_K on Flickr

Ever heard about the Paris syndrome?

It is what Wikipedia beautifully refers to as “a transient psychological disorder.”

Long story short, it’s a matter of people’s expectations going down the drain upon visiting the French capital.

Well that’s refreshing.

Macarons and Eiffel Towers aside, it is probably legit to say that Parisians – the epitome of all that is intimidating in French culture (frog-legs and garlic snails aside) – have a significant role to play here.

So what’s up with that?

Now, in general, France already makes quite an interesting country. If you ever stood behind someone paying with a check at the supermarket, or tried to do any sort of thing online, you’ll know what I mean.

But let’s not venture further down that road.

Parisians are a particular breed. It’s not for nothing that the saying J’aime rien, je suis Parisien (approx. I don’t like anything, I am a Parisian) exists. And that Parisians are actually proud of it.

Unlike most of their fellow countrymen outside the golden 75-periphery, Parisians are armed with a notorious set of skills that enable them to crack even the hardest among us. They can be rude, arrogant, posh and indifferent. And if you believe that they would hesitate a second to point their gun against someone of their own kind, think again.

Being aware that I have not-so-elegantly crossed the delicate line of Parisian-bashing here, I am actually going to come to the defense of my fellow habitants. Or well, somewhat at least.

I’m an optimist. I like to think that from all that is bad and intimidating you can also extract something good. And we need to scratch below the surface here.

You see, when you have been in Paris long enough, it suddenly dawns on you.

You can’t beat ‘em.

You don’t wanna join ‘em.

But you can use ‘em.

The thing is, below the thorny surface, Parisians actually do have some attributes that we can learn from and use for our personal advantage. Let me illustrate what I mean.

You say Parisians criticize everything and are never happy

I say they are not easily impressed.

Indeed, nothing is ever good enough for the Parisians. The club is not-so-cool, the food is not-so- good, the clothes are not-so-chic. Things can always be better. Drawn to its extreme, yes, we get blasé and depressing people, but used wisely and in moderation, this attitude can be very helpful in weeding out noise and improving the probability of getting successful outcomes. When a Parisian is satisfied, you can truly be sure that there is something great cooking.

You say Parisians find everything has-been

I say they always look ahead.

Trends and hot-spots are flames that quickly go out in Paris. What was great a month ago is average today, what everyone liked yesterday is old news tomorrow. This may be bad news for all that is lasting experience, but it’s not so bad when it comes to the exploration of new avenues. Being constantly on the look for The Next Thing, Parisians have developed a spectacular radar that enables them to quickly spot potential and discover hidden gems. Never staying too comfortable, the Parisian can be sure to remain on top – all the while being amused and inspired.

You say Parisians are hard people

I say they stand up for themselves.

Interestingly enough, we have a kind of chicken-and-egg issue here: most Parisians have developed sharp elbows in order to survive in the midst of their fellow inhabitants, and as a result, they come across as hard towards others. Though there is fine line between Parisians being confident and cocky, you will quickly notice that this is simply a question of them not taking any nonsense, and they will not sit quiet while anything inappropriate is being done or said against them. Taking space, speaking up and expressing their opinion, though sometimes in too harsh a manner, frees the Parisian from repressed anger and enables them to better tackle the occasional blow to their self-esteem.

You say Parisians are frog-eaters who refuse to speak English

I say they hold on to their identity.

Though they would drink Californian wine before admitting it, Parisians secretly love the things that make up their city: the tourists, the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysées on a Friday afternoon (or any time and day of the week for that matter). Parisians hold on to their culture and habits, and though it occasionally drives you nuts, they do things their own way. Indeed, excessive rigidity is nothing to cheer for, but knowing who you are and being proud of it is something that the French know well.

So voilà.

To be clear with you, I am not waving the Tricolore here and arguing that we should all become rude, loveless and blasé. My point is that the Parisian case demonstrates how you can learn a lot from observing and analyzing other people’s (sometimes questionable) behavior. We are quick to judge, but could more often than not benefit from taking a step back to reflect before doing so.

Me – I can thank Parisians for much of my personal development, having primarily learned to become a bit more tough, and though I will never fully agree with their philosophy, I have learned to adapt my own to happily fit into their city.

Yes, the next time someone cuts me off in the metro or snaps at me in a store, I will still think “m***e quel con de français!”

But I will also secretly think

Vive les parisiens.

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