Me squawk petty one day
If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s obnoxious people. And there is nothing more obnoxious than someone who is about to embark on, or who has just returned from, an exotic vacation — say, two weeks in Paris. You know the “before” drill: You haven’t heard from this person in weeks or months, and then suddenly there’s an e-mail in your in-box remarking on how long it’s been and saying you absolutely have to get together and get caught up. And then, when you try to arrange an actual meeting, you’re met with something along the lines of, “Oh, next week would be fantastic, except we’re leaving for Paris on Friday, and I’m just going to be in a tizzy trying to get ready to go. Can we get together after I get back? From Paris?”
The “after” effect is no less annoying: “Just a quick hello. I am absolutely buried in e-mails after being away for two weeks… in Paris. Let’s catch up soon, though. Just as soon as I have mes pieds sur la terre.” (Note the influx of real or imagined French phrases scattered in speech and in messages that crop up post-voyage. Take comfort, however, knowing that the French shopkeepers are still rolling their yeux at how mangled their language was by la Yanke.)
Of course, that’s not the end of it. What about the person who has never used her Facebook page for anything but professional promotion, yet is suddenly posting photos (a shot with the Eiffel Tower looking like it’s poking out of the top of her head; posing at the graves of notable writers, while stuffing a sandwich in her mouth) with quippy captions (“Who’s a crazy Eiffel Tower head?” and “Lunch with Gertrude and Alice”) and counting Likes like they were skittles, all the while scrutinizing those Likes (“That one doesn’t count. He Likes everything.”) while never thinking to j’aime anything anyone else posts?
And watch out for the instant expert. Because a mere two weeks in any city makes one almost a local, doesn’t it? For example, say this person, while in Paris, ate a baguette every day from a chic boulangerie around the corner from her apartment. She’ll want to make sure everyone knows about the daily baguette. Even when she’s back home and her friend Joyce tells her that her friend from Rennes says a certain baguette available on Commercial Street can hold its own against a Parisian one, the traveler will issue forth an instant “Pftwt!” (This is a French exclamation she learned from a YouTube video called “How To Fake French”; she will say it’s hilarious but that you wouldn’t get it.) Then she will add with the greatest hauteur, “There is simply no comparison between the two.” And when Joyce suggests that since her friend is actually from France, she might know a thing or two about French bread, there will be another “Pftwt!” followed by, “Perhaps your friend’s expectations were so low that they elevated her estimation.” (An arched eyebrow here.) “But there is no comparison. Absolument.”
Really, don’t get these people started about the food. You can also be sure there will be stories like, “Honestly, the slice of foie gras was so thin…” (here she’ll pinch two fingernails together) “I could almost see through it. And seven euros! But the woman at the charcuterie insisted. ‘How many times are you in Paris?’ she said, as she wrapped up the morsel for me. Of course, she was right. I had to have it.”
The worst possible thing could be if this person’s birthday falls shortly after her return, say on June 8th, and the only place she’ll consider dining out is P.J.’s. (She will only use the initials, since that’s the insider lingo of the Petite Jacqueline crowd she now considers herself among.) This person may very well promise herself that she’s not going to mention Paris during her dinner, but do you think she will be able to keep this to herself longer than it takes to order a French 75 (a little gin-and-Chambord number)? “I don’t want to be obnoxious,” she’ll mewl, leaning on the elbow of her blue-and-white-striped dress (yes, to match the servers’ bistro shirts), “but we’ve just come back from Paris, and we’re trying to stretch out the experience as long as we can.” And then she will proceed to order like there is no tomorrow (or at least no LDL cholesterol) and even take a picture of the plate of bone marrow that arrives and text it to her chef friend in Boston. Then she might say, just loud enough to be overheard, “And can you believe — we actually lost weight in Paris! I’m sure we ate a stick of butter at every meal,” as she shoves another hunk of bread into her amused bouche.
And if someone tries to remind this person how, not so long ago, she was dismissing David Sedaris’ writing as having jete’d le shark after he got rich and famous and moved to France, “Oh, that poor man,” she’ll say, and fake weep into her pretend hanky. “Les clerks don’t understand what he needs at the hardware store in Paris. How does he stand it?” But perhaps this person will change her mind when she accompanies her friends to the Parisian hardware store, where they try to purchase a showerhead. “Well, it was very challenging,” she’ll say, suddenly defending Sedaris. “I can comprendre his frustration.”
Now, mesdames et messieurs, before we judge too harshly, can we stop and reflect for a moment? Do you think, perhaps, this person can be forgiven, seeing how this was her first trip to the City of Light since she was in college? And how the last time she left, she barely looked over her shoulder? Didn’t it seem, back in those days, like this was now her life? That this girl from small-town Maine, who wanted so badly to flee her home and see the world, was actually living that dream — a semester in London, with a quick trip to Paris before returning home for Christmas? And doesn’t she remember attending a service at Notre Dame and how, when she pinched her nostrils, her fingers were black with soot from all the candle smoke? And how, six months later, she was back in Europe, riding an overnight train from the Riviera — fresh from a stay on Crete — en route to meet her friends Jim and Pat in Paris for her 22nd birthday? And how the plan was to meet under the Arc de Triomphe, checking in on the hour, every hour that day (there were no cell phones back then), until they were vis-a-vis? And how, instead, they found each other in the train station when she spotted them out of the corner of her eye, their fuchsia and turquoise blazers blazing? And how broke they all were, and how they sat together on the quay along the Seine, passing around the bottle of ouzo she’d brought from Greece? And how they scraped together money to go out to dinner in the Left Bank and stay in a fleabag hotel, where they were pretty sure the rooms were rented by the hour? And how, when they woke up the next morning, the radio by the bed played “Singing in the Rain”? And how, in an instant, she decided she was done with Paris?
Where was she going in such a hurry? Not back to the boy in London she’d dumped just a month earlier. They had sat in the rain in the graveyard of Winchester Cathedral, sharing a small bottle of Scotch wrapped in purple tissue paper. (This was how they did it in England; liquor was wrapped, not bagged.) The wet paper mottled their fingers as she told him she would not be coming back to live with him in his cottage on the Thames. (He was going to be a lock keeper and support her while she wrote.) And she was not leaving Paris that morning for the boy on the other side of the Atlantic, whom she had also dumped before the whole expedition began. All she knew was that she had to keep moving. So when she left Paris after that birthday, she didn’t look back, because she felt there was no need to. I’ll be right back, she thought. This is my life now, my big fabulous life.
And so, perhaps, there was a small part of her former self that surfaced during those two weeks in Paris this spring, that tugged at her sleeve and wanted to know what took her so long. What happened to that big fabulous life? And why all those long looks out the taxi window as it raced toward Charles de Gaulle Airport in the early morning light?
Can we forgive her just a bit? Peut-etre. But does the backstory make her any less obnoxious? Absolument pas. Request another table if you’re seated near her at P.J.’s
Elizabeth Peavey sends a grand grosse merci to her chers amis Lisa and Charles. (Next round of rosé is on us.)