If I could use one expression to describe the French, it would be “pourquoi pas”. Translating to “why not” in English, this phrase is not only used frequently in conversation, but is also the guiding principle for decision-making. For example, if you texted a friend, “tu as envie de voir ce film ?” (do you want to see this movie?) he would reply, “pourquoi pas !” On the language exchange site I frequent, there’s an About Me section where people write a brief biography and I’ve seen this multiple times: “Je veux rencontrer des amis, améliorer mon anglais, et pourquoi pas profiter de Paris ensemble.” (I want to meet friends, improve my English, and why not enjoy Paris together). Additionally, as I’ve experienced with my good friend Luc, every romantic involvement starts with, “J’étais célibataire et…pourquoi pas !” (I was single and…why not!).
Americans tend to pride themselves on being liberals who are open-minded and accepting. When I was appartment-hunting in Paris and I saw ads that requested residents who were “ouvert d’esprit”, I thought to myself, why of course I’m open-minded. I’m not racist; I don’t care if you’re young or old, gay or straight, married or not. In fact, I was so ouverte d’esprit I was even be willing to share an apartment with a dude (as long as he didn’t explicitly request a female roommate within a specific age range — creepy).
Then I arrived in Paris, and I started to faire la connaisance of the French. The stories just kept coming. First, there was Philippe, who informed me of the time he made love with a woman from Boston in the Louvre. Then, there was Sébastien.
Me: So, how did you meet your girlfriend?
Sébastien: Actually, I met her when I was seven.
Me: Aww, how cute.
Sébastien: Actually, she was my uncle’s ex.
Me: Oh! Oh, okay. So…how old is she?
Sébastien: She’s 48, 16 years older than me. She’s a…what do you call it…a cougar! Haha but I assure you there is no blood relation.
Then there are Luc’s stories. This weekend, three of his friends are visiting him here in Paris. Two of them are married to each other, and the third is the wife’s ex. Apparently, the three of them are all chummy and have forgotten that for a month, she was sleeping with the both of them. I think they are all planning to stay at Luc’s place, which will be interesting, seeing as how there’s only one bed…
Once, his Korean friend asked him to host her girlfriend at his house in the south of France. He said, of course, “pourquoi pas !“So this girl flew in from Korea and Luc was nice enough to show her around the village. Everything went swimmingly until the next morning, when he returned from his shower to find her in his bed.
Korean Girl: It’s too cold in my room. Yours is warmer.
Luc: Um, well, you can stay there, but I am getting back into my bed.
And, of course, he proceeded to sleep with her, who thankfully turned out to be less crazy than Korean Girl #2. Luc’s unlucky-in-love friend Marc met KG #2 online and when she asked to come visit him in Paris, he went “pourquoi pas” and agreed. Upon meeting her in person, however, he was not at all attracted to her. But he slept with her, and a few weeks later, she informed him that she was pregnant. After a huge debate in which he wanted an abortion and she did not, she ended up miscarrying. While Marc breathed a sigh of relief, KG #2 became depressed and also realized she was utterly in love with him. In a few weeks, she’s vacationing in London and has demanded that Marc join her there. The last I heard, he’s attempting to prepare an exit strategy that will not induce suicide attempts.
Finally, to round out the crazy bunch, there was the Chinese girl Luc met on the language exchange site.
Chinese Girl: So yeah, my cousin is married to my other cousin.
Luc: Oh, really?
CG: It’s a family thing. My uncle is married to his sister.
Luc: Oh. Is this…normal in China?
CG: Nope. It’s weird in China too.
Oops, I got a little sidetracked — this last vignette is not even about French people. Perhaps the message of this post is now “Asian girls are nuts”, but I’m telling you it’s the French “pourquoi pas” attitude that gets them into trouble! On the other hand, though, I think us uptight Americans could learn to be a little more free-thinking. For example, it shouldn’t matter if our president is religious or married or even faithful, as long as he is a good president. Furthermore, life is simply more colorful if you throw in a healthy sprinkle of “pourquoi pas”s.
Do you consider yourself ouvert d’esprit? In your travels or even in your daily life, have you ever come across different cultures that really opened your mind? In general, do you take prefer to take risks or to play it safe?