Conasse is French for b*tch, and is an insult you’ll often hear on the streets of Paris. It is also the name of a very popular video series on the nightly TV news show, Le Grand Journal. La Conasse is a spoiled Parisienne the audience follows as she visits places common to a 30 something’s daily route; the playground, a bar, the gym. You wouldn’t want to be her friend. She refuses to drink from a plastic cup or take a shower before swimming at the public pool, and when she pops in to satisfy her nicotine fix she tells the tobacco seller that he is like one of Santa’s elves, but working for the Angel of Death. She berates the pharmacist for a broken scale that is adding an extra 200 grams to her weight. She is the French stereotype of a Parisienne. Terrifyingly enough, these are scenes that are inspired from real life.
Today, when an American mentions the rude French, they get shot down by a politically correct crowd of sophisticated countrymen who explain that it is the American’s fault for wearing white sneakers, speaking loudly, touching the merchandise, and horror, of horrors, not saying “Bonjour” when walking into a shop.
I am here to tell you, if a French (wo)man is rude to you, it is not necessarily your fault! While I don’t believe that Parisians are ruder than anyone else, they have their reputation for a reason and after 12 years of living here, I have developed a theory that they treat it like cheese or wine, taking something about to rot and turning it into a fine art.
The worse offenders can be the “filles de”; the wife, daughter, or remote off-spring of someone important. That someone may have died 200 years ago, but the de remains in the family name and a lot of these women are convinced that the rules apply to everyone else, just to make their own lives easier. Common rules, like speed limits, or waiting in line. I once attended Museum Night with the “fille de” of a large fortune. The line at the Rodin museum ran along the façade and wrapped around the corner, up the boul des Invalides. Mme “fille de” went up to the security guard, myself and our 5 children in tow, opened her bag for the security check, then walked right it. I followed her with the kids, in absolute shock. “But fille de,” I cried, “there’s a line!” “pffft,” she shrugged, “oui, but it is not for me. I don’t do lines.” The amazing thing is that no one stopped us. Not a soul dared utter a word. She had been so confident that everyone, myself included, had just assumed she was a vip with a special pass.
When you do try to call them on it, don’t expect an apology. Clearly, its your fault. “Mais, ce n’est pas normale!” They’ll scream at you. It’s not normal that you object when they cut in line. It’s not normal when you insist they give you the handicap seat because you are pregnant. It’s not normal that you hit their car with a very heavy bag of books, causing a minor dent because they were backing their car into your 5 year old child who is holding your hand, standing on the sidewalk in front of the Bon Marché. “It’s not normal?” you may shout back hysterically. “You are crazy!!!” he may explode, “I must get a Christmas present for my wife! I got gifts for everyone but forgot my wife. It is très urgent, and now, how am I going to explain this huge dent in my car? You are crazy.” And as you look for a little support, you may see all the waiters from the café across the street go into hiding behind the bar, hoping you don’t call on them for back up. Just because you live upstairs and come by two or three times a day does not mean they want to be bothered when your child is nearly killed. So the best you can do is scream back, “I bet you didn’t forget a gift for your mistress!”
Every one knows Parisians are perfect. They’re thin, excellent mothers, at the height of fashion and I hear they never need plastic surgery. I guess they have to be rude to keep from being absolutely perfect. Because if they were truly perfect, we’d have to hate them.