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No. 116: American Optimism

I haven’t posted for a while because, frankly, sometimes the French just get me down. And lately they’ve really been bringing me down.

Some days, some weeks, some months, it seems like nothing is possible in France. I hate to go down the road of crabby expat, but lately many things (from the smallest thing—trying to pay for a baguette with a 20€ note, to things on a grand scale—looking into applying for a work visa, have been branded by the French as: “Ce (n’est) pas possible!”


I was pushed to my last nerve this afternoon as I was biking to a birthday lunch. I was riding against traffic in a clearly marked bike lane, following all the rules of the road. (Bike lanes on streets in Paris are marked with a picture of a vélo and an arrow pointing in the direction you should be biking.) Twice, I found myself blocked by a car driving or stopped in the bike lane, leaving me absolutely no room to pass. There were three alternatives. Hastily hop off my bike and walk it on the sidewalk around parked cars and pedestrians; squeeze into the lane of oncoming traffic and pray the drivers would move over and let me pass rather than knock me over; or three, gingerly tap on the window and ask the driver if they would, “Please move.”

Being the polite (and stubborn) sort, I chose to tap on the window and ask (as if it wasn’t already obvious to them) to move their car, s’il vous plaît.

s'il vous plaît...

s’il vous plaît…

The first time I tried this, the woman just shook her head and muttered, “Ce pas possible.” Although there was a good five feet ahead of her to scoot into, she rolled up her window, refused to make any more eye contact, and laughed aloud like I was the most hilarious thing she had ever come across.

The second time I came fender to fender with another faultlessly coifed femme d’un certain âge, before I could even open my mouth, she told me defiantly, “Ce n’est pas possible!” Then she glowered and added, “Ce n’est pas ma faute.” Well friend, then who can I blame for you driving in the bike lane?

At this point, only 10 minutes into my 30-minute ride, I lost it, and went into my why-are-you-frickin’-Parisians-so-damn-mean-and-rude diatribe, en anglais, bien sûr, because, sadly, I can’t argue or swear in French. (Note to self: work on French “fighting words”.)

The result, of course, was nothing more than a tight-faced smirk from la femme and a feeling of helplessness from moi. When she did finally move, she made sure to hit me with her mirror, c’est normal!

Although my day, thanks in large part to an Anglophone/Italian birthday party held at a new Paris resto run by a native South Carolinian, only got better, I found myself thinking of those two encounters on and off. I felt sullen and defeated as I mounted my bike for the ride chez moi.

But then something small and wonderful happened when I came home and turned on the light in the kitchen. There spread across the rustic fruitwood table were six freshly planted window boxes waiting to be place on the sill…ready and willing, and against all the odds, planning to grow me some herbs.

window boxes

Now this might not seem remarkable, but remember, it is only January 21.

Donc, this Francophile was reminded of one of the great things about NOT being French. For all my countries faults and follies, I am grateful to have grown up in a country brimming with optimism. If Superman wants to try and grow an herb garden in the middle of winter, well then dang it all, give it a go! What have you got to lose? A couple of Euros spent on seeds, and some happy time spent dreaming.

You know what, my dear French amis and enemies, “C’est possible!”

Vive l’optimisme américain!



amis: friends

C’est normal. That’s normal; as usual

C’est possible! It’s possible!

Ce n’est pas ma faute. It’s not my fault.

Ce (n’est) pas possible! It’s not possible!

chez moi: (at) home

en anglais, bien sûr: in English, of course

femme d’un certain âge: literally, woman of a certain age, which in France implies a certain type of sexual prowess, or when it comes to bike riders vs. cars, radically rude women over 50.

la femme: the woman, lady, wife

moi: me

s’il vous plaît: please

Vive l’optimisme américain! Long live American optimism!

vélo: bicycle

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Melanie #

    I agree with you about the optimism…and how wonderful to have a garden in January!!

    January 22, 2014
    • Yes…I hope the garden will grow. It’s been such a mild winter so far…and your cousin, Superman, is always so much happier when he’s got his fingers in the dirt.

      January 22, 2014
  2. Cyclists are unloved everywhere! But your day had a wonderful ending!!

    January 22, 2014
    • True about cyclist and car discord. In general, I find France a pretty darn friendly cycling country. Paris has an amazing (nearly free) bike sharing program, and for the most parts, cars share the road with bikes and cyclists. I just ran into two bad eggs in a 10 minute time frame, and lost it…mostly because I am was so sick of hearing: “Ce n’est pas possible!”

      January 22, 2014
  3. I agree that the biggest cultural difference is optimism and a “yes we can” attitude – bravo et bon courage!

    January 22, 2014
    • Obvious I love France and so much of what the French do well (and often better) keeps me very happy in this country…but, yes, I do miss people whose first inclination is to say, “Oui!” before, “Non!

      January 22, 2014
  4. Veronica #

    My darling, keep going with the optimism – it simply makes life better. As Alice Sommer says, I know about the bad, but I choose to focus on the good.

    January 22, 2014
    • Absolument! Today is a new day and the promise of the New Year is still in the air, and my glass is way more than half-full. I choose optimism. x

      January 22, 2014
  5. I guess we all have days where life is a bit more difficult and nothing seems to work for us but I think that is the case in any countries you would live in.

    As for your work visa, I am surprised you don’t already have one as I do (though I decided not to look for work). It came as part of my husband’s visa, something to do with the accompanying spouse. The process for my visa was part of my husband’s work transfer. I can’t remember exactly how the visa is called but on my Titre de Séjour it is said that I am allowed to work though I would still need to get a Sécu number in order to work something I haven’t done as I never intended to work while in Paris. (Suzanne)

    January 22, 2014
    • Yes. Je suis d’accord. Some days/weeks/months are hard no matter where you live, especially when you’re not living in your own culture. Obviously I adore the French and France. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. Just missing some optimism and a “can-do” spirit lately.

      January 22, 2014
  6. Todd Gonring #

    Think ill go have a super size portion of freedom fries

    January 22, 2014
    • In the U.S. of A c’est possible for sure! I guess that’s the problem with everything being possible…an excess of possibilities…

      January 22, 2014
  7. Debra #

    Lalalalalalalala. I can’t hear you.

    January 23, 2014
  8. trevorf1 #

    A pity about your experience in the cyclists’ lane. But why pick on Paris(ians)? I reckon you could hit the same problem in many towns and cities in the UK. And while I always like seeing your reactions to life in France, I do think you are generalising a bit much about the allegedly negative view of French people – after all, one favourite expression often used by French people is precisely: “Impossible n’est pas français!” Keep up the blog!

    March 2, 2014
    • Thanks for your comment. I really try very hard not to be negative about the French. I know I am a guest in your country. Thanks for reading.

      March 17, 2014

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