Monday, November 6, 2006

Golden Retriever It Is

I'm often puzzled here about how complete strangers will force-start conversations while sharing public spaces such as grocery lines -- often making personal comments about your looks or attire. That's totally un-French. My instinctive reaction is to recoil and ignore them, but then I remember that in this country it would be interpreted as rude (as Americans often read French behavior).

I was discussing this with a native Californian, who explained that people are uncomfortable sharing spaces with someone they don't know. It's not natural to them, because they're used to their own individual houses, cars, and restaurants booths -- in stark contrast with Paris' apartment living, public transport, and tiny bistro tables. Privacy does not have the same meaning or boundaries.

This makes for awkward situations, which can sometimes border on the absurd. Here's a recent exchange at the post office, while waiting for the long line to move. Started by the woman behind me:

- I love your hair!
- Thanks.
- Is it fake?
- I'm sorry?
- Is it fake?!
-'s real.
- I know it's real!
- [smile]
- How do you do it?
- I'm sorry?
- The hair!
- What do you mean?
- How do you get it like that?
- It's natural.
- No way! They're real curls?
- Yes.
- No way! But the color isn't!
- It is.
- No way! You don't do highlights?
- No.
- How do you get it that blonde? [She: fake bimbo blonde]
- Sun, swim, I guess.
- You must be getting a lot of sun!
- This is California.
- How often do you swim?
- Almost every day.
- No way! Where?!
- Ocean, pool.
- I can't believe it! I can't believe it's real!
- Well, it is.
- Oh, don't apologize!
- Actually, friends call me Poodle. Apparently, I look like one.
- Oh no! You don't look like a poodle!
- Thanks.
- No, no! You look like, a golden retriever!
- Thanks.
- No, really, I mean it...but you're not American?!
- No, I'm not.

Of course! The only explanation for the fake hair would be that I'm an alien (the official U.S. immigration term for non-citizens). I couldn't repress a giggle. Luckily, the line moved, and I was able to escape to the clerk's counter.
photo Dano

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