Sunday, 1 June 2014

How to Be Nice in Paris

After a nice commenter wrote after my last post that I seem to have a very positive attitude towards the challenges of living in Paris, I've decided to permit myself a little moany post about one of the things that I do genuinely find very difficult to deal with, after I encountered a perfect example of it today.

Understanding Frenchman and I were coming back from visiting my brother in England for the weekend. We flew out of a small regional airport on a little propellor plane that only had seats for about 80 people and, as a result, also had very small luggage compartments. We had taken only hand luggage and our suitcases, which were the maximum size allowed on board, only just fitted into the small space. We boarded the plane and Understanding Frenchman waited for me to squeeze my case into the space above our seats. But just as I finished pushing mine into place and was about to help him with his, the couple behind us slipped a small bag into the remaining space, leaving us with not enough space for the suitcase.

I looked at the space, I looked at him and I looked at the couple behind, who were looking straight ahead, seemingly innocent of the problem they had just caused us.

"Ask them to move the bag," I whispered to UFM, "otherwise we're just going to have to take someone else's compartment and the problem will carry on right the way down the plane."

UFM, being the gentleman that he is, hesitated, but eventually asked the couple if they could move the bag into the locker above their own seats.

"If there's space," humphed the woman.

"You can also put it under the seat in front of you," explained UFM, and in the end that is what the woman, somewhat grudgingly, did.

I sat down feeling what I eventually convinced myself was unreasonably annoyed by the incident. After all, we were the ones with the bulky luggage, nobody ever said that on a plane you are entitled to use the locker that happens to be directly above your seat and, even if the couple's behaviour was a bit inconsiderate, they did as we asked, everyone had space for everything and no harm was done.

It was only when we got off the plane that Understanding Frenchman commented, "She was a bit out of order, that woman behind us."

"Why?" I asked, having made peace with my own reaction to the incident.

"She saw that I was about to put my suitcase up and she told her husband to 'dépèche-toi' and get their bag in first," he explained. "I think they were surprised when I spoke to them in French and they realised I had understood."

We had a bit of a giggle about the fact that the woman should have at least had the grace to be a bit ashamed by her behaviour but both agreed that, obviously being one of a very particular kind of parisienne, she almost certainly didn't. And this is what bothers me from time to time about Paris. I don't believe that all Parisians are rude, and in fact I would say I encounter obviously kind behaviour more often than this kind of stuff. I try my best not to live in the self-absorbed bubble that can be a very natural defence against the anonymous indifference of the city. I give up my seat to old people on the metro, hold doors open for people and carry buggies up and down steps for struggling mamas. When people do nice things for me, I appreciate it, make a point of saying thank you and resolve to keep the good vibes circulating by helping somebody else out. And then, just every so often, I encounter someone like those two who is not only totally selfish and totally unembarrassed about it, but also somehow manages to make me feel bad for calling her out on it.

Is there a solution to the problem? Well, after a few experiences like this one, I would say I'm starting to have more faith in my instincts for who deserves the benefit of the doubt and who doesn't, so from now on I'm resolving to stand my ground (politely, of course) when requesting that people stop being so self-centred, and save as much kindness and compassion as possible for the rest of the world.


  1. I don't find French rude per se but they tend to behave as if there is never enough for everyone--not enough room, not enough food, not enough space, not enough seats, etc. It's strange state of mind.

  2. That's really interesting, Zhu! I wonder where that behaviour comes from?

  3. On the way to the airport for Majorca, the train was replaced by a bus and there wasn't enough room for everyone on the first bus. I was loading my suitcase on and asked a woman if this was definitely the Sarrebruck bus (those going to other stops had to wait for the second bus) and couldn't believe when she said "il faut que vous attendiez le deuxième bus, car on est 20 et on doit monter ensemble" and then when I explained that I had a plane to catch and needed to get on this bus, she tried to convince me to go load my suitcase on the other side of the bus (even though you could clearly see through the hold that the doors weren't open on the other side). If she had said "can you please let us on first..." I probably still would have said that I had to get to the airport, there's more than 21 spots on the bus, we can all get on, but I couldn't believe that she said "il faut" to me!

  4. That's a classic, Gwan! I've noticed that "il faut que" tends to come from women of a certian age who think they can boss everyone else around when in fact they have no authority to do so. Strange people.

  5. I don't think that this behaviour is specific to Paris really, but I do agree with you in your comment to Gwan that it tends to be women of a certain age and social standing that make these remarks/behave in this way. These are the same women that like to jump the queue as well. I can't believe them sometimes, just because they are retired (often at under 60 years old) doesn't mean that they are a poor 80+-year-old woman that is all hunched over and it doesn't entitle them to special treatment.

    I can't believe that in this day and global age people in an airplane between England and France would assume that you couldn't possibly understand French or be French. That woman in the plane was playing with fire!

    I always put my small bags under the seat in front of me. I don't have long legs so it doesn't bother me and my purse doesn't take up that much room anyway. Maybe this is really critical of me, but I don't understand why more people don't do that as well. I understand what people say when they complain that people should just pay and check in their luggage, but 10 years ago+ checking in a bag was free on Ryan Air and Easy Jet flights. Nobody remembers that time, but I sure do! So if everyone was allowed to check in a bag back then and the airlines had proclaimed themselves low-cost even then, why should I pay to check in a carry-on bag now? If these airlines still allowed one free checked in bag, it would greatly reduce the amount of people coming on board with heavy and big carry-on luggage. From what I remember, most people just went on board with small bags back then and there were no luggage compartment wars. Now I really hate that these low-cost airlines have launched a trend where even non low-cost airlines are now charging for checked in luggage.

    Anyway, I got off topic. Sorry for the rant.

    1. You're welcome to join in my ranting space! I've chuckled a few times on Easyjet flights recently when they've had to ask at the airport for people with large (but still within the authorised limits) hand luggage to check their bag in for free because they know the cabin lockers are going to be too full. I don't think they get many volunteers, because after you've gone to the effort of packing light and not taking any toiletries, why would you agree to hang around waiting to collect checked baggage at the end?

    2. I took an Easyjet flight last Thursday and they didn't give me the option of keeping my hand luggage. At the gate, the personnel told me that I had to leave it behind and that they would stow it in the airplane (but that I wouldn't be charged for it).

      What bugs me that most is AirFrance telling people that their hand luggage is too big (when it isn't - they are just peeved that more and more people are taking in the biggest hand bag they can that is within authorised limits since they cancelled the one free check-in luggage). The reason why I bought a ticket with a 'real' airline is to be able to check in one big suitcase. So if I can't check-in a suitcase for free and can only take on a hand luggage on board, are you a low-cost airline then?

      I wonder how long we will be allowed to take in a large hand luggage for free? Something tells me that our days of doing this are numbered...