The Happiness Police

I’ve had a tip-top day in Paris and I thought I should share. Enough talk of bureaucracy and minor annoyances!

Granted, this may seem a sorry excuse for a great day. It involved activities such as photocopying my massive list of papers for my dossier and an appointment with my bank counselor.

So not great in the idling away lovely hours in a café, sunny day in the park, stumbling upon a secret hideaway, kind of way. But it still made me happy.

Smile

Ok, so what did happen?

Get ready for it: I had only positive interactions with French people.

Yes, that’s correct. People were nice. They were kind. I was not treated as the idiot foreigner, but instead as a charming (still foreign, but no foul) human being.

Plus, I ran across a few characters. Meaning, not only were people friendly, but I also experienced that animated city rush I always had in New York when (often) random encounters cropped up in unexpected places. (If I miss anything the most, it is the lively human circus that is NYC).

First I made a doctor’s appointment (or tried to – story later) and talked to the most delightful receptionist who complimented my French. (?!)

Then the guy at the photocopy place chatted with me amiably – a good chat, too – but didn’t try to pick me up. Totally unslimy. (!?)

Next my new bank counselor was sweet as a button (are buttons sweet? Hmm, no, how about sweet as sugar) and did not judge my haphazard financial decision-making. Non-judgmental (?!)

As I was leaving the bank and wandering the tony streets of the 17th, the sun came out (!?)

And then I heard screaming.

Actually it was more like roaring.

Two young boys were roaring at (let’s be fair) a rather drunk man. The rather drunk man roared back at them. The boys would take a step toward the drunk man and roar, then bounce back, a little dazed at what they’d just unleashed. The drunk man then ran towards them with his own roar (and looked just dazed in general). I watched this exchange a few times. None of the trio seemed angry or taunting, just sort of testing each other. And roaring.

In other words, creating a scene.

This is what I mean about animation. I like a scene. Scenes are interesting. Discreet, reserved Paris – sure, that’s classy. But give me something to gape at. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

So I was really in for it when I hopped on line 2 and ran into the controleur de bonheur (I’m going to translate that as ‘happiness police.’) First, I didn’t see him, I only heard him. Speaking through a blowhorn. (Good sign. Blowhorns in an enclosed area usually equals scene).

Toy sampling megaphone

I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying (my comprehension goes downhill when French is fed through a crackly blowhorn), but his words were inducing some to slyly laugh and others to look really uncomfortable. So I knew this had the potential to be awesome.

As the controleur approached, I had a momentary panic as I saw he was distributing tracts of paper to everyone and talking to every single person. Was his schtick for money? Did he have a sob story? Would I understand exactly what he was saying to make fun of me?

No need to worry. When he stopped in front of a cute twentysomething man to my right, I could tell it would be fine.

“Ah, the romantic type! Look at that wind-swept hair!” he said. Then, involving the young woman seated close to the cute man “is he your type? Look at those soft brown eyes!”

“No, no,” the girl giggled.

I’ll admit that he spent a little too long at my four-seater. I was sharing my ride with two adorable 6-year old twins and their mother. (The twins were black and the mother was white. As a mixed-race gal, rainbow families also make me happy).

The controleur easily got their names out of them (Zoe and Anais). I could tell mom Odile wasn’t so enthused that her age was also revealed (52). (The girls volunteered this information; the controleur was a gentleman and didn’t ask).

What he handed out was simply a bookmark that said “Mark your page with a smile” that had his blog address written on it.

I would guess that the majority of people felt uncomfortable with the spectacle. They sure looked uncomfortable. Strangers aren’t supposed to talk to each other. (And it does get iffy with children. It’s perfectly reasonable – and parents should! – tell their kids not to talk to strangers, so what do you do when some random stranger with a blowhorn comes up to your kid?)

But, I like the idea of pushing people’s comfort zones. And, hell, rather than someone making sure I paid for my ticket (which is what the real controleurs do), this guy’s motto is “controleur de bonheur, montrez-moi vos sourires, s’il vous plait” (happiness police, show me your smiles, please).

You might have heard me bemoan the fact that smiling is kind of a no-no in Paris. So I was more than happy to flash a great, big smile for the controleur and be on my way.

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5 Responses to “The Happiness Police”


  1. 1 pariskarin February 23, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Well how about all of THAT?! Are you sure you are still living in Paris? Did you, like, have an out-of-body experience and wind up somewhere else? Paris in a parallel universe?? LOL.

    Hey. I am glad that it was a smiley face kind of day. We all need those, eh? ;-)

    • 2 parisimperfect February 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm

      I know, right? I *did* feel like I was living in some sort of alternate reality. (Which is why I had to use exclamation and question marks several times – I’m in Paris??) I’m really, really trying to send out good vibes to the universe so this is the Paris I experience more frequently :)

  2. 3 Rebecca February 23, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    My fiance and I are considering living in Paris for a few years, just for the experience of it. I’m enjoying your blog very much. Your posts are not only entertaining, but also enlightening. Thank you for taking the time to express your imperfect thoughts in public.

    • 4 parisimperfect February 23, 2010 at 10:35 pm

      Hi Rebecca. Thank you so much for your comment – it really means a lot to me. (It *was* a big step for me to start expressing my imperfect thoughts in public, so I’m so glad you find the blog both entertaining and enlightening. Wow!) You and your fiance are definitely right – moving to Paris *will* be quite an experience. Let me know if you decide to do it! Best of luck!


  1. 1 Like a Kid on a Carousel « paris (im)perfect Trackback on February 23, 2010 at 11:39 pm

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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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