Summer’s Sunny Scowls

I was given a key to New York City! True! (Maybe story later)

So much for bringing a smile back to Paris (see last post).

Delayed plane back to Charles de Gaulle. A half-hour of fruitless searching for the 351 bus to Nation (thought I’d try something other than the RER train into the city. Should have skipped the adventure).

Chocolat chaud at my corner cafe where they usually are nice. Uh-oh, the scowling summer staff has arrived. My server didn’t acknowledge that she had heard my order, feigned incomprehension at what a carafe d’eau might mean (um, water?), and threw my change down on the table.

Please say you’re just filling in while the nice people are on holiday? (Please?)

Deluge. Rain.

Fortunately, the transition has been eased as one of my dear friends (and former writing mentor) Sarah Van Arsdale is in town. We laughed off the bitchy barmaid together, but Sarah couldn’t help wondering, “Sion, just how do you live here? You’re such a smiley, happy person. And no one here seems to smile!”

Funny you should mention that, Sarah. This is at the top of my mind these days.

On the metro later, I thought someone might be joining my crusade. In a sing-songy voice the conductor of the line 2 train invited us to do something different – to turn to our neighbor, say bonjour. Why, we might even smile! he ventured. Why not? It was Bastille Day, we’ve had a day off, what can it hurt to smile?

Yes! I think, looking around. What could it hurt to smile?

No one’s taking the bait, however.

One older gentleman had already had enough as the conductor repeated his plea at the next station.

Fermes ta guele! the man yelled at the conductor. Shut your piehole, in essence.

Lovely.

Now I’m not saying the New York subway is a party. But actually, sometimes it is! (Witness video evidence below).

On a Friday night after a great Mexican meal (Mexican!), I stumbled into the 2nd Avenue subway stop on New York’s Lower East Side. Something was definitely up as the platform was packed to the gills. When the V-train rolled into the station, enthusiastic applause commenced. Lucky me, I had happened onto the last ever V-train before the city discontinued the line.

Revellers dressed in the line’s trademark orange to celebrate the V’s victorious last run. Some pleaded for the city to reconsider. Some just wanted to mark the occasion. All made a ruckus.

Joyful V-train rider pleads for her line to stay

I try to imagine a similar scene on the Paris metro. Forgive me, I cannot. A Facebook friend informed me that a metro party did happen on the line 7bis once. To that I say, the 7bis? Like the shortest, most random line in the whole Paris system? Bis, for god’s sake?

But I would take the inferior train line, no complaints. Though I kind of think the police would get involved, somehow break the party up. Imagine a united horde of people suddenly converging on any metro stop in Paris with boom boxes and festive wear, determined to fete the ride from end to end. Perhaps my imagination fails me; I don’t see it.

I happened to be on the 7bis last night, as it crawled its slow, (one-)way up the hill. Yes, this sad little train could use a party. Yes, this city could use more smiles.

Perhaps we should form a Paris Smile Brigade and plan a subway bash? Anyone, anyone?

Actually, for all this talk, I need to go back into hiding (already!). My first deadline for the MFA program is in 2 weeks. No time to plan metro madness – I must get to work!

On a completely different note: Happy Birthday, mom! Love you!

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28 Responses to “Summer’s Sunny Scowls”


  1. 1 Amanda T July 15, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    We miss your smile here in NYC!

  2. 3 Kate July 15, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    I’m moving to Paris next summer, and I plan to keep smiling at all of those dour Parisians! If you see someone smiling on the metro a year from now, it might be me! So smile back, ok?

  3. 5 Lindsey July 15, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    I’m on the brigade! Apparently the Italians are much more smiley, perhaps we should all move there?

  4. 7 Adam July 15, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    There was a brunch organised on a Sunday afternoon on the Line 6 last autumn. I’m not sure how many people turned up though or whether they smiled or not!

  5. 9 jodie July 16, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Love it and so true!

  6. 10 Sweet Freak July 16, 2010 at 11:46 am

    You can’t change the world, you can only change yourself. Donc, smile, smile, smile! :)

  7. 12 pariskarin July 16, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    “A Facebook friend informed me that a metro party did happen on the line 7bis once. To that I say, the 7bis? Like the shortest, most random line in the whole Paris system? Bis, for god’s sake?”

    This made me smile like an idiot! :D

    LOL.

    Yeah, I noticed one night as I was talking with another expat from the States about how much we were smiling at one another when talking. It actually felt kind of… weird. I feel this post.

    You have one of the most gorgeous smiles I have ever seen, so I say “go for it.” Grin your head off. Maybe it will be viral. :) We can hope, eh?

    • 13 paris (im)perfect July 16, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      Haha, thanks, Karin. And *blush*.

      You know, I was also told in my time in the States that I had a great laugh. So nice to hear after my receiving many scornful glances here in Paris in response to my (yes, admittedly, quite LOUD) laugh.

      Let’s stand strong. Smiling and laughing…even if it is totally weird :)

  8. 14 Res July 16, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    I often smile randomly on the metro – maybe people think I’m nuts, but most people smile back! It’s only one small step to an all-out metro party! (but can we wait for it to cool down a bit?!)

    • 15 paris (im)perfect July 16, 2010 at 5:19 pm

      That’s awesome! I don’t always have such luck. Glad to hear you’re smiles are met with success (though maybe people are just trying to appease the crazy woman – just kidding!)

      Of course, let’s wait. I’ve actually got a ton to do (you know, as everyone else goes on vacation, I’m loaded down with work – just one more way I’m always at odds with the natural state of affairs in Paris).

      I do think an all-out metro party should be kept in mind, however. Maybe during the winter when we *really* need our spirits lifted. Plus, the hot metro will actually be a relief then!

  9. 16 Geary July 16, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    When I took a French class in Paris a few years ago, I commuted from station Chemin Vert to Grands Boulevards every morning. It was crowded, but everyone was very polite (no smiling though). I was told that if you smile at strangers, you are regarded with suspicion. If you smile at waiters or shop clerks, they will snub you. Hmmm, very different than the US.

    I once read that Europeans in general regard strangers with reserve as they have been invaded by them so often in the past. In the US, strangers were regarded with welcome as they were so often needed to help build the new country.

    I probably smile more than the Parisians do when I am there, but I try to remember how they are. I think they would be happier if they smiled more so maybe your brigade will take hold.

    • 17 paris (im)perfect July 16, 2010 at 6:29 pm

      Hi Geary. You are certainly right that strangers smiling are regarded with suspicion (I prefer that to regarded as if we’re stupid – I’ve heard that, too!) I never tied the suspicion to fear of invasion, though – interesting perspective! Makes more sense than anything I’ve come up with so far. We’ll see how they feel about being invaded by the Smile Brigade!

      While I can appreciate the reserve and discreteness of the French and do my best to understand every culture’s social mores, sometimes I just want my full personality to shine through. And that includes a big American smile.

  10. 18 PigletinFrance July 19, 2010 at 8:52 am

    I would certainly come up to Paris for a smile bash on the tube! We could then organise a second installment in Lyon somewhere – believe me, the folks here are even less smiley than Paris, and that’s saying something! Les Lyonnais folk are known for being cold, I just want to spray them with hot water to heaten their hearts somewhat…

    You keep smiling Sion, be true to yourself. There are loads of foreigners in Paris so you’ll probably get lots of smiles back and you know what they say about smiles making people happier. I think I’m going to start smiling too as from today.

    Good luck to you all smiley people :) :) :) :)

  11. 20 Elena July 19, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Count me in as another recruit for the Paris Smile Brigade :)

  12. 22 Kristin July 19, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Good luck meeting your deadline, Sion. And Happy B-day to your mom!

    Re not smiling in France: I’ll never forget receiving an admonition from a government worker at the town hall in the small village I lived in: “you must quit smiling like that,” she said. “People think you are crazy.”

    Yesterday (some 13 years later…) I was at a music festival in Bedoin. I decided to see what would happen if I looked up and smiled… low and behold the locals smiled back! Then again, maybe I was smiling at a fellow foreigner?

    • 23 paris (im)perfect July 19, 2010 at 8:47 pm

      Hi Kristin! Gosh, I would never forget such an admonition, either! So sad!

      Well, I guess I’ll be the crazy lady then. Glad you’ve kept smiling – and that people are now smiling back!

  13. 24 Delana July 20, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Karin is right…grinning is viral. And though I’ve been told I won’t ever be taken seriously if I continue this smiling nonsemse, I just don’t give a rat’s ass. Today I got the opthomologist to smile 4 times. I think that is a record (for a week) for him and with this resumee, I ask to be a part of your brigade

  14. 26 Stéphanie August 11, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    to give another hint of why Parisians do not smile at everybody, remeber “Risus abundat in ore stultorum”, which means “Abundant laughs in the mouth of the foolish”. In poor words, you must have a valid reason to smile, it is seen as a volountary decision of contact with your neighbour.
    Having said that, I confirm in Italy people smile a lot, but when I go to the States I always feel like people smile so much just to get a tip. I mean, smiling always is as unnatural as never smiling, right?

    • 27 paris (im)perfect August 11, 2010 at 1:40 pm

      Hey Stephanie. Definitely a good point and one I’ve come to understand. Unfortunately, I actually *was* born smiling a lot. Not that I always have a smile plastered on my face…but you know, I think the Parisians must think I do!


  1. 1 A Non-Strike Subway Shenanigan « paris (im)perfect Trackback on October 25, 2010 at 9:33 am

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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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