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I like to pretend that I am French.
For some that might mean eating a baguette, climbing out of an invisible box or wearing a sexy maid’s outfit. But for me the thing I love best is going to Paris and being mistaken for a local.
“Excuse me. Oo ay le Ark de Tree-omph?” a confused tourist sometimes asks. Even though I don’t have a clue where anything is in the city, I fix him with the look of someone who doesn’t appreciate being interrupted and point confidently in a northerly direction. Before he has time to ask something that may require that I actually speak, I adjust my scarf and run down the street like Audrey Tautou in Amélie.
However, I am nothing like la petite Amélie. After surviving the most brutal Canadian winter in recent history by staying indoors watching big-screen TV, I am less gamine and more Depardieu. Still, I’ve been trying to be French for a long time, and with a gigantic effort I can sometimes pull it together.
Instead of looking curious, I try to look confident. Rather than slouch, I stand ramrod straight. My jackets are fitted, because a French lady always shows her waist. And then there’s the scarf, the shoes, the lipstick and the attitude.
Several years ago, while visiting Paris, I went to a yoga studio where the class was taught entirely in French. Because I am familiar with yoga, I was able to ooze my way into the class and respond to the teacher with a “oui” or a nod of the head. It was only after he tried to engage me in a dialogue about elbows that my cover was busted.
“Un peu plus lentement?” I asked weakly.
His face fell with disappointment. “Oh,” he said sadly, “I thought you were French.”
While visiting France last month, I was determined not to let that happen again. I had spent the winter listening to language CDs in my car. Also, I was older, wiser, and had invested about $300 in pretravel grooming.
In addition to having my hair coloured, I’d had my eyebrows tinted. This was at the suggestion of my stylist, who said that darker eyebrows would make me appear more dramatic. I thought that sounded fun, but was slightly concerned when a few hours later they started to itch. She told me not to worry: A slight reaction, or “temporary redness,” was normal.
In Paris, I was staying with my friend Clare, who lives in a lovely apartment in a pretty part of town. That alone is worth a trip, but I was anxious to do more. I had already seen a lot of the museums, and I enjoy getting involved in the day-to-day activities such as grocery shopping, drinking wine and going to a yoga class.
What I forgot to pack, though, were yoga pants. So I called Clare at work, and with her permission rummaged around in her dresser to find some. Triumphantly, I grabbed the first pair I saw and ran out the door to le Métro. Barely making it to my class on time, I managed to pay, whip into the changing room and land on my mat in minutes. (Nothing makes a girl more French than being in a hurry.)
The teacher came into the room and greeted us politely. I felt as though he was smiling mostly at me and, to be honest, I wasn’t surprised. After all, I was wearing the regulation striped T-shirt and my toes were freshly painted a saucy shade of crimson. All that was missing was a poodle.
As the class commenced I felt other Parisian eyes upon me. Could it be that I was the best in the class? The side wall was mirrored, and as I worked my way through “downward dog” I glanced at my reflection.
My goodness, my shirt was cute. But oh-oh! My white underwear was visible through my pants. Unfortunately they were quite tight, and were squishing my bum so that it looked like I was in a rock-climbing harness. There were bulges everywhere! I hoped that if I stood up straight it wouldn’t be so obvious.
The next pose was a standing one, which was much better, as my undies weren’t so apparent. My yoga pants, (which I found out later were actually leggings rather than pants) weren’t quite as see-through when I was erect.
My top was still adorable, but there was something wrong with my face. In my hurry to leave the apartment I hadn’t looked in a mirror and noticed that the skin around my eyebrows was red and blotchy. Mon Dieu! I didn’t look French at all. I barely looked human! The thing I mostly resembled was a clown, which explains why people were smiling. The French love clowns almost as much as they love mimes, and in my outfit I was a combination of both.
But being French comes from within, I thought, so with fake confidence I finished the class. After changing into some proper pants I put on my giant sunglasses, hurried down the street and elbowed some tourists out of my way.
Janet MacLeod lives in Toronto.