If you go to a Paris cafe early in the day you'll find the chairs are lined up neatly in rows. They're packed so tight you could just barely squeeze someone in each chair if everyone were impossibly slender Parisiennes who only eat one salad a day. But it's perfectly acceptable to move the chairs this way and that to make yourself more comfortable or accomodate different sized groups. At the end of a busy day the chairs are scattered everywhere. Cafes may look rigidly ordered, but in fact they are pleasantly malleable.
French social life is much like cafe chairs. There are zillions of rules, laws, and petty bureaucratic requirements everywhere. Every park in Paris posts a large sign of the rules, buildings have plaques reminding you of the law of 1881 forbidding posters, even the public lawns have ritualistic timing for when you're allowed to sit on them.

But the truth is life in France is more flexible and casual than the rules imply. Yeah, there's not much parking in Paris, but if you're a boulanger you can stop in the street for a few minutes and block traffic to drop off fresh baguettes. The park really does close at 10pm, but if the gate is open and you're quiet no one is going to much care if you cross through it. In general the French adapt their rules to what makes sense in any specific situation. To stereotype heavily, France is a happy compromise between the complete chaos of Mediterranean cultures and the rigid order of Germanic and Scandanavian cultures. Ordered but still flexible.

  2007-05-16 11:59 Z