Thursday, July 01, 2010
Artichokes and attitudes
Maybe that last piece of information is the key to what feels so different. I actually feel much more at home among French language and French food than I used to; it doesn't feel nearly as foreign as I remember from that first visit to Paris almost exactly half a century ago. But this familiarity is, I think, deceptive. Visiting small towns, where any foreign tourist might be considered well and truly lost, gives me the sense of the real difference. Everyone is charming - so polite with their greetings when you enter the bakery, so delighted because this obvious foreigner can understand them and speak back (mistakes and all) - but conversation reveals the kind of attitudes I'd associate with the Outer Hebrides of the '50s, the serious take on what constitutes a decent life, the prejudice against attitudes that most of us in my own environment take for granted.
I'm the last person to be happy at the rise in public drunken-ness and the debauchery of youthful attitudes, but I think I'd rather have the relaxation of censure and the open-mindedness that comes with it than the instant condemnation of the unco guid. (My French friends and relations are not, I hasten to add, unco guid at all. Whew!)
Funny thing is - decline in public morality is often linked to the decline in religious belief, but contemporary France as I experience it has to feel one of the least religious societies I have encountered. Maybe I don't mix with the right people ...