French people are always trying to help me with my class. Since I got here, a clumsy, American country-bumpkin prone to spilling things on myself and asking for drip coffee (which the french have a universal distaste for, and judge americans greatly for drinking), I have been taken under the arm of many a do-good frenchie who decides to educate me in the ways of social behavior. It’s kind of like I’m Eliza with various Dr. Higgins (reference to My Fair Lady). The examples of these “lessons” are endless, and often come from of a badly-humoured joke that I make which, while in English would be funny, in French is just plain crass. Particularly from a young lady of my impeccable breeding (as impeccable as it can be for an American, that is). Examples are plentiful, but here I’ll just put down a few.
A good friend of mine visited me in October of last year, and in a free moment, decided to draw an immaculate a penis in black pen. She’s a studio art major, so the quality - let me assure you - was much better than the standard dick-drawing. Pleased, and still decorating my apartment, I placed the Perfect Penis (so we shall call it) on my fridge. Since then, the Perfect Penis has received a lot of attention, proving to be a great conversation starter.
“Is that a penis?”
“Why, yes! It is."
Then follows one of those really quality conversations that seems to always come about after one looks at a penis drawing. However, I recently had some french friends over, one of which brought another french friend I have met a few times. This friend-of-a-friend looks at the Penis, then looks back at me, visibly shocked. He proceeds to inform me that it is just “pas bien” for a girl to have something like that on display. Shaking his head at me, with a face expressing both disgust and shame in my poor decision making, he proceeds to move the penis to a side wall, so that no one can see it. This boy, my unexpected benefactor, makes it clear how much better he feels once the penis is out of sight. That, he reminds me, “n’est pas la classe.” (is not classy). Lucky for me, the penis out of sight, my reputation has since managed to remain intact.
Another such incident happened the other day when I was talking to a new friend from work about living in Paris during the past year. After discussing museums, schoolwork, and restaurants around the city, he asked me if I’d become educated in the ways of France’s national drink: wine. There are dozens of wine tasting courses around the city, and being the penny-pinching college student that I am, I have never once considered going to one. My new friend informs me that this is a Paris “must”. I inform him that although I have not learned to drink wine, I have drank quite a lot of it in my time here. This was supposed to be a joke, as in, “Haha, I drink a ton of cheap-ass wine so no worries!” Instead, this remark was met with consternation. I thought I had said the phrase wrong, using the wrong verb tense, so I tried a few different versions. “I drink a lot of wine,” “I was drinking a lot of wine,” “I like to drink a lot of wine,” I said. These statements did not help my case when I learned that the actual problem was that I was not being classy. It was just neither funny nor appropriate to talk about drinking that way. Especially as a lady. I was informed that I should say what translates to, “I have happily tasted many wines”. This, my friend told me, while still shaking his head over the serious nature of my mistake, “est la classe.”