Friday, May 11, 2007

Real American in Paris #1

Real Americans in Paris was thinking about the various kings of France -- especially the Louis. At least one of them, according to legend, had his servants taste his soup to make sure it wasn't poisoned. He had servants who wore his new shoes until they were comfortably broken in.

So in the same vein, while the RAP team is happily dashing all over Paris interviewing the most fascinating people, we thought it might be fitting to be our own soup-taster and bunion-buster before we inflict too much on others. We sat down with our fearless leader, Polly of Polly Vous Francais? fame, and asked her a few questions.

RAP: What brought you to Paris?
Polly: American Airlines, flight 120.

RAP: Ha,ha. Well, I mean, why Paris?
Polly: I'm a recovering French lit major. I visited Paris in 1973 and spent the next 35 years trying to be French in the US. It was time to give that up and be an American in Paris. It's made me an honest woman.

RAP: Do you remember what you were wearing when you first arrived?
Polly: Too many layers of clothing and a fur coat, because I had exceeded baggage weight limits, even though I had paid for checking 5 suitcases.

RAP: How many times had you visited Paris prior to moving here?
Polly: Never enough. I cried every time I left.

RAP: When did you move to Paris? Which arrondissement?
Polly: March 2006. Then I switched banks. I started in a great furnished flat in the 8th arrondissement on the Right Bank, and am now in the 7th, on the Left Bank. Very different.

RAP: Did you speak French prior to coming to Paris?
Polly: Oui. Almost fluently. The French say "Vous parlez presque sans accent," and I want to get rid of the presque. At least I thought I was fluent. I can spout Balzac or Proust. Then I found out I don't know how to say things like "The plunger thingy in the toilet doesn't work." Stuff like that.

RAP: What is the most overrated Paris monument or attraction?
Polly: The Louvre. It is a wonderful dazzling place, but it doesn't sum up all of what is Paris. Last night I met an Australian family with two energetic kids. They had 1-1/2 days to visit Paris and they planned to spend a full day of that in the Louvre. I didn't know these folks from Adam, but I was begging them to change their plans.

RAP: Please complete the following. "If I were Mayor of Paris I would...."
Polly: 1) make more taxis available; 2) re-instate first-class metro cars; 3) have a party in the sumptuous Hotel de Ville for American bloggers in Paris...

RAP: What do you spend most of your waking hours doing?
Polly: Walking, writing, riding the bus. Definitely not shopping. Really, I promise. Really.

RAP: Which American organizations in Paris (if any) have you participated in?
Polly: American Library, American Cathedral, The French-American Foundation, Paris Alumni Network, WICE. I could speak paragraphs about these, they're all fabulous. And I have family ties to the American Church, so I love that too. People confuse the Cathedral and the Church, so I say, the Church is on the river, the Cathedral is on the slope. Oh and the Paris Choral Society.

RAP: French organizations?
Polly: Les Amis du Louvre les Amis du Musee d'Orsay. And the Paris Choral Society -- it's French too.

RAP: How has Paris changed you?
Polly: Ah, I have absorbed the French paradox --- my version. I am more confident, more centered, yet more obsessed with how I look, all while getting plump where I wasn't before. Go figure.

RAP: How do you keep up with current events?
Polly: Google news, actualités, NY Times online. I had a free 4-week subscription to the Herald Tribune, which was nirvana. Unfortunately, after the first week I had to go the the US for a 3-week emergency, so missed out getting hooked on the regular delivery option. I love Le Canard Enchainé and try to alternate reading Le Monde and Le Figaro so I get different perspectives. I'm working on mastering Le Nouvel Observateur, but it's tough. I'm an information junkie. I could spend hours listening to NPR on line.

RAP: What is your preferred method of transportation? What do you do for exercise?
Polly: Riding the bus, walking, and riding my bike. The latter two are also my primary forms of exercise. I really AM going to sign up for the gym. First, though, I'm thinking of taking ballroom dancing on rue de Grenelle.

RAP: On average, what percentage of your time do you spend speaking in English? French?
Polly: 50/50. I thought it would be 10% English 90% French. That could change.

RAP: What (if anything) do you miss about the US?
Polly: I miss my kids. I miss the smell of autumn leaves in New England. I miss listening to Click and Clack in the car on Saturday mornings. And, this is heresy here in France: I miss Trader Joe's.

RAP: What do you miss the least?
Polly: Malls, oversized parking lots, and infomercials. That's just for starters.

RAP: What is your favorite month in Paris?
Polly: Shhh. It's August. My little secret. Can that be off the record?

RAP: What is your most memorable aha! moment?
Polly: There have been so many. But the most vivid was in the first week that I was here. I met author Ines Huegel, who explained to me that if a Paris courtyard door is unlocked, you are entitled to enter. She had just finished a book on Paris courtyards.

RAP: If you had one sentence of advice for an American arriving in Paris, what would it be?
Polly: Read French or Foe, get Skype, buy a folding umbrella, and get a Navigo pass.

RAP: Where in the US are you from originally? Do you think that has affected how you have adapted to life in Paris?
Polly: I moved around a lot as a kid, mostly on the East coast. Perhaps that has made adapting to life here easier.

RAP: How often do you return to the US?
Polly: Every 2-3 months, for family, business, whatever.

RAP: How long do you plan to stay in Paris?
Polly: I'd like to stay here until I've seen all there is to see.

RAP: You mean...?
Polly: Forever, of course. You can never see everything.

RAP: How do you pronounce your name to French people?
Polly: POE-LEE. Like the French word poli. I can't say "like a parrot" because French parrots are called Coco.

RAP: Any houseguest stories?
Polly: Many. The most gripping is in this post from last November.

RAP: Any sources of inspiration? Books or movies or people?
Polly: My role model is Polly Platt, author of French or Foe and Savoir Flair. Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. I imagined my life here would be like the set of A Man and a Woman.

RAP: There's a story in that, I'm sure. Moving along, now. Do you dine in or out? What's your kitchen like?
Polly: When I dine in it's definitely the fabulous rotisserie chicken available from every neighborhood boucher, complemented by Picard everything else. Dining out I go around the corner to Au Pied de Fouet. They call me l'Americaine and have said that I could put a checkered napkin in the cubbyhole if I get a napkin ring with my name on it. I'm not adventurous (or presumptuous?) enough yet to do it. I have to save some moments for when I feel that I've earned it.

RAP: Imagine you are on the stage of the "Real American in Paris" awards ceremony, holding your "UncleSam/Marianne" statuette in the air. Whom will you thank?
Polly: "I'd like to thank Gomez Addams, Pépé le Pew, and Peter Sellers."

RAP: What will you say in your acceptance speech?
Polly: "This statuette is really pretty, folks. But do I get one of those little red threads for my lapel like the Legion d'honneur?"


The Late Bloomer said...

This was a great interview! I love Polly's blog, and I only wish I could leave her a comment or two... (Guess I should drop her an e-mail.) But I had to share some love here. She's hilarious and informative at the same time -- the perfect combination.

Glad to have found this. I'm an American working in Paris, but living in the banlieue parisienne -- but not too far outside the city, I swear!

The Late Bloomer said...

OK, Polly, I'm a complete IDIOT! I just realized you were interviewing YOURSELF there and that you've created this new blog... So perhaps you can disregard my former comment? And allow me to tell you how much I enjoy your blog in this new comment -- I feel really silly.

Excellent idea, in any case. Look forward to coming back and reading lots more.

Polly said...

Thanks. Actually there is some team work at play here. But I am new to comment moderating, as I completely blew comment enabling for Polly Vous. So bear with sieve-brain here while I learn.

Lots of good interviews done already and many in the works. Not enough hours in the day now. Certainly no time for the gym. Dang.

Victoria said...

Polly, this is a going to be a great blog! I love reading about Americans in Paris. (Hopefully I will be one someday)!

The Noosance said...

I really appreciated how you miss Click and Clack and Trader Joe's! I was in Paris for 8 days last July (first time back in 16 years) and am dying to go back. Would like to do some of the surrounding environs like Loire chateaus and Champagne region. Have you been out of the city much? I am off to eastern Europe this year (Prague, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna). Are you living anywhere near Rue Cler? I think that little street is overrated, personally.

The Noosance said...

Forgot to mention when I was in Paris, my sister bought the metro boxers for her son (does that make him a metrosexual?) I bought the cats and Eiffel Towers pair for myself, even though I'm a girl (what does that make me?)

Polly said...

You should have bought the metro boxers for yourself -- just begging to ask someone find the right station...

Misplaced said...

I just found the RAP site- excellent! It is a wonderful idea. I completely agree with your love of the American Library- I'm there every day working away- next time you are on the second floor say hello- I'll be the only one just staring at the screen wishing the words would magically appear.

Anonymous said...

´Allp, Poe-lee,

I so enjoyed this interview with you and your comments about moving to and living in, Paris, that it made me doubly sad that I would not get to meet you with Richard when I move back to Paris. I´m an opera singer, voice teacher and writer/translator and miss Paris like I miss air to breathe. Madrid, where I am now, has its own charms, but there´s nowhere like Paris. Thanks for your humor and insights.
Bien des choses,
Sandra Tallaferro

Philena said...

Good post.