Thursday, May 31, 2012

French connections and Parisian peculiarities

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2012 at 9:00 AM

SPL-cover-hilar.jpg
  • Courtesy of Olivier Magny.

Parisians are obsessed with cherry tomatoes, and they're crazy for sushi. They feel guilty about sweets, yet they can justify any dessert so long as it includes salted caramel, which they find “makes indulging almost enjoyable.”

Every Parisian under age 50 wears jeans, but they consider people who wear white socks beneath contempt. And while many Parisians like to disdain Americans as being stupid, or at least without culture, these same Parisians fall into two categories: “on the one hand, people whose favorite after-work occupations consist of watching CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, or Sex and the City; on the other, people who worship Woody Allen and Philip Roth.”

“Parisian are avid consumers of American culture and at the same time are fiercely convinced that such a thing does not exist,” writes Paris native Olivier Magny, who includes all of the above observations in his book “Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi.”

Magny seems to have no hang-ups about American culture. He’s especially fond of New Orleans food in general and one Southern lady in particular. That would be his fiancée, for whom this author and wine expert moved from France to New Orleans.

On Saturday, June 2, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., he’ll sign copies of “Stuff Parisians Like” and discuss both Parisian peculiarities and wine at Vine Dine, a wine shop/wine bar reviewed here a few weeks ago.

Magny trained as a sommelier and later started a wine school in Paris called O Chateau, which has grown to include a wine bar as well. He’s now working on a new book about terroir, which is due out later this year.

His first book started as a blog parsing the idiosyncrasies of his fellow Parisians, a people whom he says even Frenchmen outside the capital do not quite get.

“I idea was this. I hear from Americans who think Paris is this city of culture and glamor and I’d think, well that’s not right. But then a lot of my friends who come from the south of France, they’d say all Parisians are assholes, and that’s not true either,
” says Magny. “So this was a way to explain the way I see Paris in a more balanced way.”

The book is composed of a series of short essays based on the habits, hobbies, preoccupations and prejudices Magny sees in Parisians. Instead of flip one-offs, though, he provides illuminating and very funny analysis of the behavior and obsessions. The approach is affectionately droll, like an insider chiding his kin in private, and the writing is very smart.

The book was originally published in French as “Dessine-moi un Parisien” (“Draw Me a Parisian"), and it became a big hit in France. It was published in English last year and seems to be doing very well here too. Its sales ranking on Amazon.com is high, and the book has picked up some prominent reviews, including coverage in New York magazine, which called it “hilariously perceptive,” and in GQ, which called it “a well deserved spanking for all Parisians.”

Though originally intended for a French audience, the book translates very well for American readers, and today Magny says he hopes it proves both entertaining and helpful for prospective travelers headed to his homeland.

“I think some Americans feel intimidated when traveling to Europe, and especially to Paris, like they won’t be up to it or whatever,” he says. “So this is a way to let some of the air out of the balloon and say ‘look, you’ll do fine.’”

What: Olivier Magny signs “Stuff Parisians Like”

Where: Vine Dine, 141 Delaronde St., 361-1402

When: Saturday, June 2, from 2-4 p.m.

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