Dark Skies Over the City of Light: Weird Weather Begets Bad Behavior
- Published on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 00:00
- Written by David Jaggard
Skipped a Spot
Illustration by Charles Giai-Gischia. Visit his blog, Traits-Drôles, for a larger version and more drawings.
Sometimes a topic for C’est Ironique seems to just fall from the sky. In this case, the topic has been literally falling from the sky, as of this writing, for months on end. The weather is
not usually high on my list of personal interests. I tend to reserve meteorological discussions for casual acquaintances with whom it’s good form to exchange pleasantries, whether I find it pleasant or not: neighbors, shopkeepers, court-ordered psychiatrists, etc. But the weather has been so exceptional (read: merdique) this year that it has actually become Ironique-worthy.
To put it simply, Paris has fallen one season behind. With few exceptions, we had wintry cold every day and rain most days all the way through March, April and May. The first day that actually felt kind of vaguely like spring was June 1. Then it got cold again.
Beyond its negative impact on flood levels, fruit crops, wildlife migration patterns and hairdos, this long spell of wet weather has had a mood-dampening effect on the city’s inhabitants: by mid-May Parisians had become noticeably surly, testy and irascible. Or perhaps I should say noticeably surlier, testier and irascibler than usual.
Of course, we’re talking about a population that has never been known for its endless reserves of cheerful beneficence, but starting in May, the public outbursts of insult-laced indignation increased in frequency and vehemence.
I first noticed the phenomenon while waiting in line at a bakery. After I had been there for about a minute, the woman standing ahead of me came to two decisions: 1) she didn’t have enough room, and 2) this was entirely and personally my fault.
This despite the dual facts that: A) she could have left more margin between herself and the person in front of her, and B) waiting in long, crowded croissant lines is as much a part of life in France as maman, le football and tarte aux pommes.
But instead of saying “Excuse me” or “Could you please not stand so close?” or any of a dozen other more or less polite ways to make her discomfort known, she then made a third decision, namely to whip around and snap at me, “Hey! Could I have some space?!”
To which I wanted to answer, “You already do, between your ears.” But, being a knee-jerk non-jerk, I didn’t.
This proved to be the first in a string of such incidents. All of the following then took place within the next 24 hours:
Incident 1: Spreading the happiness around
I was taking a bus toward the center of town that same afternoon when a group of four or five young people, probably in their early twenties, boarded and sauntered toward the back without observing the formality of presenting tickets or transit passes.
This in itself is hardly unusual and, following the usual procedure, the bus driver called out to “remind” them to pay the fare. It then became apparent that one of the young gentlemen was especially sensitive to subtle shades of nuance in the way this message was conveyed. A McLuhan scholar, no doubt.
In any case, he surprised everyone by producing and validating a ticket, whereupon he said, loudly and with as much sarcasm as he could muster, “Happy now?”
Then, instead of going back to join his friends, he saw fit to remain up front and devote all of his energy and transit time to harassing the driver. I couldn’t quite hear what he was saying, but it was clear that he was not inquiring as to the health and well-being of the public servant’s aged mother.
Furthermore, he kept up his barrage of abuse through four or five stops and as many entreaties from his friends to give up, shut up and sit down. Finally, the driver pulled over at an intersection where a group of policemen were handing out parking tickets and called one of them onto the bus.
After a short discussion between the two men in uniform, the loquacious lout was led away – not in handcuffs (yet, as far as I saw), but forced off the bus and cordially invited to stick around for a little chat.
I thought it was a fitting dénouement: the young ruffian was obviously looking for trouble, and he found it. And then, in the parallel universe where everything works out exactly as I wish it would, everyone on the bus leaned out the windows as it pulled away and shouted, in unison, “Happy now?”
Incident 2: The right of way, and right away
As all Parisians know, when it comes to surliness, testiness and irascibleness, motorcyclists are always selflessly and tirelessly striving to push the envelope. Well, tirelessly, in any case.
Walking up Rue des Martyrs the next morning, I was annoyed, although not very surprised, to be passed on the sidewalk by a guy on a motorcycle. He was trying to get around a truck that was stopped for a delivery and decided to weave among the pedestrians rather than wait.
This happens to be on my bucket list: just once before I die I’d love to see a motorcyclist get a ticket for riding on the sidewalk. But especially that particular motorcyclist, because not 10 seconds later, back in the street, he came to a crosswalk in which a woman was crossing a bit too slowly for his refined and sensitive tastes.
He had a good two meters on either side where he could have slalomed around and kept going, but instead he screeched to a halt in order to shriek invective at her for impeding his progress.
To be fair, maybe he had a good reason to be in a hurry. Maybe he was late for work. If so, he had a perfectly legitimate excuse: “Sorry, boss – I would have been here on time, but I had to stop and insult everybody who crossed my path.”
Incident 3: Decibel hell
Speaking of two-wheelers being exempt from the laws of the road, and logic, a scant half hour later I was walking back down that same street when I saw another motorcyclist speeding toward me. Actually, I heard him first: he was holding his horn button down.
As I mentioned in a previous article about getting a French driver’s license, it’s illegal to honk within the city limits except in emergencies. And in the parallel universe where everything goes exactly according to the rules, Parisian emergency rooms are full of drivers suffering from life-threatening impatience.
In this case, the scofflaw was breaking that law because the car in front of him wasn’t making it easy enough for him to break another law, namely the one that prohibits passing on the right.
Note to Paris residents: Yes, this law exists.
Note to Parisian motorcyclists: Yes, it really, really does exist.
In reaction to this violation of his dieu-given right to flout statutes that were enacted for his own safety, the riled-up rider kept his horn blaring for the entire block.
The noise pollution was then boosted closer to the red alert level by one of the pedestrians on the sidewalk, who yelled at him as he passed by, using a well-known two-syllable English phrase that is perceived, perhaps illogically, as a grave insult.
Oddly enough, that pedestrian was exactly the same height and weight as me. And age. His voice sounded a lot like mine too. Strangest thing.
Yes, despite the fact that I am normally a cheerfully beneficent (read: non-parisien) kind of person, by the end of the rainwave I had joined the ranks of the irascible.
So to all the bakery bigmouths, bus belligerents, sidewalk space invaders and hellacious hornblowers in Paris: you win, I’m one of you. And there’s just one thing I have to ask: Happy now?
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