Olivier Giraud’s one man English-speaking show How to Become Parisian in One Hour is an entertaining and engaging deconstruction of the Parisian stereotype at the Theatre des Nouveautés, complete with a good measure of American stereotype thrown in for equal measure. Of course, it was the conflict of the gregarious, wide-eyed US tourist, madly happy to be in Paris, pitted against the sullen and world-weary Parisian native which provided most of the humour, as Giraud energetically spun from American girl scaring the Parisian boys with her bizarre ‘sexy’ dancing in a club, to a snappy French man born and raised in Paris, impatiently waiting for his ten centimes change in a taxi.
That a good majority of the audience was American seemed to inherently confirmed most of the show’s claims; American citizens are good-natured and open enough to actively enjoy some choice satire of their nationality, Parisians aren’t quite as humble. Before the show properly started Giraud went through all the nationalities in the audience, ranging from Russian to Egyptian, and very few seemed to be French, with no one from Paris. One man shamefacedly admitted to living in Versailles, or within the Banlieu of Paris, and Giraud instantly asserted that this is a place where ‘true Parisians would rather die than live,’ with one eyebrow acerbically raised.
So this is a show for tourists evidently, but unlike tourist traps you may want to avoid, there is enough warmth and good feeling at the heart of this show to enrich your experience of the city on a trip here. Giraud himself is a French man and lived in Paris for many years before achieving success, therefore it seems that personal experience may propel his accounts of the Parisian waiter’s attitude or the genuinely hilarious recounting of shopping in a Parisian H&M and the service you may encounter there, juxtaposed against the smiley ‘yes we can’ of its American counterpart. He then goes on to recount how a Parisian would react to such service. What do you do if a server deigns to approach you in a clothes shop in Paris? ‘Shove one hand in their face and shout ‘NON, JE REGARDE!”
Perhaps the show only works because it is a spectacle for tourists building upon reputations and stereotypes that are instigated into the Western world’s cultural psyche. There is little soul-searching as to why Parisians are so constantly rude and in bad moods, other than that they have bad jobs with bad money and live in small apartments. Which, in retrospect, is probably as good a reason as any. However, where Giraud does trip up sometimes is in his dealing with other nationalities.
Evidently his show is so full of American characters as well as Parisian because he is aiming to appeal to an American audience, however occasionally he uses another nationality, such as African or Eastern European, as an example of a stereotype he evidently considers to be below other nationalities. Unfortunately this verges on a racism of sorts. ‘You get all kinds of nationalities at the Eiffel Tower,’ says Giraud, doing a quickfire enactment of most European reactions to Paris’ masterpiece, ‘and also Africans, selling their toys: one euro! one euro!’ His humour relies upon the fact that he purports these stereotypes are generalised of their nationalities, therefore he is here in a way saying all Africans in Paris at the Eiffel Tower will simply be beggars trying to rip off tourists.
Later again he talks about a beggar on the metro who is simply described as generic Eastern European, and again dressed as a scheming conman. I dragged my Parisian friend along to see this show to measure his reaction and, though he enjoyed it, he commented afterward that there are plenty of French beggars on the metro without having to lampoon those of an Eastern European nationality. Perhaps these were Giraud’s own opinions shining through in these scenes rather than true Parisian attitudes, and for a comedy show about nationality he may do well to perhaps adjust these nuances.
However, overall How to Become Parisian in One Hour was an hour well spent, with many laughs and in the company of a talented actor-host. Judging by the amount of delighted tourists waiting to have their picture taken with Giraud affecting his ‘Parisian pout’ afterward, this show will continue to do well for the entirety of its new run at the Theatre des Nouveautés.
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By Patrick Cash
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