Seen from Paris, England does not seem like a very likable country. Parisians like to recite the long list of afflictions the old nemesis seems to have: bad weather, alcoholism, ugliness, revolting food, hooliganism. . . . There seems to be no redemption.
However, there is one aspect of the English culture Parisians look up to. Oddly enough, it is not a phenomenon but instead an actual fringe of the English society: that is upper class English people.
Parisians thrive on the mythology of the “vieux lord anglais” and its escort of enchanting adverbs and manners. This mythology feeds a tiny but indisputable inferiority complex rooted in the prestigious mystique of England’s academic institutions. It is clear to all Parisians that England shapes its elite better than France does. The legend of Eton, Cambridge and Oxford is undoubtedly more vibrant in Paris than it could ever be in the UK.
Parisians all wish they could have English humor. They revere the inherent distinction, discreet wisdom and smiley distance that come in the English humor package; add the English true gourmandise in the choice of their words and a talent for measured eccentricity and you’ll find the Parisian irremediably charmed. In good English company, the world seems to be freed from triviality.
Though Parisians proclaim as often as they can their indefectible love for English humor, most can not deal too well with absurdity. As much as reality can be disturbing, Parisians have a hard time resolving themselves to let go of it for a second. This relationship to reality explains that characters like Benny Hill or Mr. Bean do not gather unanimous support in Paris.
On the topic of English humor, Parisians rarely refrain from using the adjective pince-sans-rire. They are somehow jealous of that trait of English culture that allows its people to be intelligent and fun at the same time. They wished they too could juggle with humor and wit and be socially rewarded for it.
But it is too late. Paris has drenched the spark in most eyes. Humor is a mental exercise the city does not foster. Thus reinforcing Parisians’ in their vision that the gap between them and upper class English simply cannot be bridged. This vaguely depressing and resignated thought satisfies the Parisian.
So much for wanting to be humorous.
Sound like a Parisian: « Oh Hugh Grant j’adore; le côté très british, élégant, très fin, pince-sans-rire: excellent!»
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