Provinciaux deem that Parisians are below normal.
Parisians on the other hand know full well that they navigate far beyond the norm.
Such a striking opposition lies in the very definition each have of “the norm”. While outside Paris, the norm has to do with a set of values and behaviors, in Paris, it has to do with the populace: Parisians don’t see the concept, they see the numbers.
No matter how sorry the lifestyle of the Paris people may be, most will develop advanced reality-dodging strategies to convince themselves that they are not a part of the populace (“C’est tout petit mais le séjour est super lumineux“, “Le quartier est génial. Bon, faut pas rentrer seule le soir bien sûr, mais sinon c’est top”…)
The ultimate destination of their dodging artifices is to be found in the realm of culture. Thankfully for Parisians, while there is no such thing as a pseudo lifestyle, there is no shortage of pseudo-culture for Parisians to hope to harness their above-the-normness to. So Parisians tap endlessly into this fantastic source of easy differentiation. Conveniently enough, the more petty, the more superficial the artifice, the more differentiating.
But a city of impoverished wannabes gets the cultural and intellectual life it deserves: that of followers. The city of avant-garde, cultural boldness and creative brilliance is now populated by a militia of unsuspecting but zealous agents of cultural destruction. While Parisians no longer have the talent or the guts to truly think, act and invent accordingly, they have gained much comfort, even pride, in the thought of continuing, of adapting, of imitating. They don’t rebel, revolt or revolutionize, they reinterpret. What makes the norm is never questioned, instead, the dominant way of acting and thinking is always accepted as irremediably evident and thus only marginally adapted, harmlessly amended.
The adjective that epitomizes this evolution the most is “décalé“. Coolness in Paris lies in being off-beat. Everything can be décalé: a decor, a meal, a personality, a look, an idea, etc. Visitors ought to be cautious not to be push it however: being off-beat is utterly cool in Paris but questioning the beat shall be judged as extremism (or, if you’re white, as racism, even if the topic tackled has nothing to do with races).
All the freedom, identity and intelligence Parisians need lie in that tiny space between the norm and the “décalé“.
Parisians whom, as most Western urbanites, view themselves as educated, are oblivious to their staggering adoption and strict observance of this new norm: they are free and having fun.
Provinciaux are right: having turned into such unsuspecting tools, most Parisians are indeed far below the street smart common sense levels of normal people. Parisians on the other hand are not, as they like to believe, above the norm. They are merely the first victims and yet the relentless advocates of that new insidious and gooey norm they furtively carry.
The population of this brave new city sets an example that should pervade – normalize if you will – the rest of France and soon enough turn into the brave new country it ought to be: fully in-line and fully décalé, that is.
Sound like a Parisian: “Non, le truc était hyper décalé, vraiment, excellent!”
Useful tip: Impress your French friend by translating “let’s go” by “on décale”. (Neat argot for you!!)