A little slice of life in Paris - overheard at the market



Back in February, I wrote a post about the law banning "mademoiselle" ("miss") from official government forms in France. Other than reading a couple of articles about the new regulation, I hadn't heard much about it until I went to the market this morning. While standing in line waiting to pay for my fresh vegetables, I was delighted to overhear the following conversation:

Man in motorcycle helmet: Here you are, Madame. (Joking) Oh, excuse me. I mean mademoiselle.
Woman (who turned out to be the man's sister-in-law): You're not allowed to call me mademoiselle!
Man: What? Why not?
Woman customer #1: It's against the law. The government said that all women are to be called "Madame".
Man in motorcycle helmet (astonished): But that's ridiculous! I'm supposed to call a beautiful young woman Madame?
Woman customer #1: That's what the government decided. It's to prevent harassment.
Man in motorcycle helmet: Harassment? That's stupid. We're not living in the United States! (Speaking to a young boy) You're going to have a hard time when you grow up! You won't even be able to look at a beautiful woman without being accused of harassment. Well, maybe you can still look if you're discrete. (General laughter by everyone, including the women)
Woman customer #2: Or if you're wearing sunglasses! (More laughter)

Parisians love witty banter and there's no place where it's more evident than at the neighborhood markets. Click here to see an interactive map and find one near you. There's also a handy app called "Paris Food Markets" that lists markets by arrondissements.

My basket was full of fresh beets (the first of the season!), onions and a cucumber.
I didn't buy any flowers, although I did enjoy looking at them.










Many of the regular vendors have already left Paris for their annual vacation. I overheard one man trying to convince a woman to buy a pair of jeans for 10€ by telling her that they will cost 30€ when everyone returns to the city in September.

Comments

  1. I was thinking about that new law recently, but I forget under what circumstance--probably just my mind wondering. I like that people are talking about it. It is customary still to use a form of address when greeting someone, yes? Especially shopkeepers and other public workers, yes? So now though, no one says, "Bonjour Mademoiselle."

    And can you buy only one onion in the market if you like, or is everything bundled?

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    1. People still use "mademoiselle" as a form of greeting. What was interesting to me about the exchange at the market is that it made me realize that some men must think of "mademoiselle" as a compliment. I've also wondered why some men occasionally call me "mademoiselle" and that's the only reason that I can come up with - either that or they have really bad eyesight!

      I'm not sure if you can buy only one onion because I always buy a bunch of them. The vendors that I go to are very friendly so perhaps they wouldn't mind if someone just wanted to buy one. I've noticed that the grocery stores sell lots of things in individual portions. You could definitely buy one onion there but they wouldn't be as fresh.

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  2. At the risk of sounding like a humourless feminist grinch (and I'm really not against all flirting or light banter etc.), maybe France does need to work harder on preventing harassment. I don't know if you've heard of the recent to-do over a female MP who was whistled and booed for daring to wear a dress in parliament. The reaction of another MP sounds a lot like what you overheard in the market:

    "Elle a manifestement changé de look, et si elle ne veut pas qu'on s'y intéresse, elle peut ne pas changer de look. D'ailleurs, peut-être avait-elle mis cette robe pour ne pas qu'on écoute ce qu'elle avait à dire?" Et d'affirmer qu'il ne s'agit pas de machisme : "On peut regarder une femme avec intérêt sans que ce soit du machisme!"

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    1. Thanks for linking to the article, Gwan. I hadn't heard about the incident in parliament. There's definitely a double standard for women - my daughter just made a presentation at a conference in Australia and was told by her advisor (another woman) that she shouldn't wear anything that would detract from her presentation. I was a bit surprised because Sara always dresses conservatively and with taste. Still, I guess that women - especially young women - still need to downplay their femininity to be taken seriously in some circles.

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  3. Such a funny conversation and so true about paris market banter...
    Is that Joel Thibult's stand?? If so, he's on board to grow kale starting in September!!!

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    1. Wow! I'm impressed!!! You know your farmers. That is Joel Thibult's stand. While I was admiring his greens (he always has a much better selection than the other vendors), I was thinking about you and wondering if he would be a good candidate to grow kale. I'm so pleased that he's already on board. Does this mean that I'll be able to buy kale at my market soon? I sure hope so!!!

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  4. Ha, what a funny conversation! I'm so glad you posted this. It reminds me of the real conversations posted on the site "Overheard in NY." I've heard some pretty funny stuff on the streets, but I never get around to submitting any of it.

    I personally prefer mademoiselle, even though I'm married. It sounds so much younger!

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    1. When I was younger and already married, I also preferred mademoiselle for the same reason. It was even worse to be called "Frau" instead of "Fräulein" when we lived in Germany because it made me feel like a stoutly matron!

      I haven't seen the site "Overheard in NY" but will check it out. Boston is also a great city for eavesdropping. I've heard some of the funniest conversations there.

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  5. What a great conversation to listen in on! I have to say though, I agree with man in motorcycle helmet 100%. This law is a bit silly!

    I was raised by off-the-boat Italians who have very loose tongues, so I guess I'm incapable of wrapping my brain around that mademoiselle is considered harassment or offensive!

    I will still refer to myself as a mademoiselle until I can't anymore. ; )

    Have a nice weekend, MK!

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    1. Thank goodness that you're not contemplating a name change - Madame Coquine doesn't have quite the same ring to it!

      To me, the law seems like putting a superficial bandaid on a big wound. There are sexual harassement issues in France (and in other countries) but I don't think that they're going to be resolved by removing the word "mademoiselle" from government forms.

      Have a great weekend - you should celebrate now that you've got your French visa!

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  6. Paris markets are definitely one of my joys as are the conversations you often overhear. I was fortunate to be staying close to Marché Bastille when in Paris last year and loved wandering among the leafy greens and preserves pretending I was a resident! Maybe one day.

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    1. There's something so communal about shopping at the neighborhood markets - that and being a regular at a bakery, cafe, etc. For me, it's these conversations and human exchanges that I miss when I go back to the USA and shop in the large impersonal stores where no one knows (or cares) who I am.

      Preserves were a hot topic at the market yesterday because apricots are in season so everyone was talking about which ones are better to preserve than to eat. Of course, fruit vendors offered samples of different apricots so that people could make informed purchases!

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  7. Oh Dear, how terrible for us American to be against harrassment :) Frankly watch early episodes of "Mad Men" and you get a pretty good idea why. I remember back in the 70's, my first office job, treatment of young women wasn't all that different from this show. It was a quite a struggle for respectful treatment to be the "norm".

    Actually, we don't have a Federal law against "Miss". You get a choice...Mrs., Miss or Ms. So perhaps the French are really leading the way afterall!
    Dekage

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    1. I really will have to download "Mad Men". It keeps coming up in conversations and I feel so out of the loop whenever it's mentioned. Being out of touch with popular culture is one of the downsides of being an expat - I think that I started watching "Friends" about the time that it went off the air.

      We really have made a great deal of progress since the 1970s. I just read an article about the results of a study showing that women are smarter than men in the developed world.

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  8. So what is the root of the word "mademoiselle"? Why is it offensive exactly?

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    1. From the NYTimes article about the drop:

      “You’ve never wondered why we don’t call a single man ‘mondamoiseau,’ or even ‘young male virgin?’ ” the feminist groups ask on a joint Web site. “Not surprising: this sort of distinction is reserved for women.”

      Really? Is this what people think when they hear the word?

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  9. It's a shame there isn't a middle ground word like Ms which is used in the UK and Ireland. That would make life easier. Calling every woman Madame is a bit dumb, especially a young woman. Maybe it's OK for official documents but I can't see the fellas in the street adopting this new approach. I know Caiti would be mortified if someone referred to hear as Madame!

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