Monday, September 7, 2009


On one of my soujourns to Paris I sat at a cafe with my favorite book.  Planning on absorbing myself in the prose of the latest author I was reading, I got a little sidelined.  I couldn't help but overhear the ladies seated next to me. My book would have to wait, as I watched the scene play out.

"We would like some preservatives please,” they said. The poor waiter looked more horrified with each request, as their voices grew increasingly louder every time they asked for their ‘preservatives’. After giggling to myself for a moment, I told the waiter in French what they really wanted by explaining that preservatives in English means jam. He was relieved as he rushed off to fill their order. I then turned to the women and conveyed that they were repeatedly asking the waiter for a condom. Needless to say, they were embarrassed and grateful for my translating abilities.

This experience still strikes my funny bone, but after relaying the scene to a friend the other day, it occurred to me that the French have a dichotomous perspective on sexuality. On the one hand, they do not want to talk about it so much.  We American women share our bedroom secrets with our best girlfriends, but for the French, they keep their business to themselves.  No sexy chit-chat among friends. It is simply not done.

However, if the plethora of condom machines laden around the city are an indicator of their actions, then I don't know what is. I mean condoms are sold in vending machines outside of every pharmacy. Considering there are pharmacies on every other street, that's a lot of condoms. It's probably a good thing too, since making-out in public is practically a national sport. So, there is absolutely no need to worry if you have an unplanned late night rendez-vous with the opposite sex (or for the same sex for that matter). The machines are available 24-7. Whew! That being said, perhaps the server thought the middle aged women wanted him to be the wearer of the preservatif—and to be honest, this man was clearly not interested in the female persuasion. So, I understand his reservation.

Okay, so while talking about it isn't really done here, there is little doubt that amorous displays in bars, in parks, while walking down the street, after dropping off your kids at school, frankly just about anywhere is just part of the cultural charm. I certainly don't mind. I have frankly been told to "get a room" on more than one occasion back in the States when I have displayed a little public affection. We may talk about it to our hearts content, but showing it in public is pretty much a no-no for the American. I suppose we are just as dichotomous as they are. We are just on opposing sides of the coin.

Nevertheless, being from the U.S. and not a frequenter of porn theaters, I was certainly surprised when I watched what we would consider a rated-R movie showing un-acted sexual acts. Fellatio being performed in full view on a mainstream movie is not necessarily out of character here in France. As my shock-o-meter was going off in the middle of the theater, the French didn't seem to give it a second thought.

And then there is the cultural phenomenon known as 5 a 7 (cinq a sept or five to seven to us). They even have a dry cleaning chain called 5 a sec taking a jibe at the French idiosyncratic way of thinking about sex. This comes from that fact that from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm is the time after work where one may go get a drink at a café, meet someone they like, go home with them or rent a hotel room by the hour (yep, even some of the nicer hotels will do that here) and then go home. What, you are married? That makes no difference to a French person, since they are probably married too. Having a bit of a fling doesn’t change the fact that they will go home at 7:00 to their families.

What about sex mixed in with a little politics? The French were stunned when The United States made such an issue out of President Clinton’s liason with Monica Lewinsky. Who cares about the man’s personal life? Ce n’est pas grave (it's no big deal). We on the other hand, with our puritanical ancestry showing up in full color, turned a little b.j. into a media circus.

Let’s face it, it's a different world here. And certainly there is an abundance of opportunities to say, "Oui," to a little sex.

Thank you for reading and bonne journée!