Single In Paris

Select Magazine — September 1982

One of a series of articles, by various authors, on 'Singles' life in different world capitals for the magazine: Select.

By Christopher Long

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The River Police in Paris once told me that one of their most frequent and unpleasant tasks was fishing bodies of broken-hearted females out of the River Seine – nearly always because a love affair had gone wrong.

In London, it seems, such tragedies are much rarer and much more likely to be the result of loneliness and the fact that there was no love affair at all – tragic or otherwise. Now if that sounds rather a morbid way to start an article on being single in Paris, I apologise.

The point is that it demonstrates a fundamental difference between London and Paris: drama!

Yes, Paris is romantic; it is beautiful; it is the sort of place where things happen and people do things that are only dreamt of here. But a lot of that is because when we go there we're looking for romance, drama and excitement.

For a foreigner, visiting Paris is like finding oneself standing in the middle of a stage with a full-blown melodrama going on all around. You more or less have to join in – or else sit back and watch.

A friend of mine, Michael, is like me. He escapes to Paris at the drop of a hat and readily admits that he is, in a way, a voyeur. His best visits are always when he goes alone. "It's a wonderful city to walk in. I love looking," he told me. "The first evening I nearly always walk along the Rue St Denis. I find watching the prostitutes fascinating. In fact, the thing about Parisian women as a whole is that they always make the best of themselves. They always seem to look as good as they possibly can."

Louise and I have often talked about the single life in Paris. Like most French girls she has her own flat. Few French girls would allow flatmates to share their lives. The flat or studio is therefore always as she wants it. And she can do what she wants when she wants.

She admits that Paris can be very hard and unwelcoming. And Paris is dangerous too, especially at night. But she seldom goes anywhere alone. Girlfriends are very important to her. She spends hours on the 'phone in a way that even English women would find excessive. And she always goes out with them if there isn't a particular man.

Presumably she is like so many other single girls in Paris who walk arm in arm with a girlfriend because for some reason they look even more attractive that way. They're also less vulnerable and can afford to take bigger risks in the flirtation game while knowing that they can easily get rid of undesirables. Unlike London, for example, girls and men spend much more time going out with friends of their own sex which means that at least they're out in the 'market-place' for meeting people and have the added security and confidence which comes from 'hunting' or 'shopping' in pairs or groups!

Like Michael and me, they too play the voyeur/exhibitionist game. Sit in any terrace cafe watching the world go by and you'll be surprised how often the same two girls or men will pass you by. They look as if 'hunting' or 'shopping' was the last thing on their mind and the girls will give the most convincing performance when they ignore or rebuff any interest that's shown in them. The men will go on quietly (or more persistently) pursuing when we English would long ago have given up.

"But the poor girl doesn't want to talk to him," we English would say. "Why doesn't he leave her alone," we complain. But we're wrong. We probably haven't noticed that those two girls have been deliberately (though apparently innocently) walking past those two men. And because those two men are skilled voyeurs just as the girls are skilled exhibitionists, they know the score. Of course they pursue and of course the girls will rebuff them – that's the fun of the game.

The canny French are far too keen on winning and looking after themselves and their own wants to let such an enjoyable mating game decline. Recruits to the feminist cause are, unsurprisingly, rather few on the ground and the men have always known that the women rule the roost which is why they are so unashamedly chauvinist!

Of course, people meet in Paris in all sorts of places, just as they do here and everywhere else, but generally speaking I think that the single men and women I've known in Paris are very different from the single people I know at home. There you are single because you either want to be or because you haven't met the right person, but, you very seldom need to be alone in Paris.

I must admit that much as I love France, I can't often think of much that the French could teach us or that I would want to see here, except that we could be more sensual. We could take more trouble about ourselves and the way we look. We could be aware of the effect we have on others and they have on us. We could be more blatant and more subtle and we could learn, as the French are only too happy to teach us, that friends of our own sex are a good way of meeting new friends of the opposite sex.

Perhaps it's because I'm so bad at presenting myself that I admire the way the French do it and even the way Paris itself does it. It doesn't solve all life's problems but it makes everything more fun.

As I said at the beginning, the bodies they fish out the Seine are tragedies but even if they were single they didn't have to be alone in quite the same way as the tragedies they fish out of the Thames. What's more, in Paris the crowd gathers to watch another little drama taking place around them while we, politely of course, turn around and walk away.

Caption to original illustration: The cafe – 'market place' for singles in Paris

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© (1982) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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