Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Francophile - who me??

I have a strange love-hate relationship with the French. Most times, I love them. But somehow, I can't trust them. No special reason. Just an irrational feeling. Like their sudden rediscovery of India. Of course, the connection goes back centuries, and the French liked our 'ambi' motif so much, they promptly renamed it 'paisley' and made it their own. Saroj, my lovely shawl lady from Gujarat, showed me an antique Paisley shawl from France. I told her it was Indian in origin. She knew. And said sweetly, " But we have shared it with the world." I liked her perspective. So generous and honest. Here is a woman whose vast knowledge of pichwais, for example , would impress a serious collector. But looking at her close-to-bedraggled appearance, who'd guess it? She is a complete professional. I respect her mind and expertise.She is also a canny businesswoman..... but in a tough business. Her margins are low. To acquire those exquisite pieces, she has to rough it out and travel extensively from village to village. But she loves what she does. It is a passion. We share that sentiment (and many other), in common.
The same night, I went to a soiree at the French Consul General's beautiful home on the edge of the bay. Francois has movie star looks. His Japanese wife, Mayumi, is porcelain perfect. The two of them are rapidly rising up the social ladder in Mumbai, with their grace and charm. The soiree was primarily for the city's power ladies - eighty of them. Scarey!! Mumbai's attractive Sheriff, and the principal of H.R. College, Dr. Indu Shahani ,and moi, were to share our experiences at the Global Women's Forum , Deauville, with these invitees. One look at them and I decided to keep it short, and keep it simple. They were far more interested in guzzling the decent French wine, nibbling on shrimp...and net -working, than in listening to speeches.It was a good decision on my part ( and Indu's ) to wrap it up in under fifteen minutes. One could almost see the relief on the faces of the women , who promptly went back for refills at the bar. I rushed home for my daily fix of daal chavaal with the family.
The French have their ways. Right now, they want India to buy heavy water from them.Why do you think Sarkozy made it as chief guest to the Republic Day parade early this year?Well, the French are known for their courtship rituals, and right now, India is being wooed big time by them. I am fine with it. I like good strategists. So long as we all know the deal, ki phark penda? C'est la vie. Chin Chin!!


Pinku said...

strange that you mention your mistrust...a friend who visited France after being in love with their cuisine, wine, perfumes and films for years was in shock too....she found the parisian French very cold and remote to foreigners... she wasnt sure whether this was caused by the colour of her skin or are they snooty to all and sundry.

But disappointed she was.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

In my very own professional experience, like ALMOST all Europeans, the French are wonderfully pragmatic when it comes to doing business. They will bend rules, circumvent thier own laws, and jump through hoops to make the deal happen.
Heck, it cant be all bad, can it? It just depends on how they play each other... a French businessperson and Generic Joe businessperson... because they are playing Generic Joe businessperson even harder than Generic Joe businessperson thinks he is squeezing them. Supposed Socialist leanings notwithstanding, watch your back, but do business with them and you will make some money off it too.

They understood branding a few centuries before anyone in the rest of the world coined that term. Gotta hand it to them!

A very few really good wines, cheeses, perfumes, luxury goods, and war making armaments amidst a sea of otherwise mediocre French goods and sure enough they are deemed world leaders in Luxury! If this is not the associative power of branding, what is?

Pinku, dont be too disspointed by your friend's experience, go to Paris for the Art and the sights and people watching in Cafes. Everything else is negotiable. Go to the countryside or even a second city like Lyon to really experience France.

Racism... that is the big ticking time bomb in France. Having personally seen the anger that simmers in the outer suburbs where the non lilywhite and mostly Kayble and Arabic speaking people live; the French establisment should be more worried about it, than they let on. Left unchecked and unresolved, one day they will have egg on thier faces. But ofcourse the egg will be shreds of a fines-herbs french omlette, with a aragula salad on the side!

Language... they understand English and any damn lanuage while negotiating a contract so they really are not as dyed in the wool nationalistic as they like to portray. Its just tourists that like to treat bad. Treat em badly and they will come... hehehehehe. Seems to work for them.

Ummm food... french food tastes really good only in France. Preferably in a mom and pop run bistro on a street corner in an unfashionable arrondisamont. Sorry, but thats how it is for me. All the Daniel Boulod and Jean George Vongerichten run restaurants in the rest of the world could not convince me otherwise. So at the French Soiree where you were speaker, I would have revealed myself for the boor that I am, eschewed the victuals at hand and gone home for dal chaawal myself. Short speeches are the best kind and I would have liked to hear both the viewpoints about Deuville. If they really wanted to know about it all, the audience would have picked your brain about it later anyway. Did they? Actually I am still waiting to hear about it all, on your blog perhaps?

What does your daughter have to say about living in Paris?

Another Kiran in NYC

Rhett said...

So, you belong to the powerful ladies' of Mumbai club!

TT said...

When I come to India would you share the "shawl lady's" address with me? :)

~ a said...

the french have always intrigued me, ever since i started learning the language at alliance. fortunately, i found a lovely prof. in my third level and grew to appreciate and love the language!

have never visited france, met a couple of french people, what can i say, i'm just so taken in by their wooing act, have hardly noticed their strategies!

happened to chance upon your blog after seeing your facebook profile.

amazed to see how open and warm you are!

I'm leaving my blog's url. would love to have your comments.

wouldn't mind if you don't want to either!


~ a said...

oops! forgot to mention the url.


Shahran said...

A Pakistanis reaction to the mumbai massacre.


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yves said...

Hi, Well it's both nice and strange for a Frenchman to come here and read what you sab log have to say about "the French"... I suppose it's the same when I venture to speak about "India"... What do we know about the people who live in another country when we don't live there? And even when we do live there, do we have a right to generalise? Hm. Whatever, but please don't give in to the bad habit of clichés, this can at least be avoided (eg the French and their wooing... and Paisley is only second-hand French)

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