Lifestyle / 20.05.16
Haute Attitude: Double Edged Sword or Secret Weapon?
This article was originally published in Nota Bene Global / Lifestyle.
It’s no secret that the French have a reputation for being one of the rudest nationalities on the planet – but a revolution is on its way, writes Nota Bene contributor and Paris resident Daniela Aroche.
French fashion icon Coco Chanel once famously uttered: “I don’t care what you think about me – I don’t think about you at all.”
In that one, succinct phrase, she arguably encapsulated the essence of that infamous French insouciance which – whether admired or despised – has become the country’s calling card the world over.
Depending on the scenario, it can be classed as confidence or arrogance – if it’s the former, it can inspire, while the latter inflicts a sense of inferiority – but either way, it is the self-assured and unapologetic approach of the French which is without a doubt a key component of the famous ‘Je ne sais quoi’.
Books have been written about it, films have immortalised it, countless songs have been dedicated to it – and, even today, that haute attitude Coco so perfectly personified is still visibly present – particularly in the capital.
As an Australian expat living in Paris, I am perhaps more sensitive to its presence – but as ‘les Parisiennes’ will tell you themselves – to live in the City of Lights is to embrace the innate haughtiness of its local citizens, which has filtered through to every aspect of French culture and permeates the way they walk, dress, talk – and interact with those visiting their city.
Whether it’s the local bistro owner – who has no qualms about blankly shooting you a look of disdain if you ask for a steak ‘bien cuit’ and then completely disregarding the request; to the restaurant chef who will steadfastly refuse to alter even a garnish on his set menu; to the shop assistant who will openly look you up-anddown if you walk through her boutique doors appearing any less than flawless and dripping in designer gear.
Some of the three-star Michelin restaurants, for example, might be the perfect place to observe the ‘froideur’ and formality that was once a staple of French high society – step in, and the mood is so sterile that dining is about as much fun as undertaking a clinical exam.
For Parisians, however, this is a way of life and – until recently – it was a quintessential part of their makeup as the gatekeepers to one of the most alluring cities on earth – and a veritable baptism by fire for any outsiders who dared venture onto their hallowed ground.
To decipher the psychology behind their pretension is to enravel oneself in a metaphoric quest for the Holy Grail, but ask Parisians directly – as I have – and they will simply rationalise that their ‘maniere’ stems from a deep-rooted sense of patriotism.
At its heart is a centuries-old legacy of luxury, a world-renowned reputation for being the crème of the crop in food, fashion, and life (read: ‘art de vivre’) in general, and the fact that their city is habitually lauded for its beauty and visited by more than 80 million tourists per year; rain, hail or shine – and that number is rising – so they are under no pressure to coax clientele.
All this has, quite understandably, stroked their egos, and instilled in the French a sense of pride and superiority – so, in a nutshell – they adamantly believe that what they do, they do best – and noone, not even their bread-and-butter clientele, will convince them otherwise.
However, more recently – and much like a beauty queen coming of age – Paris and its inhabitants are starting to realise that they can no longer rely on just looks and merely a history of excellence to stay ahead of the competition – particularly when it comes to business. Consumers are becoming more demanding, and condescending just won’t cut it.
That silent acquiescence has quite possibly come about as a result of globalisation and the emergence of competing luxury hubs, along with the influx of hotel brands from the Far East, such as Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula, with their own spin on what constitutes service, which has influenced the landscape and altered the rules in a playing field once monopolised and dominated by French brands.
Additionally, in the past few years, there’s been an increasing exodus of the younger French generation to Anglo environments such as Australia, America and the UK for working holiday stints – and, in experiencing what constitutes customer service in these cultures, they have returned to their cities with a fresh perspective, which has altered their approach.
All this is leading a subtle yet palpable change in the city’s ambience, and – as this younger generation of well-travelled entrepreneurs begin to take the reins and integrate their own businesses and attitudes into the Parisian mix – a visible, behaviourial shift has begun to emerge.
This new breed of Parisians are probably best described as hybrids – they have embraced the gracious traits and service guidelines displayed across Anglo countries where the customer is king, are more open to adaptation and are, without a doubt, friendlier all round – but they have also managed to maintain that fine air and French hallmark of haute hospitality, albeit distilled so that it doesn’t come across as arrogance.
The sweeping trend of of neo-bistros popping up across Paris recently – executed to perfection by pioneering chefs who aim to offer exquisite cuisine and innovative cooking in a more relaxed ambience without the pomposity – is a prime example of the new-age thinking that this novel cohort is bringing to the table.
‘La Table d’Hubert’ in the 15th arrondisement of Paris, along with ‘H’ in the Marais quartier, and the seafood sanctuary that is ‘Clamato’ in the 11eme (by the gastronomic geniuses that created ‘Septime’), are all cases in point of fine dining gems with substance that have managed to execute this delicate balance, which is in itself an intricate art.
And, while the age-old icy demeanour has not melted away altogether, and can still be felt if you happen to cross paths with some of the city’s more conventional residents – it is this younger, more internationally-adept set which is leading the change here, for the better. In the eyes of these trailblazers, the definition of luxury and what constitutes class is shifting to become less about exclusion and superiority and more about elegance as an attitude, by catering to the customer and delivering exceptional service that sets them apart.
Moreover, if they manage to pull it off in the long term, Paris could be on track to surpass even its already exacting standards to evolve into a luxury hub unlike any other – a double threat – encompassing both beauty and grace.
By / Daniela Aroche
This article was originally commissioned by Nota Bene.