Handshake Lesson 1

photo: cafe paris europe

The Rue d'Amsterdam's 'Paris-Europe' café is open
while most of 'Europe' is closed.

The Longest Weekend

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 30. October 2000:- As forecast, high winds from the southwest have been hammering France's west coast this morning. Paris airport operations are disrupted and there are no Eurostar trains between London and Paris.

The western A13 autoroute is cut at the Marly Forest by fallen trees. Near the coasts road traffic is difficult, especially for articulated trucks. The SNCF has reported that its rail operations are largely unaffected.

Channel ferries are tied up as Calais is taking a heavy part of the blow. On the coasts, wind speeds of 170 kph has been registered. Several ships in the North Sea are in difficulty and an empty tanker in trouble was picked up by tugs last night.

Although winds are not as fierce in Paris as on the coasts, the edge of the storm is giving the city a good drenching.

Café Life

Handshake Lesson

Europe's handshake rules differ from North America's and differ between countries in Europe. Since handshakes are very informal in North America, Americans might not even know there are rules for when to do it, with whom, and how.

Basic rules require in Germany, or in France, a brief handclasp and no more, no less. No tests of strength, no holding on, no funny business. It's like touch and go.

If you are a European you grow up with this and it hardlyphoto: cinema, denfert needs to be learned. All you have to do is this minimum. But if you are coming from the handshake-angst of North America, you have to learn to do it the proper way from scratch.

Miss that movie? It's probably playing at a neighborhood cinéma.

After 25 years in France, I have to admit I've forgotten the finer nuances of Germany's handshake rules. Maybe I never knew many of them; I shook hands with everybody except waiters, waitresses, barmen and my own immediate family.

Basically, shaking hands wasn't done with people you weren't introduced to. On meeting a couple, for the first time or the 10,000th time, you always shook madame's hand first.

Since you knew you were going to do this, there would be a subtle pre-positioning, so that it could be done tidily - without any cross-group fumbling.

In France, you do shake hands with the barmen - after you've been a customer for about a year. Unlike in Germany, you shake hands with service people you know - the garagiste, who gives a wrist to tap because of hands covered in engine goo; the waiter, who may do the same thing because he's been washing glasses.

The rule is, you only do this on the day's first encounter. But in the rush and tumble of café life, you or the barman might forget the day's vital duty has already been done, and accidently do it again.

Even though it is routine, it is not done absentmindedly. Once, having done it a second time with Jacquo in the Bouquet, he enquired if we hadn't done it already. We had; we were having mutual absentmindedness.

Since the handshaking doesn't start until you are well-known, you learn the subtleties as you go along. In the Bouquet there is a lady who first did the handshake with me a long time ago, but she does it with a particular diving motion.

Her hand starts at her elbow and slants down, as if we are a couple of country horse traders who are sealing a deal. I have wondered about this for a long time - wondered whether it was an odd ethnic trait; maybe a habit imported from some eastern country.

But no. On Friday I asked, and she showed me her somewhat well-worn leather shoulder bag. She said it would slip off her shoulder if she shook hands normally.

Now I'm wondering why I never noticed this shoulder bag before.

Library Card

I didn't like the weather on Friday. It was neither this nor that, and worst of all, its light wasn't inspiring. So I decided to do next to nothing, especially after more than a week of doing somewhat extra.

In the thick brochure for 'Paris En 80 Quartiers' there are a lot of satellite photos of Paris. These are taken straight down and they are very sharp, as if they were all taken from a low balloon on a clear day.

The photo of 'Europe' had caught my eye. I looked though the books I have, and there was nothing about it. Aha! I thought; a bit of undiscovered Paris.

A bit of unfinished business was getting a library card from the local lending library, which is called George Brassens, and is two blocks away. Last time I was there, there was a long wait and I was refused a card because I forgot to bring my electricity bill - to prove that the address the police put on my Carte de Resident is correct.

On Friday, therefore, I had two electric bills and a telephone bill with me. There was no line, no waiting, and 'history' started on the closest shelves.

The good part of it was being a 'next to nothing' day. I didn't have to find one key fact fast; I was able to take my time to 'find' Europe.

In one book I learned that part of 'Europe' had once been the home of an amusement park. Then I found another book that was only about amusement parks in 19th century Paris; so right away I got on to something 'off the subject.'

Apparently, after the revolution, everybody who hadn't ever been invited to dances at Versailles, wanted to go dancing. This became 'dansomania' and to read about it, it sounds as if Paris was one big dancehall at the time.

This is pretty heady stuff compared to the wrecked real-estate deal that 'Europe' became and we can still see today. But, 'Europe' is with us and it stayed 'on subject' because it is here to be photographed, while all the grand amusement parks and giant dancehalls are not.

'Europe' is treated in this issue, thanks to my new library card. Thanks to this card I will probably find out what scuttled 'dansomanie' too.

From the look of the Saint-Lazare area on Saturday, it may be that it has been replaced by 'shopping,' which seems like a dumb sort of mania to have.

The 35-Hour Week and Long Weekends

Last week radio France-Info was telling its listeners about the traffic situation in France. According to the radio, the big traffic jams were not to be expected this coming Wednesday evening, but at the end of next weekend.

Toussaint, which is Wednesday, 1. November, is also a school holiday that starts today; in realityphoto: andre morain it started on Friday or Saturday. Next Wednesday is a national holiday. Tuesday night is Halloween.

A week ago, I gave up sleeping to record André Morain photographing the placement of Ellsworth Kelly's sculpture in the Tuileries.

If you add in the 35-hour work week, which is either four or five days long, subtract a Wednesday and maybe take a day off, then what France seems to have for the first time in its history is a nine-day long weekend, for Toussaint.

Either Friday or Saturday or both of them were classed as 'rouge' in the Paris area, for traffic trying to get out of town.


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