Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi
New York: Berkley, 2011.
Rich People Things: Real-Life Secrets of the Predator Class
Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011.
Considering how Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like, first the blog, then the book, then the sequel, created more than a little frisson among the NPR crowd (see the Counter-Currents reviews here and here) it’s surprising we haven’t seen more knock-offs or outright parodies (along the lines of The Job of Sex or Bored of the Rings); in fact, as far as I know, these are the very first (not counting the rather differently intended but invaluable provocateur of White consciousness, Stuff Black People Don‘t Like).
Stuff Parisians Like shares its title and numbered format with SWPL. Turns out, it’s an excellent format for studying le vie Parisiene, since “reaching a form of happiness in Paris” (the Parisiene is never just “happy” like an American — despite “the fact that all Parisians deliberately wear American clothes, watch American movies, listen to American music, use American words or fantasize about American celebrities . . . when hearing the phrase “Les Américains”, the Parisian will implacably … just be taken over by one overpowering thought . . . “Oui, mais les Américains, ils sont cons”) entails “internalizing certain codes and refusing certain habits” (p. 75).
But while Lander writes as a mildly cynical member of the group, establishing, as the more perceptive reviewers noted, his credentials precisely by gently mocking but never really challenging his group’s tastes and ideas (WASPs do love self-criticism and faux objectivity, after all!), Magny writes as a Parisian, oui, (apparently a restaurateur and oenophile no less, to judge from his website, where you can “Optimize your future interactions with Homo Parisianus [by] browsing the full list of Stuff Parisians Like…”), but with a difference; he disagrees heartily with his confreres, and seems to be something of a . . . well, conservative, I guess. Horreurs!
Which comes first, the dyspeptic view or the conservatism, is a toss up. Suffice to say, it makes for some very penetrating observations about an urban type that has not only fascinated Americans, but also seems remarkably like some of our own domestic species.
Thus while filled with cultural tidbits such as
- Fans of “continental dining” should beware that the cheese course has given way to just coffee, although the addition of a little beurre sale will make the sweetest concoction acceptably ascetic;
- Wine, too is passé; lunch means water – San Pellegrino, or San-Pé, to the American’s amusement – dinner perhaps beer, a party definitely only hard liquor;
- License plate numbers reveal the driver’s place of origin as well as their character; the very best is 75 – Paris, of course – and the others ‘smell of mud’ or ‘depression’ in various numerical ratios, while also revealing their driving habits — “C’est ce con de 27 qui bloque tout le monde depuis deux heures.”
along with some surprises — the Parisian despises artists, who are perceived as lazy and un-credentialed (state-funded art degrees are almost unknown, a pretty good idea it seems to me) unlike the busy graduates of the grandes Ecoles; the Parisian loves not art but his idea of France’s cultural heritage — and stuff you only need to have read an Edmund White to know — the L’ile Saint-Louis is the place to be! The Luxembourg Gardens are the place to be seen! — we also learn that
Parisians have an opinion about most things, thus making it clear they have a significant knowledge about most things in life.
Having theories takes this to the next level.
Theories prove that not only does the Parisian have more information and knowledge than other people, but he also processed that information through his own personal filter. The superiority filter. Parisians will use theory after theory but never warning that these are theories. Other people, including Parisians, will be fooled and will inevitably reach the conclusion that this Parisian is extremely cultivé and intelligent.
It is important to realize that very few Parisians form their own theories. Most Parisians repeat theories they heard on TV, or from their really smart uncle. No actual credit is ever given to the actual source. The actual source is always the Parisian. (pp. 89-90)
Theories, of course, are not facts; who needs facts when you have theories?
The Parisian, no matter how much he is into freedom of mind and against propaganda, rarely bothers to double-check his facts. He remains vastly foreign to elements that might otherwise feed and qualify his reflections. (p. 254)
While the American Leftist might have an opinion about, say, the Dalai Lama, the Parisian has a theory:
Le Dalai Lama is good. China is bad. Amen.
And that leads to some stuff those on the Alternative Right, or even non-Democrats, will recognize:
Worldwide, a fascist is a follower or an admirer of the pre-WWII Italian Fascist regime.
In Paris, a fascist is anyone who disagrees with a Parisian and makes a point.
The rarest use of the word facho is to define extreme right wing people. More common use of the word is to be found in situations when someone expresses beliefs and thoughts that are unacceptable to Parisians. The more brutally true the statement is, the more facho the person who says it is.
Calling someone a facho is a fantastic way for Parisians to win a conversation. [See “Winning Conversations”]. When a Parisian’s dabbling is countered by superior, non-PC, implacable reasoning, the opponent will be called a facho. To seal the victory, the Parisian will say, “On peut pas discuter avec toi.” And walk away. Victory. (pp. 169-70)
Or, as Charlie Sheen would say, “Winning!”
Interestingly, both “Calling People Fachos” and “Le Dalai Lama” are not part of the “complete” list on his website; as he says himself:
If your opinion is susceptible to reach a significant number of people through a given media, Parisians will start a petition against you. It’s best to behave really . . .
One reviewer has suggested that the book’s disparaging remarks about Parisian nightlife and parties are a cheap attempt to drum up business for his wine bar. These more political passages, and his reticence about them, lead me to think he knows his Parisians too well.
Do not support small businesses — that will make you a fascist.
Dressed in black and lacking testosterone [“There are three types of males in Paris: the gay-looking homosexuals, the gay-looking heterosexuals, and men over fifty”], the Parisian may seem familiar; didn’t we meet them that time in New York?
Calling people beaufs is a wonderful thing for Parisians. It allows them to assert conveniently their superiority while not going through the trouble of enduring a painstaking analysis that might lead them to interrogations about themselves or others.
But of course, it would be too easy to mock the beauf (the “redneck” if you will) for wearing white socks or liking football.
Superior perceived social status is acquired by mocking habits and attitudes that are typical of upper class or even better – rich people. “He’s spending the weekend in Deauville? Can’t believe it, quel beauf!”; “Is he really driving a Hummer? Quel gros beauf!” By striking his audience with an unsuspected beauf designation, the Parisian scores serious social points: “Did he really take his nephew to Disney Land? Quel beauf!” The ultimate goal is to make all the people surrounding the Parisian wonder if, compared to him, they are not ultimately complete beaufs. (p. 7)
Yes, indeed, the New York State of Mind, and the feeling is mutual:
Paris is every Parisians’ wife. New York is their mistress. Parisians know how living with your wife gets old.
NY gear is very popular, especially amongst the younger generation of Parisians. The I Love New York T-shirt is a must. Worn properly, it is considered very chic in Paris. Less stylish people will opt for a NYPD T shirt. FDNY gear is exclusively reserved for the gay community in Paris. (p. 130)
Each section ends with a Helpful Tip (“When in doubt, just say putain”) and instructions on how to “Sound Like a Parisian” (which, I am sure, must contain its share of booby traps).
Chris Lehmann’s Rich People Things, from its title to its cover to its number system, is clearly another SWPL title, but he and even his publishers make no mention of the earlier books; Lehmann claims his online column “began life as an afterthought title without any particular mission statement.” It’s a bit odd, considering his (well deserved) savaging of Chris Anderson (# 11. Wired Magazine) for mistaking his upstream rent-seeking for a new paradigm of free information.
Whatever. Lehmann seems part of what we might call the “unattached Left”; unattached, that is, to the conventional Democratic Party and its personality cult. No Obama-worshiping minion, he. (Unlike the Parisian, who very much likes Obama: his election proves the Parisian is right, there is no problem with immigrants, only racist fachos — see Magny‘s penultimate item.)
Thus, his targets and criticisms will be shared by many on the Alternative Right. He even quotes Steven Pinker — favorably! No paradox this; if one thinks of the traditional Left/Right field as a ping pong table, those not playing the game and just standing around share a space around it, and thus have more in common with each other than with either “player.”
He takes as his theme class analysis, not identity politics, and Americans’ peculiar lack thereof (boasted about, as Americans always find their limitations to be a source of perverse pride, as “our Exceptionalism;” Americans are proud to let everyone know they are very ‘special’ as they ride on the short bus of nations). And his targets are what takes the place — literally displaces, as a obscuring ideology — of class analysis: the “free markets and free men” mythology. So his topics tend to fall into two categories: economic myths (low taxes create jobs), and the mythical triumphant “individuals” (from Ayn Rand to Facebook and the aforementioned Wired) whose stories are thrown out by the system like squid ink.
Speaking of Rand, his chapter strikes me as one of the best objective (if you will) analyses of her work. His analysis hits the exact point where Rand gains her influence; starting out from the rather conventional standpoint of Nietzschean individualism (We the Living could even be filmed in Mussolini’s Italy) she hits the jackpot when she connects to the Horatio Alger myth of the Robber Baron era. By transposing individualism from the deterministic realm of nature to the marketplace of “free choice,” she allows her readers to vicariously imagine themselves (of course, who thinks of the Master Race without thinking oneself part of it?) being able, not so much to be heroes as to recognize them (most of us, after all, are mediocre but loyal Eddies not heroic Galts) and by serving them (buying their products and lowering their taxes) avoid the unforgivable sin of siding with the looters.
In general, Lehmann seems to be able to mouth the usual PC cliches, say, about the “genuine virtues of openness and diversity” while pointing out that:
These qualities form the basis of the twenty-first century’s corporate managerial mindset . . . a more diverse and culturally tolerant world is also a far more market-friendly world. It’s also, far from coincidentally, a world in which wealth and income disparity never seem to achieve the same vaunted status as cultural and gender diversity. (pp. 82-83)
This is not to say that Lehmann is a Traditionalist. For one thing, his good-thinking Liberal credentials show in an obsession with the Catholic Church as the citadel, or at least syneccdoche, of evil. The very first line reads:
American class privilege is very much like the idea of sex in a Catholic school — it’s not supposed to exist in the first place, but once it presents itself in your mind’s eye you realize that it’s everywhere.
My, what an original trope!
Later, he can’t even express his loathing and contempt for corporate (and, he fails to observe, Judaicly) backed frauds like Damien Hirst without making this outburst:
[W]e have entered an aesthetic universe every bit as blinkered and morally obtuse as that of the Catholic Church, when it elected to suppress classical composers in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars out of the conviction that they presented an urgent Jacobin threat to the established order of things. (p. 104)
I can’t be bothered to research this, but does anyone remember some papal bull condemning equal temperament? Myself, I get my history from fiction, and I remember Huysmans, in his Catholic phase, bemoaning the Church’s replacement of Gregorian chant with half-assed operatics by Gonoud and Faure (long before the LP-driven fashion for it, Huysmans was promoting the reconstruction work of the Abbey of Solesmes, which contributed to our more recent “early music” revival). One wants to say, like one of Lehmann’s landsmen, “from your mouth to God’s ear”; if only the Church had, successfully, stamped out that demonic manifestation known as “classical music”; see Evola in Ride the Tiger, or even Colin Wilson: passing from Mozart to Beethoven, one is wearied by all the table-pounding; or Delius: a preference for Mozart over Beethoven was his test of a new acquaintance’s cultural level.
If you can ignore the weird, unmotivated Catholic bashing, and the recurrent genuflection to PC orthodoxy, the reader on the Alternative or Traditionalist Right will be able to find much useful historical and critical discussion of our most contemporary economic and cultural busybodies and nuisances, from Malcolm Gladwell to Alan Greenspan to Frank Gehry.
However, it lacks any information on food and drink, and above all, don’t quote any of it to a Parisian.