I think I will have to resign myself to the fact that I am doomed never to be mistaken for an elegant parisienne.
I haven’t the faintest idea how to knot a Hermès scarf just so around my neck. In fact, I’ll go so far as to admit that I don’t even care for Hermès scarves. Nor have I ever understood the whole jumper knotted loosely around shoulders over the top of winter coat look. Unlike most French girls, I am congenitally incapable of arranging my hair in a charmingly dishevelled little chignon, so that it looks as though it was twisted up and secured with a pencil in less than twenty seconds (a look which I suspect takes half an hour to achieve). I simply don’t look French, a point which was confirmed by several (disappointed) British bloggers I met recently.
Even if looks don”t betray my non French origins, my uncouth foreign behaviour inevitably will. Whether it be downing several beers in quick succession, or partaking of snacks in public places, something will always give me away.
The scene: horribly late for work, following a distastrous morning where a suspected, but in fact non-existent, infantile tummy upset and an errant nanny with no mobile phone conspired to force me to take a whole morning off work. One sixth of my precious three statutory days off to care for a sick child squandered for no good reason. Having finally deposited the irritatingly high-spirited, perfectly healthy Tadpole with the childminder, I realised I wasn’t going to have time to grab lunch before work, so there was no alternative but to eat on the run.
My hungry eyes spied a baker’s shop by the entrance to the metro. Upon closer inspection however, the sandwiches on offer did not look particularly appetising. French bread may in itself be A Very Lovely Thing, but many shops don’t use a great deal of imagination when concocting their sandwich fillings. Ham and plastic emmental cheese. Plastic emmental cheese with salad. Rosette sausage. Nothing which took my fancy. And after the stress of the morning, I craved something slightly naughty, as a pick me up.
My attention was arrested by a small, handwritten sign advertising paninis. I enquired about available fillings. They were a little odd. The classic mozzarella and cheese, or mozzarella and Italian ham had sold out, so all that remained were steack haché and bolognaise flavours. I opted for bolognaise, in what I can only describe as a moment of temporary insanity.
I regretted my choice almost immediately. It took for ever to cook. Standing next to a refrigerated cabinet of cakes, I tapped my foot nervously and glanced compulsively at my watch every thirty seconds or so. But it was too late to change my mind now, I had already paid. And the baker’s wife is a scary looking, red-faced person; not a woman whose feathers you would want to ruffle.
At last, the panini was toasted, and the lady handed it to me in its long paper bag with a single serviette. I snatched and ran. Into the métro, down the steps and onto the platform, where I paused, and first became aware of my predicament.
The paper bag was already translucent with grease, and rather a large amount of bolognaise and cheese filling appeared to have freed itself from the confines of the bread and and oozed down into a corner of the bag, which was visibly weakening by the second. The serviette was already drenched, my fingers slick with sauce. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the bag began to drip. Garish red liquid, which narrowly missed my clothes, occasionally splattering one of my shoes.
It also occured to me that the contents of my sandwich did not look dissimilar to the nappies I had changed that morning. Which clearly didn’t help.
Any sane person would have consigned the cursed sandwich there and then to the nearest rubbish bin, but my rumbling tummy and sheer pigheadedness prevented me from doing so.
So, drawing a small amount of comfort from the fact that Paris is a big city and none of the people sharing my métro carriage were ever likely to lay eyes on me again, I slumped down on an available strapontin and began nibbling gingerly at a corner of the sandwich from hell, studiously avoiding eye contact with my fellow passengers.
Pieces of minced meat leapt out and deposited themselves on the floor of the carriage around me. A piping hot chunk of chopped tomato landed on my toes. The bag continued to drip, drip, drip, even enveloped in my entire packet of emergency tissues. I had to hold the sandwich away from my body after every cursed bite, whilst I used a baby wipe on my mouth and chin, so as not to look like some sort of crazed métro vampire.
A perfectly groomed Parisienne got on at Chaussée d’Antin and wrinkled her delicate nose in distaste at the odour of my food. The only available seat was next to mine, and she declined to take it, preferring to stand well out of range. I could imagine what she was thinking only to well. Judging by her figure, she had never so much as sniffed a panini in her entire life, and the only thing which she would deign to put to her lips in a public place would be a bottle of Evian.
My journey over, I dropped the greasy packaging and remnants into a bin, wiped down my shoes and peeping toes, and inspected my trousers.
And emerged from the métro vowing never to buy a bolognaise panini as long as I live.
Even English girls have their limits.