A recent conversation with a Parisian grande dame was enlightening.
She frequently hosts Parisian soirees that include a train-wreck of guests from all walks of life. The list of attendees runs from the owner of the local tabac who has had two books of poetry published to the odd French government minister with an artist and a fashion designer thrown in for good measure. One party allegedly included a prominent fugitive from justice, who was not going to let a misunderstanding with the law interfere with enjoying an evening of sparkling champagne and just as bubbly conversation.
I have come to learn that my French is insufficient to warrant inclusion on the guest list, and I’m fine with that. It motivates me to learn more, faster. Over coffee at a cafe in the 1st arrondissement, I did inquire about what she looks for in a good party guest.
For a woman who so often is projects an attitude of slight boredom with much of what goes on in the world (she’s seen a lot, apparently, and has an uncanny knack of knowing how things are going to turn out in the end), she had a particularly strong and definitive set of preferences.
She liked people who were elegant. Not only in the way they dressed, but in the way they thought and spoke. For elegance required a certain amount of consideration, of thought, and of refinement, which she defined as taste without effort.
She required her guests to be educated. This could include the academically accomplished or the street wise. Awareness was a key ingredient here. The absence of dogma was essential. Opinionated was fine. Absolute certainty was amusing, but not for long. Being well read was a given.
Her final requirement was the very French concept of ‘egalite’: equality. She explained this as placing equal value to each human life and the value of each opinion within a society. Condescension is, I have come to understand, her prerogative alone. She practices it regularly and usually with good cause, but won’t tolerate it in her guests. This is very contradictory, very French, and very amusing.
As I made mental notes of these requirements, I wanted to confirm that she had presented these in reverse order, with the concept of equality coming first, education second, and elegance third.
‘Oh, no,’ she replied. ‘In just to order I told you.’
Mais oui, mademoiselle. Mon erreur.