How to Become Parisian in One Hour?
Love Paris, but find Parisians rude? You’re right, says Olivier Giraud: they are. But if you can’t beat them, join them. His stand-up show, How to Become Parisian in One Hour? currently running at the Théâtre de la Main d’Or, promises a crash course in Parisian behavior—all in English. I went along and met the comedian behind one of the most popular shows in the city.
The lights went up to the tune of “La Marseillaise,” revealing a grinning, dark-haired figure clad in braces, a checked shirt and a beret. Giraud is 100 percent French and proud of it, as he declared while handing out rounds of Camembert cheese to members of the audience. A native of Bordeaux, Giraud spent several years working as a waiter and restaurant manager in Paris and Palm Beach, Florida, before creating his own theatre company, French Arrogance Productions, in 2009. He draws on his experiences of both France and the United States to poke fun at the stereotypes of the rude, arrogant Parisian and the overeffusive, clueless American tourist at the same time, punctuating his act with hilarious demonstrations of pronunciation and body language, like these.
The show comprises a series of lessons on handling Parisian waiters and shop assistants, getting into nightclubs, succeeding with the opposite sex, hailing taxis and taking the metro. We meet every cliché in the book and more: the gruff, grunting waiter, Jean-Jacques; the sales assistant who alleviates her insupportable boredom by making indiscreet remarks about the size of customers’ thighs; and the stone-faced commuters who refuse to give up their seats for older women on the metro. On the night I was there, Giraud invited members of the audience to join him for one-to-one tutorials on the nightclub entry walk (the strut, the L’Oréal hair flick, the giggle) and “sensual” dancing (hands on hips, mouth open like a chicken about to lay an egg).
The audience hailed from all corners of the globe: Mexico, the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, Spain and Saudi Arabia, to name but a few countries. But I was amazed at how many French were in the theatre. Judging from the number of people who fluently sang “La Marseillaise” and mastered their lessons so easily that they prompted Giraud to say, “Ah, you must be French,” about half of the audience was local. Could it be that the French have finally learned the art of self-mockery?
Even Giraud has been amazed by the success of his show with French audiences. “Initially it was aimed at tourists and expats,” he explains. “The tourists didn’t come at first—they want to go to the Lido and the Moulin Rouge. But they’ve started coming over the last few months. The audience is around 50 percent Parisian, 30 percent expat and 20 percent tourist.” And they have continued to crowd into the small venue, mainly thanks to the power of word of mouth, the blogosphere and social media. It might never have been but for Giraud’s perseverance: he spent six frustrating months trying to persuade theatres that a stand-up comedy in English was even worth a try. How to Become Parisian in One Hour? has been extended twice already, and Giraud plans to take his French arrogance on tour to the United States, Britain and Belgium. I can’t see him going back to waiting tables any time soon.
How to Become Parisian in One Hour? is at Théâtre de la Main d’Or, in the 11th Arrondissement, until December 22. Showtimes are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m., and Saturdays at 7 p.m.; and beginning in October, Sundays at 5:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for 12 euros from BilletRéduc.com.