Last Sunday I had a good laugh. As always, when the sun is shining, I like to go for a walk along the Seine – for a long time you couldn’t miss the bridges hung with “love locks”. Put up by couples from all over the world who symbolically chained their love to the balustrades with thick padlocks. Suddenly, prohibitive signs were hanging there instead: “Our bridges can’t withstand your love” and “Love without locks” is the initiative launched by the city of Paris in an effort to save their bridges from collapse, and a proclamation to liberate love with the Twitter hashtag #lovewithoutlocks.
Oh, this eternal belief that Paris is supposed to be the Mecca of love – in a stress test of everyday Paris, I unfortunately had to admit that this is only a half-baked cliché. Even I tried to convince myself with the lifelong consumption of French chansons, poetry, literature and cinema that it would suffice to walk up and down the steps of Montmartre a few times a week to get myself fit for the “ville d’amour”: the fleeting glance en passant that makes your heart flutter, then a spontaneous café and overflowing happiness that manifests in endless romantic strolls as a couple through this gloriously beautiful city.
If only there weren’t the French man, this unfathomable breed of person. “You’ll quickly bring him to the boil, but he won’t be fully cooked”, a German friend with years of Paris experience told me right at the beginning. How right she was! In Berlin at least it would be inconceivable to have admiring glances thrown your way by a passer-by in the middle of the day, for a man to simply stop their car on the street, run after you and breathlessly ask you for your phone number because he finds you so “enchanting”. This passionate lover boy will send you cooing text messages for weeks until you agree to go to a restaurant with him. But
before this happens, he’ll ask you at least three times whether you’re really coming, and tell you how much he’s looking forward to it. Then you’ll wait and wait, sitting awkwardly and alone at a table because he’s stood you up. When you call him in annoyance, you’ll hear him whisper how sorry he is, and how his mother has unexpectedly been admitted to hospital. In the background you’ll hear screaming children. No joke. This has happened many a time.
Paris is the capital of flings, a breeding ground for affairs of every colour. Particularly in high society, the lover is practically an institution. Former President Mitterand wasn’t the only one to have an informal second wife. Lady killer Dominique Strauß-Kahn was just the tip of the iceberg. Parisians don’t separate, they smile and lie and put up a pretence. Huge posters in the Metro nonchalantly advertise a website for adulterous adventures., Then there is also those who will ask you during your first glass of red wine whether you might like to accompany them to a swinger party. Or, those who after three words during an after-work cocktail will enquire whether you’ll be ending the night at your place or theirs. And, whilst you are still rushing to down your Margarita, they’ve already moved on to their next sure-fire conquest. There are others who will send group emails to all the women in their address book whom they’d like to go out with at night. What a shame when they forget to hide the other “chéries” as blind carbon copies. Incidentally, it took five years until I was strolling through the city of love hand in hand – with a Frenchman. Plus, it took three years until he was “fully cooked”.