Standing in line at the Musée D’Orsay with my Mother who is visiting. We are about thirty minutes back from the front of the queue. An old lady has recently shoved past us in line and we are watching in disbelief as she speedily makes her way through the five or six rows of people in front of us.
Mom: This is too good to be true!
Me: No way she is going to pull this off.
Mom: I think she is. Look at her go!
Me: Wow – see how she stops every once in a while, all innocent-like, the whole thing is so premeditated! Really, she’s quite impressive.
Mom: I bet she makes it all the way to the front.
For a moment I wonder about the morality of betting on an old person as though they were a race horse.
Me: I will totally take that bet! Someone is definitely going to bust her; I mean, we can’t be the only ones seeing this!
She makes it to the front in mere minutes. My Mother is ecstatic.
Mom: I knew it!
This is said with serious conviction.
Mom: I just knew she was one of those!
My Mother is referring to a particular breed of French old ladies who don’t believe that rules apply to them. On her recent trip to France, she became fascinated with this species after an incident at a pay toll.
“You see that look that MB is making,” I ask my Mother.
“Yes, why does he seem so annoyed?”
We are sitting in the car while he is waiting to pay our parking fee.
“It is definitely to do with the old lady in front of him.”
“Why?” My Mother is confused.
“Because she totally skipped him.”
“Really? I didn’t notice it.”
“Yeah, when she saw him about to put his card in she moved at the speed of light. Remarkable really, considering the cane.”
“Well, it’s nice to let her go first anyway.”
“Oh yeah, for sure, but it isn’t about letting her, old ladies skip people all the time in France.”
My Mother is intrigued.
“How does that work,” she asks.
“There’s no “working” about it; they just do it and no one ever says anything.”
“Reediculous!” MB has just gotten back in the car.
“Did you see it,” he asks. “Did you see it? She moved so quickly to skip me!”
“Yeah, I know, it was great,” I respond.
MB gives me a look.
“All I’m saying is one minute you are walking with a cane and the next minute you are moving at the speed of an Olympic sprinter; I gotta give some respect, that was a woman determined to skip you.”
This is a cultural phenomenon that I have watched with much amusement during my time in France. Often I find myself waiting patiently in line only to be unceremoniously skipped by an old lady who just steps right in front of me as though it were the most normal thing in the world. No acknowledgement, no sweet old-lady smiles, just ruthless ambition. Some people get annoyed by this (*cough cough*…MB) and often I will catch the glimpse of an irritated eye roll from another patron but most people just stand around like it is not awkward at all. “Am I the only one seeing this,” I think as I look around to find another person who finds it is amusing. To me, it is hysterical, I love that no one dares to ever say a word to them even though they are inwardly fuming, and frankly, I just love the sheer audacity of these women.
High five, girl! No? You’re French you don’t ‘high five’, oh and you are pretending I don’t exist anyway. Okay, well congratulations on your badassery!
I mean really, what’s not to love? They are the beatniks of the elderly world, cruising by you oh-so-coolly, never speaking but always daring “what are you gonna do about it?” So, I applaud you French-old-lady-line-skippers, I applaud you and your chutzpah*.
*For my non-American or Yiddish-speaking readers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chutzpah