The Audacity of Age

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

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22 Responses to The Audacity of Age

  1. Sarah says:

    The younger French women are probably counting the days until they can behave badly too. 🙂

  2. I’m going to start looking out for this. In my 37 years here, it’s never struck me because so many people skip the queues anyway. Maybe I think it’s so normal that I don’t even notice it. I might be unconsciously storing it up for when I’m a little old lady in about 10 years’ time! (Except that I’m tall).

    • breadispain says:

      Tall shmall! You gotta own the old lady status whenever you arrive there – I definitely plan on working it! I will be curious to see if you notice this now. It never ceases to amuse me!

  3. chickster says:

    The old ladies know what they’re doing, because they chose young men or women to cut off knowing full well it’d look bad on them if they said anything. I had to reign Mr.O in at the grocery store one time, because an old lady chose him to cut in front of (most likely because he was a man). She told the one woman in front of us to proceed checking out and she’d cut in after her . . . oh, you can believe Mr.O was pissed.

    • breadispain says:

      LOL. That is great – classic, really. That is the thing that is so amazing to me – how they just totally get away with it! MB is the exact same way…he gets infuriated but won’t say a thing to the “dear old things”.

  4. grenobloise says:

    I know what you mean. Brilliant and hilarious descriptions. BUT — I don’t let them cut me!!!!! Especially when on line with Flo with his big shoulders, we make a bûcheron barrier — no one is effing getting through that, not even Chuck Norris.

  5. Sara Louise says:

    I know these ladies! And I’ve seen men doing it to. Unfortunately for my husband, I embarrass him by calling out their behavior. I refuse to be skipped quietly.

    • breadispain says:

      I’m so proud of you and Grenobloise for standing your ground! Instead of laughing helplessly like I do. Clearly, you will both be admirable old ladies one day yourselves!

      • grenobloise says:

        Word! I at least say something… AT LEAST (if they’re lucky). Age is nuthin’ but a number. When I’m an old lady I’ll still be waiting on line like everyone else. If I have to cut for health reasons I’ll at least say why I’m cutting and excuse myself. I understand that a 3-hour line to a museum is most likely too difficult physically for an old person. If they asked me politely (or even impolitely) I’d let them go ahead of me in a heartbeat.

  6. Cécile says:

    Awesome spotting, as always 🙂 French old ladies think they own the world and that everyone should move out of their way to let their poor old self come first. It’s not only in queues, they’ll shove you out of their way anywhere with their canes! No one dares say anything because, well they’re old and I guess we feel like letting them act that way is a kind of indirect solidarity towards the elderly.

    That said, I often skip queues out of France, especially in touristic places like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I’m only 29 and no one says anything either. If someone shoots me an angry look, I smile at them and sometimes it makes them laugh. Am I a bad person?

  7. Crystal says:

    Max and I don’t let old ladies cut in front of me, either. It’s disrespectful and just because they’re “old”, doesn’t give them the right to completely disregard social etiquette. I usually say something to the effect of (translated from French, obv) “I’m sorry Madame but you were not ahead of me in the line. Please don’t cut in front.” I always smile when I say it, and usually the old lady is embarrassed about being called out and will grumble as she shuffles to the back of the line (or in front of someone else who is too chicken to say something). I’m not a fan of old people in general, but ones that feel entitled to do whatever the hell they want, when they want, infuriate me! And it’s not just a French phenomenon – sneaky seniors exist all over the world.

    I’m not a complete bitch though. If I’m in line to pay for a bunch of things and someone comes up behind me with one or two items, I usually tell them to go ahead of me. And clearly if I saw a hugely pregnant woman or a really feeble old person having a hard time, I’d help them out in any way I could. But vicious, able-bodied biddies who butt in front don’t get any special treatment!!

    • breadispain says:

      Okay – that just made me burst out laughing! “I’m not a fan of old people in general” You are super hardcore! Where were you in the Musee D’Orsay line? I would have loved to seen what would have transpired if someone had tried to bring the hammer down on this little old lady!

  8. This is so cute. And right on. I was bum rushed by an elderly French lady today at hyper u. She would have pushed her way in front ofme if it weren’t for all those pesky groceries, I swear. Loved this. A

    • breadispain says:

      Thanks so much! Haha – everyone’s responses have been cracking me up…clearly this is something that most people endure while living in France. It’s just so funny and now that I have written this and heard back from people it is going to make me laugh that much harder next time it happens!

  9. Pingback: Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire’s International Garden Festival – Paris Day Two. Chantilly – The Audacity of Age | Aussie in France

  10. Allison says:

    These French old ladies seem to have a certain power that making me insanely jealous. However, it does reminding me of skipping to the front of the line outside a couple of particular bars in New Orleans. There is a rush of “yes, I’m more important that you”, or “hey Jack, whatcha gonna do about it ?!?!” It’s a psychological game that I just love winning.

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