Thursday, June 30, 2011

Material girl

Summer in Paris is not only about the possibility of meteorological extremes and the certainty of pricey sorbet. Summer is also about unchained, triumphant materialism. Sales, in other words. Big sales. Sales on everything.

The warmer months hail the arrival of France’s annual soldes d’été, five weeks during which stores great and small slash their prices in order to make way for the arrival of the autumn/winter collections. As hideously depressing as it is to think at summer’s zenith, OMG-winter-will-be-back-before-we-know-it, the soldes also represent a glittering opportunity for consumers to gleefully and exuberantly indulge in the very same conspicuous consumption that is supposedly so disdained by the infamously discreet French. In other words, who’s depressed? Pas moi! For during the soldes, all bets are off; consumers from all walks of life, French and foreign alike, are openly encouraged to engage in a veritable orgy of frenzied hunting and gathering until their feet and wallets cry overdose and they collapse in a dizzy haze, feeling exhausted and vaguely guilty ... yet somehow strangely fulfilled. Or is that just me?

It never fails. Every year I tell myself, “Self, you have MORE than enough clothing. So no soldes for you! True spiritual fulfillment must be sought within, not without.” But then my Self comes up with something like, “That’s true; I DO have enough clothing ... for now. But not nearly enough shoes/jewelry/books/electronics/housewares/kitchen gear/potted plants...!” And, realizing the futility of attempting to counter such watertight logic, off I run to get my next material fix.

Now, such behavior could be considered as both totally selfish and fiscally irresponsible, except that I’m one step ahead of such petty accusations. As G. and I inhabit a typically space-challenged Parisian abode, without so much as a basement in which to store any excess, I can’t just go on acquiring without end. Therefore, I frequently donate my no-longer-desired clothing to such benevolent organizations as the Children of Madagascar, and thus clear the way for NEW clothing while at the same time placating my conscience. Why, thanks to me, Madagascar’s youth are sporting some sweet attire—even if some of my contributions may be less appreciated than others (that floor-length black wool coat I disposed of last month comes to mind).

G. surely senses that my addiction to zestfully accumulating what can only be referred to as “stuff”—which is to say miscellaneous material items that soothe, flatter and reassure—is as American as macaroni and cheese, and as such, looks upon it with bemusement. Indeed, rather than attempt to find an appropriate French translation for the word “stuff” (there isn’t one), G. has gone and adopted it just as it is, interjecting it into otherwise entirely French sentences and applying it to everything from the pile of magazines sitting on the coffee table to the forgotten sock by the front door. He has even developed a new grammatical form for it, wherein the partitive du becomes the singular indefinite “un.” Thus, “un stuff. (Ex: “Il y a un stuff coincé dans la cafétière !” – “There’s something stuck in the coffee machine!”)

Considering the success of this small-scale experiment, I think I have reason to hope that “le stuff” will eventually spread among the greater French population, and perhaps one day even join the ranks of such widely accepted, originally English words as “cool,” “fun,” “geek,” and my personal favorite, “funky.” It could happen! And if ever it does, I fully expect to be granted the honorary title of Stuff Ambassador to France.

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