Throw the artichoke leaf!

When trapped in a situation I loathe, I have learned to survive, says Amélie Vrla, by following a simple rule: Do precisely what you can’t stand other people doing 

Artichoke Laura Eades 2015

Artichoke – take a leaf out of someone else’s book. Laura Eades 2015

Amélie Vrla writes: 

I remember a book we used to read for fun, while having lunch at our friends’ house in Brittany.

It was an old book of good manners, written in a very funny French by the famous Marquise de Rotschild, a so-called proletarian who had married a French noble and had had to learn all the good traditional manners to access the rank she was supposed to maintain.

She was recalling one time where an Indian Prince had come to stay with them, in their castle somewhere in France. She had decided to serve artichokes, and realised just as the dish was being served that the Prince most probably had never had such a vegetable. Its flower shape and multiple leaves, together with the mustardy sauce served on the side, must have been a very complex mystery!

So she waited for him to start eating, and, looking completely relaxed and serene, watched him take a leaf from the artichoke, dip it into the mustardy sauce, and without a taste, throw it casually over his shoulder onto the 17th century parquet.

She immediately took a leaf herself, dipped it likely in her own little pot of sauce, and threw it identically on her side of the room’s waxed wooden floor.

Laura: This story really makes me smile Amélie. I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week, because I’ve found myself getting annoyed by relentless positivity on one of the internet forums I go on. Of course, I know it’s just because I find positivity rather hard to summon, and that the solution is to let it flow more in myself. Be more positive, I mean. 

I have found this method to work in every kind of situation.

I even got myself to start using words I used to hate, like the French slang word ‘kiffer’ (coming from the arab : ‘quiff’ – pot in Arabic; which altered into ‘love’ in French) which I used to despise.

But there was that summer where I was 15 and wore sandals with high heels made of springs on the rocks of Brittany, and there was this guy, Parisian guy, much older, and cute, who used all this vocabulary which was new to me, the expat growing outside of the real, big city.

“Je te kiffe” (“I dig you”).

So I swallowed my pride, said it back to him, and the summer became gorgeous.

Laura: I think this is very appropriate for matters of manners, of etiquette, and styles of communication. I’m not sure how far I could bring myself to go with actual behaviours…

Back when I was a student in Paris, and when it was still allowed to smoke in bars, I would often meet my big group of friends in a basement bar called Melocotón, in the Quartier Latin, between Polytechnique and La Sorbonne.

The bar had two levels, but the real fun was, of course, downstairs, in the small ribbed vaulted room which resembled a cave.

Going down the stairs, one would already feel how thick the smoke would be, and how deeply it would penetrate one’s hair, eyes, clothes, lungs and soul.

I’m not a real smoker, never have been.

Going down these stairs would always leave me in a strange moodiness. I couldn’t focus on my friends’ discussions, could not laugh at a joke, found my cocktail too bitter or too sweet, the barman too arrogant, and the girls’ voice too squeaky. I found staying up annoying, and felt insulted every time someone would blow their smoke close to my face.

With every step I took down toward this cave of smoke, I would become more and more Parisian – angry, annoyed, bothered, restlessly nervous.

Until I would do exactly what I hated the others doing: light a cigarette, inhale, and start blowing my smoke in everybody else’s face, in a common, joyful smoking orgy.

As I would do it, I would experience a deep and intense feeling of relief that transformed my anger into humour; my being bothered into the delight of a fun night out.

I am not, I repeat, a smoker. This feeling of freedom, pleasure and ability to relax didn’t come from my desire for nicotine or whatever tar particle I would then inhale. It just came from releasing the pressure of having to stand the unsustainable, by becoming part of it.

Laura: Hmm. Well I’m kind of haunted at the moment by the guys below me who smoke skunk and the smell finds its way up the stairs and into my flat. I can’t beat them, but I don’t think I could bring myself to join them. What should I do? 

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