Friday, 24 October 2008

Mad Moiselle

The owner of a French café called me "Mademoiselle". He made my day. Make that week. I wanted to hug him, except by the alarmed look on his face he guessed and gripped his chipped metal tray as if ready to hit me over the head with it if I took one step towards him. "Mademoiselle"! I haven't been called "Mademoiselle" for years. Look it up; "Mademoiselle" is reserved for "young" women. It means: "You are young". It means the person addressing you has looked, yes looked, and decided, if you are not obviously under 30 that you are at the very least young enough to accept "Mademoiselle" as a compliment and not a lack of respect. If they had the slightest doubt, they would say "Madame" as calling a Mademoiselle "Madam" is less insulting than calling a Madam "Mademoiselle".

"Mademoiselle" is also used for the unmarried but not any old singleton; only the young unwed. This makes it very different to the English "Miss", used for the single of any age but which, after a certain age, transforms its subject into a sniffing, fussy, tragic, sexless spinster - think Miss Haversham, think Emily Dickinson... An unmarried Frenchwoman of advanced years would never expect to be called "Mademoiselle". If she was she would probably snatch that tray and whack the person addressing her over the head. Except, of course, if she is easily flattered, short-sighted and still feels 18 in her head, in which case the "Mademoiselle" is probably sarcastic and the person using it having a bit of a joke. He may, in fact, think she looks something like a small silvery drumfish.

I went to the loo and caught a look at myself in the mirror. "Bastard" I thought.

10 comments:

Dumdad said...

Bonjour Mlle Parisgirl! No really, not taking the pipi, honest guv, you don't look like a drumfish hardly at all . . .

Iota said...

It isn't fair that women are divided into two categories in this way, whereas men are just men. And drumfish are just drumfish.

Cimon said...

Someone (Schopenhauer ?) said you did not need much to take vengeance of a woman. You actually just had to wait !

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

My best recent coup was a woman in her early 30s who, when she learnt my age, uttered an expletive & asked me what wrinkle cream I used. We were eating dinner by candlelight at the time so I'm not sure it counts.

Frances Penwill-Cook said...

Hmm you've got me worried. Going through US customs a couple of weeks ago the guy drawled, 'Thank you Miss' to me as he handed me back my passport. I was delighted that he thought I looked so young, but confused also because it was after a horrendous long flight that offered sparse sleeping opportunity...now it's all making sense...(assuming the US 'Miss' mean the same as the English 'Miss').

Parisgirl said...

Thanks everyone, you've made me feel a lot better...I think!

Jaywalker said...

You could totally pass for a mademoiselle. I basically discount it if the sayer is over 70. They always are.

Irene said...

In the Netherlands we've done away with the term Mademoiselle and call everybody old enough Madam. You can be 19 and be at the dentist office and be called Madam something or other. It's to stop the unequal discriminatory habit of always calling the men Monsieur.

Daisy said...

I do love being called Mlle too. I want to kill myself when mothers tell their children to "let the lady get past" - I am not a lady!! I wonder what Miss Marple would be called in Paris...

Parisgirl said...

Hmmm Jaywalker, I fear I could only pass as a Mlle when we met because of the teenage spots, but thank you anyway.
Irene, the Netherlands was and is always streets ahead of everyone else in the equality stakes. We British invented Ms for the same reason. I always insist on Ms, but there's no French equivalent.
Daisy, she'd be Madame Marple without a doubt!