So this past Friday, after a long day in downtown Paris, A. and I walked back uptown to a small pizzeria (the Place de Clichy area, for those readers who are familiar with gay Pah-ree). I've been there once before with him; he's been going there for the last 17 years. He knows the owner (he was there on opening day), so he always just walks right in, grabs menus, and finds a table like he owns the place. It's one of those little French things that's fun to watch, the way they connect with business owners and exercise far more brand and store loyalty than Americans do.
Plus, it's the first restaurant I've ever been to that boasts an onion, sour cream, and walnut pizza. (It isn't half bad.)
Well, this last Friday was a little different, because it also became the first pizza place that asked us to leave because of the gay PDA.
I've posted before about gay life here in France. Saying that they're more open and accepting of the gays isn't the full truth - in St. Etienne I never see gays in public, I've met a few gay men in closeted relationships, and there are still quite a few cruising spots for those guys who don't want to leave their cars for fear of being seen.
There's a strong mythology that I've seen from Americans that western Europe is uniformly liberal, secular, white, beautiful, cultural, etc. that isn't at all true, but it makes its way into intellectual American conservatism as a justification for racism, as well as less cultural, more political discussions of Europe.
The reality is that there are some parts of France that are great for the gays, some parts that aren't, and the overall legal situation is pretty good (no gay adoption or marriage, limited hate crimes leg, but national civil unions that are open to both gays and straights, single-payer health care, and far more employment protections than ENDA can even dream of right now). And Paris, of course, is one of those places that's pretty open-minded.
So, anyway, we went right into the pizzeria, sat down, ordered, ate, drank, talked lightly, and talked seriously. And more seriously. We were almost finished with the food but had it with the discussion and kissed across the table. It was an amazing moment for me - straight out of Hemingway. Or, more accurately, straight out of something baser and more cliche like a "The world stopped around us" or "We were alone in that moment" expression.
The point is, it was good.
In the US, I know, kissing in restaurants, gay and straight, is still pretty taboo, at least where I'm from. But I've gotten more and more used to the PDA out here as I've seen park benches with randy boys running their hands up girls' blouses, the girls crying out in laughter, elderly couples kissing in the street, married couples embracing in restaurants. This is a country, after all, where most people kiss hello, except at work, where you have to know someone for at least a month and be their equal to do that.
Anyway, someone who was working there came by with the check a bit earlier than one would expect, a couple minutes after the kiss, and asked to leave. He mumbled something like "We don't want that here, just not here," and A. tried to press him on what exactly was the issue (as if we didn't already know). He just mumbled "Pas ici" (not here) and left, and A. called him something that's roughly translated as "jackass" as he was walking back to the register in the other dining room.
We were both a little shocked, A. more so than me, because he's been going to the same place for pizza for 17 years now, he knew the owner (who wasn't working that night), and we had even been there together once before with no problems. I downed the rest of the alcohol on the table (I wasn't going to leave any behind in the bottle for the wait staff so I took one for the team).
Since the idea of leaving with at least some dignity doesn't exist in this country, A. went to argue with that waiter who asked us to leave. They were talking pretty loudly and the only thing that waiter would say was "Pas ici, pas ici." Another customer at a table got involved and said that no one should kiss in restaurants, it's not a gay or straight thing, that she never ever does that in a restaurant (but in the streets, parks, bars, and cafes it's OK); the man at the next table jumped in and said that it's common, whatever, it's no big deal kissing in a restaurant, he's done it with his girlfriends in the past.
We left after a few minutes of that. Personally, I don't care all too much - it's an interesting story now, and there are plenty of other pizza places in this city. The only thing it changes was that I was going to tell a few of my friends who were coming to visit Paris in the future about it, and, well, now I'll still tell them about it, but....
But A. was far more effected by the whole situation. He's had a few dreams about it now, and he's told pretty much everyone he knows. It wasn't just any restaurant for him; it was his pizzeria.
He's going to stop by again when the owner is working there, but, other than that, there isn't much to be done. But how easy is it, really, to build up that kind of relationship with another restaurant?
So if you're in the Place de Clichy area and want pizza, there's one pizza place I wouldn't recommend....