A lot of people ‘go up’ to Paris to start a career. Simon was not one of them.
He actually did the opposite: he didn’t want to work anymore. He had even asked (and strangely been granted) permission to take a sabbatical to come and settle in this small one-bedroom pied-à-terre in the 6th. Money, friends, a decent life, he already had all that. And he could easily have had it elsewhere rather than in Paris, where people are famously unpleasant, housing prohibitively expensive, and the climate mediocre at best.
But Simon couldn’t have cared less about any of those things. If he was moving to Paris, at 27 and on his own, it was for another reason, one distinctive and very specific reason: women. Parisiennes.
He was fascinated by them, always had been. He had explored almost every megalopolis in the world, and had never seen anything quite like it. To him, this blend of absolute sophistication and fake nonchalance, very subtly balanced, seemingly without effort or artifice, was the holy grail of femininity. He was both bewitched and intimidated by this ‘parisian-ness’. For he knew that these Parisian women were hard to get, haughty, on their guard, and frankly snobbish.
For someone like him, a painfully shy small-town guy, they were simply out of reach, untouchable.
And that’s exactly why he had chosen Paris.
He was there to learn how to seduce the most demanding women on the planet.
It was his initiatory journey, his quest.
Simon had a few qualities, one of them being lucidity. He knew he was, at best, average. His past experiences, whether virtual or real, had led him to rate himself a 4 out of 10, perhaps a 5 on a good day.
There’s no point fooling yourself.
For everybody else, reasonably lucid and observant people like Simon, you just had to accept the fact that you weren’t very good looking, as a person. That’s just the way it is. Whether you can handle it or not is up to you, but at least you know.
Simon also knew that he was not the most on-trend person, sartorially speaking, and that he was quite awkward with women. He would unhesitatingly describe himself as a clumsy yokel. He was starting very, very low on the scale. Even prostitutes he had had dealings with in his life, either high-end or cheap ones, had made fun of him, of his awkwardness towards them. Of his shyness, mostly.
He had never had a girlfriend, and was petrified every time he was near a girl he liked. Physically, mentally, emotionally, he would melt when facing the opposite sex. His therapist had diagnosed him with an ‘irrational fear of rejection’.
But all of this was over now.
He was going to learn.
For weeks, he observed the city and its people. He had soon realised that some of the most bustling areas, like Abbesses, the Marais, or Saint Germain were just giant permanent pick-up playgrounds. Therefore, he would sit, day in, day out on a terrace, at the heart of the action, and watch the show play out before his eyes.
For the moment, he was not looking at the women. It was too early, too soon. He had forbidden himself to do so, convinced that he was not up to the task. Not ready.
What he was doing was watching the men. The Parisian men. His rationale was as follows: all these girls have to mate somehow, to fall in love, don’t they? But with whom? Well, with Parisian men. These are the ones who fuck them, and the ones who marry them as well. They were the ones he had to take his inspiration from. All these buccaneers of bars, parties, parks and clubs. There’s a lot of talk about the natural charm of the Parisian women, but the Parisian men have a little something, too. And this je-ne-sais-quoi appeals to the Parisian women. Simon wanted to find out about this little something. So he was watching. Over and over. The bars on rue Charlot or rue Montmartre were the most interesting ones, especially during Happy Hour, when the tension drops as the blood alcohol levels rise. That’s where you could find the best exhibition of wavy-haired Vespa-driving pick-up artists, half bad boy rebel, half boy-next-door, always a smart mouth and the right swagger, perfectly at ease in their natural habitat. And always in the company of cute girls.
That evening, near rue Montorgueil, he had been looking for a very specific type of skirt-chaser. After observing their little game for several nights, he had had a dawning realisation. He was not as attractive-looking as them. They all had a pretty face, fine features, the right complexion, and those carefully untidy mid-length manes that women want to run their fingers through. He had none of these things. His hair was straight and grew longer at the front, his nose was broad, his face blunt. He could tidy up, and would probably do so, to fit better into the aesthetic criteria of the time. But deep down, he felt that this was not where the main problem lay. So, that fateful night, he had started to check out one of these men, but chose an ugly one. Because there were indeed among these studs men who were objectively ugly. Who nevertheless seemed to score as much as the others. From what he had learned, they had so much aura and style that they suddenly had ‘something’, a ‘look’, a ‘certain charm’. The line between beautiful and ugly could clearly be blurred by charisma. He had to explore this lead.
He eventually found one of them. He was perfect. Well dressed, with a real skeevy face, a small skinny guy with big eyes, no chin, and even a nascent baldness. Except for his mother, nobody would have in all honesty called him good looking. But despite that, he seemed to be going out with a beautiful young woman in a trench coat, a Hitchcock blonde with the face of an angel. He seemed to know many other girls in this bar, joking around with them. From his tactile way of interacting with some of them or kissing others on the cheek, Simon could have bet that he had slept with most of them. At some point, Chinless-Wonder ended up alone at the bar.
Simon stood next to him, as if he was going to order a drink as well. He started talking,
‘Sorry, have we met before? You’re a producer, right?’
Chinless-Wonder looked at Simon, amused.
‘Sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy. I wouldn’t mind, though. But I’m just a teacher.’
Simon was astounded. This guy wasn’t even rich. He was ugly AND poor. And still, he seemed to have girls flocking to him, more than anyone else in the bar. Amazing.
The girl in the trench coat came back towards them, clung on to the guy, and kissed him hungrily, shamelessly, before whispering something in his ear. Then, without a word or even a look towards Simon, she slipped away, laughing.
‘That’s a pretty girlfriend you have here. Have you two been together long?’
This time, Chinless-Wonder burst out laughing, before answering:
‘Well, I’ll tell you (he looked at the time on his phone) … A bit less than an hour.’
‘Yep, I just met her tonight. I don’t know her.’
Simon almost fainted. It was possible, then. You could, in this city, be ugly and poor and still score a gorgeous unknown girl in a bar in less than an hour. The thought was overwhelming, and he almost suffocated with jealousy. This observation called into question his whole system of archaic beliefs about seduction, while opening up an extraordinary world of possibilities. Before Chinless-Wonder left, he had to ask him.
‘How do you do it?’
‘Don’t be a dick. Give me one piece of advice. One.’
Chinless-Wonder took a good look at Simon, and understood what was going on. A poor soul out of his depth, begging for pick-up advice. He looked flattered and pitying at the same time. He sighed, then said softly, like a Jedi revealing a secret to his young Padawan:
‘It’s all about the energy, bro. And what conveys energy first?’
‘Er … the eyes?’
‘No. It’s the smile. Smile. It’s reassuring. A man who smiles is a relaxed, good-vibes guy. You want to know why he’s smiling. When you see him, you unconsciously wonder: what’s so funny that I don’t get? And girls are no different. They’re attracted to relaxed, happy guys. Who dig life. Not stressed, angsty, weird guys. Smile, man. You’ll see, you’ll get amazing results.’
‘Not like that, you look stupid.’
He tried something else.
‘Terrible. You look like a pervert who’s caught a woman in her hallway and is about to gut her.’
‘I’m a bit lost.’
‘I understand. I’m not. So I’ll leave you to it. But I swear, a smiley guy has done half the job already. Especially if he’s alone. A lone guy is creepy, nowadays, you know. It’s not attractive. So you have to project the right kind of energy. Find your happy and confident guy smile.’
For the next four days, Simon didn’t leave his apartment.
He practised his happy-confident guy smile in front of the mirror.
Eventually, he chose a sort of wry half-smile, slightly mocking, but not too much. He tried it in the staircase, with the student from the fifth floor who, miracle or not, smiled back at him. And even asked him if he knew any organic stores in the neighbourhood. A conversation. Spontaneous. With a girl. It was his first victory!
That’s how Simon decided that, from now on, that smile would never leave his face, ever.
It would be his passport to a world where you don’t play to win but for fun, because you’ve already won.
Fabien Prade is an author and journalist. After several years of gonzo journalism, he published his first novel Parce que tu me plais (Éditions du Nil) in 2013, to great acclaim. He’s also creator and writer of the successful website Jooks.fr, dedicated to cheerfully skewering society’s foibles. His second book, Dans la tête des mecs (Allary Éditions), is now considered a seminal essay in deciphering post-modern masculinities.
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