14 years ago, Olivier moved back to Paris after working in the UK and US. Since then, he has built a career in cultural differences. He now performs ‘How to Become a Parisian in One Hour’ at « Théâtre des Nouveautés » in the 9th. He had wanted to be a comedian ever since he was eight years old, but had not been taken seriously. Instead, he left Bordeaux and moved to Paris and trained as a chef. It was thanks to his experience abroad that Olivier was able to write the show when he returned to France.
« At first my family told me I was crazy and that I’d end up homeless.
But thankfully I tried the show and it worked. »
What is ‘How to Become a Parisian in One Hour’?
The show is an hour of stand-up comedy written, produced and performed by Giraud. It is in English and pokes fun at the archetypal Parisian to help outsiders make sense of what it means to live here. From the French customer service experience to the unwritten rules of the metro; the show is a whistle stop tour of all things Parisian. It has been seen by over 800,000 people since it began.
« It took me about a year to learn how to act in the US. They thought I was being rude, but I’m just French! »
The show talks a lot about cultural differences, what were the cultural differences you noticed in the States?
In many ways I think Parisians are the opposite to Americans. Since my time in the States, I’ve found that Americans are very enthusiastic and make it seem like everything is perfect, whilst Parisians are far more cynical. Take the weather, for example, it’s always too hot or too cold, they’re never satisfied. Consequently, cultural differences made things difficult sometimes and it took me about a year to learn how to act in the US, they thought I was being rude, but I’m just French!
How do you think France and the States could learn from each other?
I think that Parisians could learn about positivity from Americans, it might help them to appreciate things more. However, I think that Americans could be more honest with each other. It’s very normal to share your feelings with each other here; if you don’t feel good you tell your friends and your colleagues. While Parisians may be difficult to become friends with at first, and you might find them rude or direct, but you know that these friendships are for life.
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Where did you get the idea for the show?
When I was in the US, I got a lot of questions about France; some had heard that women didn’t shave and that we didn’t take showers, whilst others asked whether we had cars and internet connection. Also, people came to me saying that they’d always wanted to visit France, but that they’d heard we didn’t like Americans. The restaurant was so busy that it was hard to give people all the advice I had on how to survive here.
Finally, I came back and I sat down and wrote the show in English. It was hard to find a theatre that would take on a French act performing in English, so I formed my own company. Eventually, after two weeks of performing in a small theatre, I got an email from a woman who had been at one of my shows. She had been in the front row and I’d picked on her all night because she was American, it turned out she was a New York Times journalist. She wrote a great article about the show and really helped to establish it.
« I’ve changed a lot and the show has changed as a result.«
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Has the show changed a lot since you first wrote it?
Yes definitely. I’ve changed a lot and the show has changed as a result. Besides, when I started I wasn’t a comedian. I had only just stopped working in restaurants and gave the audience snacks and cocktails beforehand. I was always more worried about that than the show! There are some themes that I mention less than I used to, but I mostly talk about day-to-day life in Paris: the metro, taxis, restaurants and bars etc.
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What did you think of Paris when you first moved here from Bordeaux?
What do you think of it now?
When I left Bordeaux I had a very negative idea of Paris, there’s a rivalry between the two cities. Also, people made fun of my accent at first. Nevertheless, I quickly got used to how much there is to do here. Nowadays whenever I go back to Bordeaux I get bored so quickly. After three or four days I don’t know what to do with myself! Altogether, I’m so used to being in big cities that even when I go abroad I need to be around lots of people. Paris is a great city, my daughter’s at primary school here and they go on class trips to museums and galleries. It’s giving her a much more open and multicultural view of the world and it’s great that she’s able to grow up like that.
Finally, Three Final ‘Questions Absolutely’
1. What 3 words would you use to describe Paris?
Beautiful, busy, and multicultural.
2. What’s your favourite quotation? Why?
« Qui aime bien, châtie bien » (you have to be cruel to be kind). It’s what I do in my show, I make fun of everyone but it helps people to make sense of the culture here. I have a great mixture of Parisians and foreigners in the audience and it’s great to see Parisians being able to laugh at themselves.
3. What advice would you give to expats in Paris?
Firstly: your first two or three months here are going to be hard. I’ve had lots of expats who come and see my show and afterwards they say « thank you so much, now I understand that’s it’s not my fault. » They realise that this is just what Parisians are like; they’re living through a sort of culture shock I’ve helped them to understand. Consequently, it takes a long time to feel at home in Paris, but once you’re used to it here and you’ve made some Parisian friends, you will feel much better and they will be friends for life. If in doubt, have two or three glasses of wine and you’ll feel better!
We’d like to thank Olivier for coming to speak to us. We’d definitely recommend his show to anyone that wants to know more about Parisian culture. Our Absolus had a great time at the show during a « soirée Absolutely » back in November! We would also recommend his book,
How to Become a Parisian in One Hour.
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