Bonjour Smiley


August 13, 2005

Destination: France 

Last night in Paris I received a shocking diagnosis.

It all began when The Frenchman and I went to see a band at La Scene in Bastille.

All was going well, we had enjoyed a lovely meal of fishy salads and white wine on the Avenue Ledru Rollin and were standing in the smoky hot bar bouncing sheepishly to the funky-jazzy music when nature knocked. An experienced publoo- goer, naturally I checked for paper first and, to my unsurprise, found none. So I did what any damsel in dack-stress would do - poked my head out and asked the guy standing at the basin fiddling with his overly pristine jeans if there was any paper in the little boys and if so, could he please pass me some.

He looked at me, looked in the men's, looked back at me and replied, "No, sorry, zere eez non zere eizer".


I was taken aback. After a year living in Paris I was under the assumption I sounded pretty French. I mean I could even do the epiglottal rrrr thing. People sometimes ask me for directions and I say I don't know in a very French way. I pout my lazy little Australian lips up, cock my head and sigh a lot. I had even recently acquired the distinctly Parisian habit of saying "oui" on an in-breath and had finally mastered the agonising art of pronouncing infuriating French phrases containing no consonants such as "en haut" (upstairs) pronounced "ohaw". I sometimes put "quoi" at the end of sentences, which is a very, very cool Parisian thing to do, AND I had figured out that "ben" not only referred to the little boy next door but could be pronounced "ba" and used as follows: "Bon ben ecoute, cheri!" "Ben oui!" "Ben c'est pas possible!" Etcetera.

BUT NO, here was a bloke wearing ironed jeans smiling at me and looking eager to practise his English. (This is common in Paris at the moment, English is finally cool and everyone, especially young hipsters like jeans man want to try out their Anglais on unwilling foreigners.) But seriously. I was no ANGLOPHONE. And I'm supposed to be an ACTOR.

How was it so obvious? I decided to confront him before I faced the unavoidable dripdry."

But how did you know I wasn't French?" He laughed, checking his perfect teeth in the mirror for poppy seeds."

Le sourire," he said, turning to face me and, punctuating the remark with a look a la Zoolander Blue Steel, was gone.

Le sourire? What has my smile got to do with it? French people smile. Why does smiling give me away as an Anglophone?

Back at the bar when I recounted the story to The Frenchman he laughed and said, "Yes that's right, you have a smile in your voice."

A smile in the voice.

My heart sank. I felt like I'd been diagnosed with some sort of incurable disease.

Smile in the Voice. Category 1. Technical name: Sourire dans la Voix. Characteristics: attacks Central Language System, leading to Uncontrollable Cheerful Manner of Speech (UCMS).

Hereditary. Culturally specific.

Most prevalent in Australians, antipodeans. Symptoms: delusional behaviour, lilting tones, singsong manner, general warmth, involuntary kindness. Course of treatment: incurable, but over a course of time living in France, symptoms may improve slightly.

I was devastated. I had never suspected that all this time I had been walking around with a big sign MERRY FOREIGNER on my head. For goodness sake, I had little painted red Simone de Beauvoir fingernails. I rode a bike with a basket on the front.

I walked the streets with a mastered look of "moi?", nonchalance that had taken months of practice. I made a point of never marvelling at beautiful buildings in public. I thought my secret was so well disguised.

Alas no.

I turned and glared menacingly at The Frenchman who had been keeping the bad news from me all this time. To "protect me" I suppose."

A smile in the voice is not serious," he whispered, trying to comfort me."

Well I want to get rid of it!" I shouted and stormed out of the bar to many curious looks and ooh la las.

On the way home as we walked in the wet down the black and starry post-rain Canal St Martin, dodging crowds of people spilling out onto the narrow streets at closing time, I demanded The Frenchman help cure me of this terrible condition. After I had said "bonjour" and "au revoir" at least 80 times he was exhausted."

I'm sorry, but no matter how low you make your voice or how arrogant you sound, the smile is still there."

Noooo. Bonjour. Bonjour, madame. BON JOUR, MADAME."

No even when you sound very, very angry you still have the little smile."

I couldn't believe I had been walking around this whole time with a disorder that everyone else could see but I couldn't. I felt naked. Schizophrenic.

Misunderstood. And no matter how hard I tried I could not iron the bloody Australian out of me.

"I like the smile," said The Frenchman.

Really? That was a nice thing to say. But how extremely irritating to have something built into you that you can't control such as a smile in the voice. I might as well be The Joker from Batman. Smile girl, forever stuck. I would like to CHOOSE to smile when I speak to the nice man at Mauri Sept on Faubourg St Denis or the lovely lady at Le Bucheron or the little man in the fruit shop who gives me pretty cherries to eat while I wait in the queue.

But what if I don't WANT to smile? Why can't I fit in like any other normal French person?

As I began to wail, The Frenchman said, "See even when you throw a tantrum you have a smile in your voice."


Try and speak flatter. You have too much interest in your voice. Think like you don't care."

Like I don't care.

Pensively, I tried to elegantly skim a stone over the glossy black canal as I turned this thought over in my mind but the stone just made a heavy plonk and sank. And that's when the euro-cent dropped inside the merry slot machine that is my brain. I do care.

That's the problem. I am eager.

Intrinsically. I am Australian.

And that's how I learnt to accept my smile. I had forgotten how glad I was to be a little Aussie and to have a permanent grin stitched into my voice-box. Then and there I decided to take my smiling disorder and despite the difficulties, make the most of it.

I don't mind any more that people know I'm not French.

When they try to speak English with me I will smilingly say "Ben ecoute rrrrrrrrr baguette baguette quoi?" I am a smiler. And I'm proud. Je m'appelle Jayne.

Jayne Tuttle is a Melbourne actor and writer studying in Paris.